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I live in an apartment in Austin, TX, with a roommate. We're both co-signed on the lease and the lease doesn't expire until next year. My roommate told me this morning that he is moving out and someone I have never met is moving in to take his place.

But I didn't co-sign a lease with a stranger.

Since the sub-lessee is not himself a co-signer can I call the police and have him removed as an unwanted guest?

When the end of month comes, if no suitable roommate has been found and my ex-roommate (and still current co-signer) refuses to pay his share of the rent, can I sue him in small claims court? Might it be worth my while to hire a lawyer to sue him? Rent is ~$1,600 so $800 is definitely within the limits of small claims, but I don't want to pay my rent late either. I'd like this resolved as quickly as possible, so if hiring a lawyer can expedite things I'm willing to do so.

Update: Here is the relevant section of the lease:

Replacing a resident, subletting, or assigning a resident‘s rights is allowed only when we consent in writing. If a departing or remaining resident finds a replacement resident acceptable to us before moving out and we expressly consent to the replacement, subletting, or assignment

My (old) roommate says that he got this new person added on the lease but can they do that without my signature? Can my (old) roommate and the apartment go behind my back like this?

  • What does your lease say about subletting? – Pat W. Oct 3 '15 at 18:19
  • @PatW. - i added the relevant part of the lease. – neubert Oct 4 '15 at 0:04
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    I would recommend not jumping straight to calling the police, especially not without discussing the circumstances with your ex-roommate, the potential new roommate (if possible) and possibly a lawyer. If you jump straight to calling the police the situation will escalate very quickly and be much more difficult to resolve. – David says Reinstate Monica Oct 4 '15 at 0:12
  • if hiring a lawyer can expedite things I'm willing to do so. it would undoubtedly expedite things, but before starting that ball rolling, you should figure out exactly what your ideal outcome would be. Would you most prefer to: stay alone in the apartment and your original roommate has to pay half the rent? stay alone, you pay half rent, and nobody pays the other half? merely have equal right as the landlord has in vetting the prospective replacement? – Dan Henderson Oct 4 '15 at 1:05
  • You may or may not be able to get what you want, but you should know what you want when you meet with a lawyer. – Dan Henderson Oct 4 '15 at 1:06
4

When the end of month comes, if no suitable roommate has been found and my ex-roommate (and still current co-signer) refuses to pay his share of the rent, can I sue him in small claims court? Might it be worth my while to hire a lawyer to sue him? Rent is ~$1,600 so $800 is definitely within the limits of small claims, but I don't want to pay my rent late either.

That's the thing. You can only sue in Small Claims court if you paid his side of the rent as well. You can not sue for a debt you haven't paid. Otherwise, only the landlord can sue, and the landlord will sue both of you (even if you paid your half of the rent on time).

Whatever happens. Be reasonable. No judge in the United States is going to allow you to stay in an apartment alone while your former roommate is liable for his side of the rent.

Speak to your landlord. Confirm that the landlord is on-board with the change. Confirm that the landlord did his due diligence in screening the applicant. Confirm that the money already exchanged hands and everything is signed already. It may not be. If the new person hasn't even seen the place yet, I doubt he has signed anything yet (except for a credit check and a background/eviction check application).

If you suspect that your roommate maliciously picked someone to be his replacement, or that your roommate is so desperate that he picked the first person who emailed him on Craigslist. Then talk to your landlord about it. Try to resolve this amicably first. Tell your landlord your fear. Chances are, you can probably interrupt the process, assuming you're willing to show your place to other new potential roommates. Your landlord probably has no idea that you were not even consulted about this.

If your roommate picked an old friend of his to be his replacement, then do your own checking through Facebook (or through whatever the kids are using these days). Look at the pictures of that new roommate. Ask any other friends you may have in common. If that person smokes pot (which is still illegal in Texas), or smokes cigarettes, and you do neither, then you may have an issue.

And if an amicable discussion with the landlord doesn't work, then go see the Austin Tenants Council.

http://www.austintenantscouncil.org/contact.html

That being said, speak to your landlord first. Do not trust what your ex-roommate said. The Austin Tenants Council will ask the same questions I did about the landlord's exact stance on this, and the details regarding the kind of screening the new roommate went through.

5

There's a lot of variables here, as many leases are built in different ways within the leeway allowed by law. You will want to contact a local lawyer to see how you can mitigate the damage to yourself, and contact your landlord and see if you can re-negotiate the lease. If the landlord doesn't want to re-negotiate, you're probably facing eviction if you can't come up with the full rent by yourself; many leases don't allow non-related adults to live on the premises if they're not on the lease (this can also result in eviction).

However, your roommate will also get an eviction record and be responsible for any damages if the lease survives long enough to cause an eviction. Actually having a random person move in from Craigslist might also cause your roommate to suffer additional liability if they're not allowed to sublet their lease agreement, which many leases do not allow (landlords like knowing who's living on their properties). Having them move in might cause both you and your roommate to be evicted.

You probably don't have any rights to sue your roommate until actual damages occur (in other words, after you've already been evicted). You should speak with your landlord as soon as possible to get a new lease. An eviction record will cause problems for your roommate as well, so you might urge them to consider staying long enough to get things sorted out legally. When you ask your landlord, simply ask something like, "My roommate wants to move out. What are my options?" They will tell you what they are willing to accept.

3

Here's the problem. You are responsible for 100% of the rent. I think you know that.

Oh yeah, the cops aren't going to do anything. There nothing for them. This is a civil matter.

So you are 100% responsible for the rent. Your roommate is responsible for 100% also. But since you are not going to be paying 200% you probably have an agreement to split this up. This agreement is the thing you will show the judge. I'm assuming you don't have it in writing. Without it there is not much that a court can do.

The reason your roommate can sublet is because he has the same rights to the property that you have. One of those rights is to sublet. If the two of you didn't make any agreement (again, in writing) about how each person was going to occupy the the apartment, then you have no basis (in the law) to stop your roommate. Without an agreement you each have the right to access 100% of the property. Without some written agreement between cotenants, the lease governs your relationship to the property. You can have friends over every night, cook stinky food and watch tv with their feet on the couch. Friends can take showers, set up model trains, wear their shoes in the house. They can refuse to vacuum, do a bad job cleaning, never lock the door, and never answer the phone. They can even sublet. The lease allows all this stuff. You don't get to change it because you don't like it.

There is a difference between what the law allows you to do and what reality allows. Let's say you could keep this subletter out of the apartment and pay the rent yourself and just sue your roommate. Is that really what you would do? Would you choose to keep out an alternate roommate and seek justice in court? And let's say you win. Now you need to enforce the judgment. Does this person have the money to pay whatever amount they will owe? Do you have the energy to chase down the collection or the money to pay someone to collect for you?

The fact is that you are in a shitty situation. I don't even blame the roommate. I mean, this person could be your best friend and you could still end up here. Circumstances change, people need to move. Perhaps you can get a subletter too. Better yet, maybe you stay, fall in love, and the ex-roommate is best-whatever at your wedding.

  • @StephanBranczyk because it doesn't sound any agreements between the cotenants are in writing. – jqning Oct 4 '15 at 4:09
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    "I'm assuming you don't have it in writing. Without it there is not much that a court can do." That seems off. A contract doesn't need to be written to be a contract. You'd just tell the judge you agreed to split the rent 50 50, and the other person would need to have evidence otherwise, or a damn good (reasonable) reason why something else was agreed upon. – Andy Oct 4 '15 at 23:22
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    @Andy "Yes, your honor, I agreed to pay half the rent while I lived there. I don't live there anymore. In fact, I don't even live in the state anymore. When I left I had a subletter take over my lease [holds up lease]. If plaintiff thinks we had some other agreement he certainly never discussed those assumptions with me. – jqning Oct 4 '15 at 23:28
  • @Andy What jqning said. That whole "verbal contract" thing is a thing, but without something in writing, it's up to each side to frame interpretation and evidence. Your "we agreed" is no better than "no we didn't". – KJ Seefried Nov 28 '17 at 4:50
  • @KJSeefried " it's up to each side to frame interpretation and evidence. Your "we agreed" is no better than "no we didn't"." No, it will be up to the judge hearing the case to decide. They will find one side more credible/believable then the other and rule accordingly. The court CAN do something even with just a verbal contract. – Andy Nov 28 '17 at 13:25

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