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What happens if one or more, but not all, tenants move out early?

In most cases, all tenants are responsible for the entire term, or time period, of the lease unless the landlord and other tenants agree otherwise in writing. If you made a Room Rental Agreement or another tenant used a Sublease Agreement for the departing tenant, the situation may be a little different.

When one tenant leaves in the middle of the lease term, if they signed the lease, they are still responsible for the rent unless other arrangements have been made for the remainder of the time left on the lease. If it is clear that the tenant moved out and does not plan to return, the landlord or any remaining tenant(s) on the lease may have a duty to find a replacement tenant, depending on state or local law. Additionally, remaining tenants on the lease, unless the lease says otherwise, are usually still responsible for the full rent. If none of the remaining tenants are named in the Lease Agreement, you may be able to require signing a new lease, to increase the rent, to ask them to move out, or to evict. You may want to discuss your options with a lawyer as state and local laws do vary, and areas with strong renters protections may have strict limits.

It is important that your Lease Agreement clearly outlines the lease term and the penalties for breaking it early. This informs tenants of their liability if they choose to leave without giving proper notice or before the end of the term.

What if the remaining tenants want to stay?

Even if one tenant decides to leave, the remaining tenants may want to continue renting the property. If they can afford the rent, a Roommate Release Agreement can make it clear that the departing tenant is no longer responsible for the lease. If they cannot afford the entire rent, you may want to help them find a new roommate, or allow them to do so. This can help make sure the rent is covered.

Ask any potential tenant to fill out a Rental Application, which includes a background and credit check, and an employment verification, before offering a Rental Agreement. You may use your standard tenant screening criteria for any new renters. It can help prevent problems between tenants who do not know each other by asking them to make a Roommate Agreement or Co-Tenancy Agreement.

Once you find a replacement, there are a number of options to consider for the best lease arrangement depending on the situation:  

Does the remaining tenant want to leave?

Sometimes, the remaining tenant may want to leave because they cannot afford the rent or for some other reason. It can often be the best course of action to agree to a departure date before the end of the lease term. While you may hold tenants to the Lease Agreement, suing a tenant or taking other legal action can often be expensive and a waste of your resources and time. Getting old tenants out and new tenants in as soon as possible can help ensure you keep those rental revenues coming in.

To incentivize outgoing tenants to leave quicker and without causing damage, you may offer to waive any fees and release the tenants from the lease entirely, if they move out by a certain date. State and local laws may impose limits on what you can charge or deduct from a security deposit. If your tenants agree to move out, you can make and sign an Agreement to Cancel Lease when they return the keys.

Can you evict the remaining tenant?

In most cases, you may not evict the remaining tenant just because another wants to leave. If, however, the remaining tenant is unable to pay the rent on their own and cannot find a new roommate, you may evict them for not paying rent according to the terms of the lease. If the remaining tenant is not on the lease, an eviction may be possible, however, you may want to discuss this situation with a lawyer, as it can be legally complicated, especially in areas with strong renters protections. 

If you do decide to evict, follow the eviction process set out by state and local law. This typically requires sending an Eviction Notice that complies with state or local law. A written notice or warning when a tenant misses rent is usually not enough. An Eviction Notice, to be valid, is generally required to include specific information that can varies from one state or county to another. This usually includes: 

  • The reason for the Eviction Notice.
  • Whether the eviction can be avoided.
  • How much money is owed.
  • How much time the tenant has to fix the problem or move out. 

Eviction Notices may be as short as a 3-day notice instructing the tenant to pay the overdue rent or move out. If the tenant does not move out after receiving the notice, then an eviction case can be filed in the local court. A landlord cannot physically remove a tenant from their property until they get a court order and law enforcement to do the physical removal.

Can small claims court help?

Small claims court is another tool landlords can use when a tenant breaks the lease, or fails to pay money that is owed. Small claims court usually cannot help with evictions, but it can help you collect money from a former or current tenant for unpaid rent or damages beyond a security deposit. Small claims court often has lower filing costs and can help you save on attorney's fees.

Tenants may also take their roommates or co-tenants to small claims court to recover money for unpaid rent or damages.

How can you prevent problems with multi-tenant leases?

There are several steps a landlord or property management company can take to prevent problems with multi-tenant leases.

Requiring tenants to negotiate and sign a Roommate Agreement or Co-Tenancy Agreement can be beneficial. These spell out each tenant's financial obligations for the entire lease term so it is clear between your tenants. These documents can also prevent other problems such as disputes over the use of common areas, utility bills, or overnight guests.

When considering multi-tenant leases, landlords may want to consider using shorter time periods or using a Month-to-Month Rental Agreement so they can have more flexibility to make changes as required. Also, with shorter terms, or a Month-to-Month Rental Agreement, landlords have more opportunities to simply not renew the lease

If you have questions about how to deal with a tenant leaving, or protecting your rental revenues, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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