My lease is ending soon and I'm concerned that one of my roommates will not move out in time. If I'm the only one on my lease and the roommate is still in the apartment, but everything else is moved out, can I be held responsible? Could the landlord withhold my security deposit or sue me if the roommate is not out by the end of the lease?
Better get things squared away with your roommate, because you are indeed responsible if they have not vacated the apartment by the end of the lease, even if you have moved out, especially if you’re the only one on the lease.
Steven Kirkpatrick, a partner at the law firm Romer Debbas, says that you are required by the terms of your lease to give back the apartment with everyone, and their belongings, out of the apartment. It should also be returned in "broom-swept" condition.
If your roommate isn’t out, there are a couple of things that you can expect your landlord to do in order to have the apartment vacated. But, because there is currently an eviction moratorium and housing courts are partially closed, the process will be even slower than before Covid—which will work against you.
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Arik Lifshitz, CEO of DSA Property Group, a property management and development firm, says that not only would you risk losing your security deposit, but rent would also need to be paid for every month that the roommate stays in the apartment. “I would simultaneously bring a holdover action to recover possession and bill the tenant for legal costs,” he says.
The eviction case would have your name on it because you are the one on the lease so you would also be legally responsible for legal costs as well as rent. You could then bring a claim against your roommate for not surrendering, Kirkpatrick says.
It is possible the outcome will not be painful: if your roommate has vacated the apartment but hasn’t removed all of their belongings, anything left would be considered abandoned so you could throw it out. Kirkpatrick says that your landlord might also just throw out their belongings if you’ve already left, but he sometimes advises landlords to document, photograph, and store the belongings for a certain period of time.
If your roommate is on the lease, you’re in a better position because your roommate would also be financially responsible, but everyone is jointly liable, Kirkpatrick says. So, while you wouldn’t be solely responsible, your landlord would likely go after whoever has the most assets, so if your roommate isn’t financially capable, you would also be on the hook.
To protect yourself in a situation like this in the future, you should create a roommate agreement when you first move in together that outlines what happens at the end of a lease, including a right to collect, which could help you get back any legal costs that you would have to pay in this situation.
“The best solution is an amicable one—do your best to reason with the roommate and get them to vacate of their own volition promptly,” Lifshitz says.
So, while you are responsible in this situation, you should try to work it out with your roommate before it reaches legal proceedings. And, do yourself a favor and find a more responsible roommate next time, and require everyone to be on the lease.
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