I remember long ago I was watching one of those judge Judy type shows and an interesting case came up. Two roommates came to court because they had a valid rent agreement but the one housemate was smoking marijuana. The other one left the house and refused to pay his part of the rent for which he got sued.

The jist of the ruling was that if the judge enforced this valid rent agreement, he would force the defendant to be an accomplice to drug usage. If he would then fail a drug test his chance at gainful employment would be greatly diminished which would also be unfair to him.

It was a loophole and he found it. The judge remarking that if you want your roommate to pay his rent, don't do drugs. I would love to know what that legal principle is called.

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    Sometimes this would fall under the doctrine of "unclean hands" but there are various ways to characterize the ruling.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 25, 2020 at 0:40

2 Answers 2


This is contract law. There is nothing in legal codes that stipulated that this is valid, but rather that by signing a document that allowed for a signatory to void the contract if one of the terms was broken (don't do drugs... don't do criminal acts) is a valid agreement and the contract documented it was signed, thus the clean roommate was allowed to void his agreement without penalty for the exit because of the terms within. You can call it a loophole or a clause but it's perfectly valid as the contract was entered without any duress by both parties and the terms were violated.

It should also be pointed out most shows in the vein of "Judge Judy" are not actually being handled in a real courtroom setting or real civil trial, but a set that is designed to look like a court room. What is actually going on is a legal process called "Binding Arbitration" where both parties in a disagreement sign a separate contract stating that they will agree to the decision of a neutral arbiter, who need not be a judge (though having a legal background is very helpful). With rare exception, the outcome cannot be appealed or elevated to a real civil court (unless the losing party is not cooperating with the arbiter's judgement, or the case is dismissed without prejudice, which is judge speak for allowing a civil case to be refiled or filed with another court. Typically this happens when the plaintiff is the victim of something that requires a little more legal authority in the judgement.).

They also don't typically do this in a real court room but in a conference room. The court room trappings in these tv shows are for the audience. Arbitration does not create a legal precedence and typically the requested settlement must be small claims ($5,000 or less) though Judge Judy type shows will pay for travel and lodging for both parties and their witnesses regardless of outcome.

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    " dismissed with prejudice," I think you mean without prejudice?
    – Tiger Guy
    Feb 24, 2020 at 21:55
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    @ScottDunnington I did. Let me edit that
    – hszmv
    Feb 25, 2020 at 13:45

A court may refuse to enforce a contract, or part of a contract, because the contract as a whole, or some part of it, is against public policy. Nolo has a web page that mentions public policy and contracts.

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