We often receive emails from readers asking for help in navigating their own real estate crises. In Realty Bites, we try to get them answers.
"My roommate and I haven't been getting along, and he told me this weekend he's kicking me out of the apartment. Can he really do that? What should I do?"
The exact protocol here depends on who's on the lease (both of you? just your roommate?), but regardless, your best move right now is diplomacy.
"First, I would reach out to all my friends and see if their leases are coming up any time soon, if they have extra rooms, or are interested in finding a place with you," recommends Citi Habitats Andrew Sacks. After you get the lay of the land, you can go back to your roommate and let them know you're working on finding a new place, and suggest ways to make your living situation more tolerable in the interim. "Expecting someone to find a new apartment in a week or two isn't exactly realistic," says Sacks, and this conversation will set the tone for how you deal with each other before you can part ways.
As for legal rights, it's a bit complicated, though you should know up front that your under no circumstances can your roommate legally change the locks or throw your stuff out on the curb. (If they do, you've got a wrongful eviction case on your hands, says Steve Wagner, a real estate attorney with Wagner Berkow.)
If your roommate is the only one on the lease, you're technically just an occupant or "licensee" in the apartment, and they can kick you out at their discretion, provided they follow the proper eviction proceedings, which include serving you with court papers and giving you a chance to defend your case (the Met Council has more information on this here).
If both of you are on the lease, though, your roommate would need your cooperation (and the landlord's) to get you out—you're well within your legal rights to dig in and stay put, though we can almost guarantee that it won't be pleasant. Aside from that, you've got a couple of options: First, go to the landlord and ask to be taken off the lease, with a new one re-written so that just your roommate (and/or whoever else they have in mind to move in) is responsible for the apartment. (Now's a good time to reiterate: never, ever move out of an apartment with your name still on the lease.)
If the landlord isn't keen to do that (and many won't be, as it cuts down the number of people they have to collect money from if things go south), Wagner recommends writing up an agreement signed by you and your roommate stating that you'll be indemnified for apartment-related costs by the person who's staying behind. (Translation: Get it in writing that they'll be fully taking over the rent and utilities.) "This would have to be done cooperatively and diplomatically," says Wagner.
If you're hell bent on revenge, fine, but save it for after you're out and all the paperwork's signed and set. For now, you and your roommate will probably need to work together one last time to ensure you'll never have to see each other again.
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