When one person leaves a rental unit midway through the lease, it can put the other people on the lease in a bind. Because a lease is a written contract, the landlord can enforce it in court to get the remaining balance owed on the rental unit.
The lease might have specific terms related to one or more tenants leaving before the end of the lease. It might provide certain steps that a tenant must follow to ensure that he complies with the terms of the contract he signed. For example, a lease could prescribe a specific penalty the tenant must pay if there is a liquidated damages clause in place.
Generally, the remaining tenant will be liable for the rent that is due on the lease. For example, if the lease is for 12 months and the other tenant moves out three months in, the remaining tenant will be required to pay for the remaining nine months. Joint and several liability, a legal term meaning that one tenant can be held liable for the entire agreement, results in any rule violation or breakage of the lease being imputed to all remaining tenants. A tenant can then attempt to collect the amount owed by the tenant who leaves in small claims court or by hiring an attorney to file a lawsuit.
Since you can be equally liable for the conduct of other tenants in the unit, you can be subject to an eviction order. Eviction can make it more difficult for you to lease a new place as well as having an adverse effect on your credit rating.
Your lease might include a provision that allows you to get a new roommate to take over the financial responsibility of the departing tenant. Even without such a provision, your landlord might be amenable to getting a new roommate or subletting the unit. However, the landlord likely must approve the tenant the same way that he did with you and your roommate. A landlord is required to mitigate damages, meaning that he must make a reasonable attempt to decrease the amount of damages that he has, but this doesn't necessarily mean he has to accept an unacceptable tenant.
Breaking the lease might result in the loss of a security deposit. As explained previously, your roommate's misconduct can also be imputed to you, meaning that moving out before the lease expires, causing damage to the unit or not paying rent can cause you to lose your security deposit.
- Georgia Legal Aid: Early Termination of a Lease (Answers to Common Questions)
- Tenants Union of Washington: Roommates & Neighbors FAQ
- Jennifer Ellis, JD: What Happens When You Need to Break Your Lease
- Nolo: When a Roommate Wants to Leave Early
- Illinois Legal Aid: Breaking My Lease
- FindLaw: Terminating a Lease or Rental Agreement: FAQs
Samantha Kemp is a lawyer for a general practice firm. She has been writing professionally since 2009. Her articles focus on legal issues, personal finance, business and education. Kemp acquired her JD from the University of Arkansas School of Law. She also has degrees in economics and business and teaching.