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Can You Get Rid of Your Roommate (Legally)?

Posted by attorney Mark Campanella

Have you ever been the victim of a roommate from hell? For those of us who have suffered through one, those relationships almost always start off well enough. At some point, however, something goes horribly awry, and the situation becomes so bad that you would do anything to get rid of that roommate. When faced with the situation, what recourse do you have? The answer, unfortunately, depends.

We’ll start off with the bad news first. If you and your roommate are both tenants of record (meaning that you’ve both signed the lease), you unfortunately don’t have many legal strategies at your disposal to force your roommate to leave if she won’t do so voluntarily. Given that you both have a contractual right to the leased premises, the courts unfortunately do not recognize one tenant’s ability to force another out. An important issue to keep in mind is that you are both ultimately tenants of the landlord. The court isn’t willing to impair a landlord’s contractual rights simply because roommates aren’t getting along unless the landlord is the one initiating the proceeding. Even then, he needs to have a valid basis for doing so.

Now, on to the slightly better news. If you alone are a party to the subject lease, I’m happy to report that you’ve got some rights against your roommate, although you’re unfortunately still going to need to jump through some legal hoops to get him or her out if they won’t go voluntarily. If you’ve got a roommate who isn’t on the lease, your role in that relationship is essentially that of her landlord. This being the case, if you want to rid yourself of your roommate, you are going to need to initiate a formal eviction proceeding against them. While the courts do not require that individuals hire an attorney to initiate such an action, if one chooses to do so without counsel, it is imperative that she abides by the applicable laws and notice requirements set forth by New York State to ensure that the proceeding is effective.

While I understand and recognize the desire to get out from underneath a dysfunctional roommate situation, under absolutely no circumstances would I ever recommend engaging in self-help to make your roommate leave. Whether your roommate is on the lease or not, they still have certain legal rights. If you choose to violate those rights, you quite honestly run the very real risk of their claiming damages against you for your potentially illegal actions.

With that in mind, I’ll leave you with the following words of advice. Try talking to your roommate. Hopefully whatever differences exist can be sorted out. If the divide can’t be bridged, however, then hopefully you’re at least in a position where you can undertake that eviction proceeding. Short of that, although hardly ideal, there is always the option of subletting your portion of the lease to someone else, while you find a new place to live. It may not be a perfect system, but it’s the best we have. The lesson in all of this: roommates can be a tricky proposition at best, so go forward taking one on at your own risk.

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