Choose your roommates wisely

I moved into a house with several roommates. We signed a year lease for $800 per month. Over time, I became particularly unhappy with my roommates and just recently moved out. However, I have only lived there for five months. I am worried about the remaining seven months of rent, which I can’t afford to pay. Could I be sued?

This is an interesting question, and it likely happens relatively frequently, especially among college students. It is easy to become frustrated with the roommate who never takes out the trash, cleans the dishes, or is just plain difficult to live with.

As a general rule, co-tenants are jointly and severally liable to the landlord for the full amount of the rent due.

This means if your ex-roommates default on the rent payments and the landlord sues all of you for the balance due and your ex-roommates fail to pay, you could be responsible for the full amount outstanding.

Of course you could then sue your ex-roommates to collect what you feel they owe.

The problem is it may not have been explicitly agreed upon how much each roommate was to pay. You would have to then show an oral agreement existed for each of you to pay an equal share of the rent.

Your landlord would have a duty to mitigate damages. This legal term of art means simply the landlord would have to make reasonable efforts to re-rent the premises.

If the landlord was able to find new tenants after a two-month period, for instance, you may not be responsible for the balance due on the remaining five months of the lease.

Alternatively, assuming your roommates are now paying the full rent due and no default on the payments occurs, they could sue you to pay your equitable portion. This could be an especially onerous burden if you already have moved into a new location and are paying rent there.

Fortunately, your roommates, like your landlord, also would have a duty to mitigate their damages.

They too would have to attempt to find a replacement roommate who would pay your normal share of the rent.

This would hopefully greatly limit the amount of time you would be faced with the possibility of forking out multiple rent payments.

As a practical matter, most tenants who get caught in this situation may simply just cut their losses and move on without suing the tenant that has moved out.

However, the lesson is clear: Pick your roommates wisely.