Q: My lease was terminated recently because of my roommate’s actions. He was intoxicated and scaled our apartment building, then fell two floors and broke his leg. Our landlord terminated our lease because my roommate put other tenants’ lives in danger.
My roommate also brought his dog into our apartment on multiple occasions, and would have his dog stay for weeks even though dogs were not allowed in our lease.
On top of that, he was always late in paying me for utilities, sometimes waiting weeks to give me the money.
After we received the lease-termination notice and a request to pay $3,500 as an early-termination fee, my roommate said he would try to get me out of it, since it was his fault. Soon, I stopped hearing from my roommate and starting hearing from his mother. She threatened to get attorneys involved, and said I had to pay half of the $3,500 lease-termination fee, which I eventually did.
I had no place to go, but I had to find a new apartment in two weeks, move out and pay another security deposit on a new place, incurring numerous costs because of my roommate.
My roommate asked our landlord to send the security deposit to him. However, I felt uncomfortable with this arrangement, and asked our landlord to send it to me instead. I have kept the entire security deposit. Now, a few months later, his mom is contacting me requesting that I send her son his half of the security deposit. His mom is threatening to call the police, and says I committed fraud. However, since Bank of America allows checks to be deposited with only one signature, I was able to sign for it and deposit the money into my account. Is there anything I can do?
A: Typically, tenants are allowed to pay a lease-termination fee, such as the $3,500 in your case, when they want to break a lease early to move somewhere else or for other reasons. The tenants often aren’t required to pay the fee if their lease is terminated early by the landlord. However, your lease most likely contains language requiring tenants to pay a break-lease fee if they are in violation of their lease terms. Scaling the apartment building and having dogs in your apartment are most likely violations of your lease. Since the violations were made by your roommate, and not yourself, then you have a claim against your roommate for expenses you incurred from your move. You should contact your roommate or his mother, and tell them that you will not be mailing half the security deposit, due to all the expenses you incurred because of your roommate’s illegal actions. Request that he pay the money he owes you for covering half of the lease-termination fee. Your roommate may take you to conciliation court in an attempt to collect half the security deposit, but his chances of winning in court are not good.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.