A roommate unexpectedly moving out can cause financial difficulty. You could start to remedy the situation by contacting your landlord, reading your lease agreement and starting the search for a replacement roommate.
When your roommate moves out, you'll be facing rent with one less co-tenant covering the cost. Plus, you may have legal obligations to deal with, especially if they leave before your lease is up. To navigate the aftermath, we've broken down four essential steps to take when your roommate moves out.
1. Read Your Lease
First thing's first: Get out your lease or rental agreement and read every word. Make sure you understand key sections that pertain to some of the obstacles you might have to tackle when you unexpectedly lose a paying member of the agreement. Here are a few things to look out for:
- How to pay rent when you're one roomie down, especially if you're worried about paying it until you find a replacement. We'll discuss your options more below.
- What happens to your security deposit? If the now-absent roommate contributed to the security deposit, you'll need to determine how much and whether they left behind any damage that could affect repayment.
- How to remove their name from the agreement (and add someone new).
2. Deal With Rent
Are you on the hook for your roommate's part of the rent? Most likely, yes: You're responsible for paying the entire rent as a group, even if your roommate leaves without notice. Unpaid rent can land you steep fees, a damaged credit score and even eviction.
If your roommate left without paying rent, be prepared to cover their share if necessary. However, it's wise to work with your roommate to make their absence less of an issue for the remaining tenants. Ask them to stay on the lease until you locate a replacement, or that they pay for an extra month of utilities and rent to help you get started. If it becomes a major issue, you might want to chat with a legal professional.
Talk to your landlord if you don't think you can get the cash together in time. You may be able to negotiate extra time to deal with the financial change, but they will be far more receptive if you let them know in advance—don't wait until after the due date to plead your case. Be specific about your intention to pay what you owe, and offer to put your promise in writing to give them extra assurance.
We always recommend maintaining a dedicated emergency fund for situations such as this, but no one's perfect—and neither are our finances. If you find yourself faced with fear before the first of the month, check your lease again; it can tell you exactly what rules and fees to expect in case you need to make a late payment. If you're struggling to pay, stay calm: You have options.
3. Get Legal Advice
Many law offices offer a free consultation to potential new clients. You can use this initial conversation to get an attorney's guidance on the dense language of your lease and learn about any legal options you may have in your unique situation.
An attorney can break down any complex sections of your lease agreement. There's a number of situations when you may need legal counsel to proceed wisely, such as:
- Your roommate moved out in the middle of your lease and unexpectedly stuck you with financial trouble.
- The roommate caused damage that endangers your security deposit or left with items they don't own.
- You need expert clarification on your legal rights or the lease agreement.
If necessary, an attorney may advise you to approach the situation with a specific strategy or to pursue a case.
4. Plan Your Next Move
Once you've covered the aforementioned steps, it's time to start looking for one of two things: a new rental or a new roommate.
If you're planning to stay where you are, jump on a roommate-finder app or use your social and real-life networks to source a replacement roomie. Get with your landlord to coordinate changing the names on the lease, and discuss any requirements for the incoming tenant. They may need to submit certain additional information such as references, proof of income or a credit check before moving in.
On the other hand, if you also decide to jump ship after your roommate does, be prepared for the price of relocating. Moving may be unavoidable, but it can nonetheless be expensive. You may need a moving truck and supplies (or, perhaps, a crew of movers to cover it for you), new furniture and a security deposit. Plus, you may be responsible to pay a fee for breaking your lease early.
The Bottom Line
Now that you've thoroughly read your lease, clarified any legal questions and covered your main financial bases, start preparing for the next time a situation like this arises. There's no time like the present to start funding emergency savings and keeping a budget to stay on top of unexpected expenses.
Additionally, be sure to keep an eye on your credit score—a landlord is much more likely to give you some leeway on late rent if you have a sound payment history, and a new landlord is more apt to rent to you if your credit score reflects your good money habits. You can get your credit score for free with Experian, and look for ways to improve or maintain it so renting's easier in the future.