My Roommate Wants Out… But The Lease Isn’t Over Yet

It started out so well. You didn’t even see it coming, but alas, your roommate is breaking up with you. | Photo courtesy of Tim Kitchen / Digital Vision / Getty Images. 

If there’s one universally-known fact about roommates, it’s that you can only have so much control and influence over their behavior. (Kinda like cats.)

Sure, you can ask them to chip in for groceries or keep it down after midnight, but they’re ultimately going to do whatever they choose to do.

Unfortunately, that can include announcing that they’re moving out of the apartment before the lease is up.

Whether your roommate has gotten a job in another town or whether they’ve just decided they want a change of scenery, their sudden announcement puts you in a tough spot.

Here’s how to deal with the change in a way that will avoid as much drama and inconvenience as possible:

Find a Replacement

First things first: You’re about to have an empty room and one less person paying the rent, so it’s time to find a new roommate, stat. You’ve got a few options when it comes to replacing your roommate, but here are the top things to keep in mind:

Moving in with Strangers?

While the Internet is a quick-and-easy way to cast a wide net on potential roommates in your area, be careful. Anyone you find there should be thoroughly vetted, as the weirdo:to:normal-person ratio can be high.

When you place an ad online, announcing that you’re searching for a roommate, be specific both in terms of describing your place and in terms of laying out what you’re looking for in a roommate.

If your place is non-smoking, state that. If you’re a homebody and don’t want to deal with someone who’ll have friends over all the time, make it known.

The best way to avoid another roommate-replacement scenario is to make sure your new roomie will be a good fit. And the best way to ensure that upfront is by being overly-specific about your preferred lifestyle and tastes.

Don’t Overlook Facebook.

Facebook is equally quick-and-easy, but with the added benefit of knowing that anyone you find through it will already be vetted by a friend or acquaintance.

Put up some posts—or even send directed messages to certain people—stating that you’re looking for a roommate and asking if anyone knows of someone who might be interested. You could find some people you never would have met otherwise, and since they’re referred by someone you know, chances are they won’t be a weirdo. (Or, if they are, they’ll be the kind of weirdo you can get along with!)

Don’t Settle.

Your roommate may be eager to replace herself with the first warm body to say “yes,” but you’re the one who’s going to be forced to live with this person for who-knows-how-long.

If your roommate’s moving date is fixed (i.e., she’s got a job offer to accept in another town), help her search for a replacement. This isn’t (just) benevolence on your part. You’re participating in the search in order to double your chances of landing on a good replacement in time.

If she just wants out, let her know she’s welcome to leave as soon as you’ve found a suitable replacement. You shouldn’t be stuck choosing between someone you’ll hate or paying extra rent just because your roommate’s changed her mind.

Dealing with the Security Deposit

You both contributed to the security deposit when you moved in, so what do you do now?

Theoretically, Replacement Roommate could tender a security deposit to Original Roommate. But that could result in trouble down the road.

So instead, it’s best to be upfront with your landlord. He may decide to return Original Roommate’s security deposit and accept a new deposit from Replacement Roommate, or he may decide to go another route, but ultimately, it’s his call. Go by whatever he decides.

If your roommate caused any damage, you don’t want that to come out of your deposit, so have a talk with your landlord to learn how much it would cost to repair that damage.

Your roommate can either give that amount straight to the landlord, or she give it to you if the landlord doesn’t plan on repairing the damage till everyone’s moved out. Either way, again, leave the decision up to your landlord.

Dividing Up Belongings

As with any relationship, when things end, you’ll need to divvy up “common” possessions. Anything you bought together—be it pots and pans, a couch, or a TV—will now need to be divided up between the two of you. This can get tricky, especially if your roommate isn’t departing on the best of terms, so maintain certain ground rules:

If you each paid in full for certain items, the decisions are fairly simple—you get to keep whatever you paid for, unless one of you decides to “buy out” the other.

Let’s say your roommate purchased the couch initially, but they don’t want to haul it to the new city they’re moving to. You opt to give them $X to keep it in the apartment for yourself.

If you split the cost on some items, you’ll need to do some negotiating. Maybe you get the couch if your roommate gets to keep an equivalent amount of stuff, like a couple of armchairs.

The important thing is that, however you split things, no one’s left feeling cheated at the end of the division process. Start the negotiation process early, and cite original purchase prices for items whenever possible.

Forgot to keep track of who paid for what? Whoopsie! The best you can do in this case is negotiate in good faith. Time to put on your big girl (or boy) pants and be willing to compromise as needed. And be sure to keep better track with your new roommate!