ADVERTISEMENT

Renting & the Law: What are options when roommate wants to break lease?

  • Article by: KELLY KLEIN
  • January 3, 2014 - 3:19 PM

Q: In June 2013, I moved into an apartment with a roommate. Both of our names are on the lease. Last week my roommate informed me that she wanted to move out in a couple of months. I was OK with it and told her I would find a new roommate to sublet and take over her half of the lease. My roommate, however, is asking that I break the lease with her and pay half the penalty for breaking the lease early.

I hate moving, and I don’t want to leave this place. I cannot afford half the penalty, which is one month’s rent for me. She already has a place to move into, but I don’t. She is demanding that I pay half the penalty for terminating the lease early because she has paid for half of the utilities in our apartment when she is never here. I told her that I’d like it if she was here more often and that I didn’t make her leave on all those weekends or weeknights. Our agreement was to split the utilities, and we never got into details regarding someone paying a lower amount if they aren’t around the apartment very much. Now I am afraid that she will not pay her share of the utilities for the remaining months.

This situation is causing me stress. What are my options?

A: Unfortunately, you don’t have many great options. You both signed a lease, which means that each of you is responsible for paying the entire rent. If one decides not to pay, then the other has to come up with the full amount. However, it does not mean that your roommate can demand that you terminate the lease. Just as you have agreed to pay that rent, your roommate has as well.

You could find someone else to sublet. But your roommate is still on the lease until the lease terminates. It seems unreasonable that your roommate is demanding this of you, and may be doing so to get out of her responsibility to pay her half of the rent in case you are unable to find someone to sublet. The best case is to try to find someone to sublet, and require that person to sign an agreement that states they are responsible to pay half of the rent and utilities until the lease terminates. That way, you have something you can show your roommate who is leaving that her half of the rent and utilities will be paid by your new roommate.

You should also know that most leases require that the landlord approve any sublet, so you are going to want to review your lease for such a clause. If it has one, you will need to get your landlord’s permission as well. In the end, if you have found a nice subtenant, and the landlord agrees to let that person move in, there is not much your current roommate can do about it.

First-time renter resources

Q: Can you provide some information for a first-time renter? I am assuming there is a website with information to help beginner renters like myself make good decisions. Specifically, I am looking for the rights and obligations of the renter, as well as the landlord. I would appreciate it if you could direct me to such a website.

A: There are three outstanding publications that can help assist you with your questions regarding landlord tenant rights and obligations, as well as corresponding websites that may also prove useful to you as a first-time renter.

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office has written and published a handbook titled “Landlords and Tenants: Rights and Responsibilities,” which is available through the Attorney General’s website (www.ag.state.mn.us/Brochures/pubMovingInToAnApartment.pdf), as well as in other formats upon request.

HOMELine is a nonprofit organization that has a book titled “How to Be the Smartest Renter on Your Block — a Minnesota Tenants’ Rights Guide.” HOMELine has an online site (www.homelinemn.org) that contains useful information for tenants.

Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid also has a booklet titled “Tenants’ Rights in Minnesota” that can assist you with any questions you might have as a tenant. The organization has an online site (www.lawhelpmn.org).

Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to kklein@kleinpa.com, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.

© 2014 Star Tribune