From the Forum – Notice to vacate a lease after initial term as a co-signer

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Notice to vacate a lease after initial term as a co-signer:

“I’m cosigned on a lease and after the initial term ended we are on month to month. I told my roommate 2 months ago that I was moving so he needed to find someone to take over the lease. He has made absolutely no progress in finding a new roommate so I am starting to worry. The lease says: …The lease automatically extends beyond the Initial Term on a month to month basis unless a party gives a termination notice as described under section 5. I would interpret “a party” to mean that I can give notice myself, and the month to month agreement would be over in 30 days, and we would have to vacate the apartment. The leasing office has continuously told me that I need my roommates signature to give the notice. This seems weird to me because what if my roommate refuses to sign the notice FOREVER?!? Not saying this would happen, I just need to know my rights because I feel that I’m being misinformed, trapped and need to find a way out. I should also mention there is a clause in the lease that I am jointly and severally liable for all obligations of the lease.”

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25 Comment

  • Do you pay submarket rent? I have friends who have been in rent-controlled apartments where they insist roommates cannot be changed so they can charge a new lease more than the maximum yearly increase. Might be why they want both of your signatures – then they can sign a new lease.

  • Unfortunately, as co-signors to the lease you are jointly and severally liable. You cannot vacate without both lessors leaving the apartment (or if the landlord allows one of you to stay that would be a special consideration that the landlord makes for you). This is why I always advise people to be very careful who they co-sign leases with…

    • +1 This happened to me earlier in the year, and this is unfortunately true. It was a bit of a nightmare. Good luck!

    • I understand this, my question is– Can I alone give the notice that we are vacating?

      • It depends on how the word party is defined in your lease. But, likely not because party is probably a defined term in the lease agreement and it probably means everyone who signed the lease.

        • Speaking as a landlord, this is just bad policy by the landlord. If someone wants out I would much prefer to let them go easily. Keeping tenants when they would rather leave is asking for trouble (damages, neglect, unpaid rent). Easier to let them go and get someone new who wants to be there, especially since it is never that hard to fill a vacancy in DC. But I’m a private landlord and companies think and operate differently.

  • While we’re on the topic, does anyone have any advice about a roommate wanting to leave an apartment? Two of us live together in Columbia Heights and my roommate wants to move in with his girlfriend. Both of our names are on the lease together, but there’s no breakdown of who pays what amount. What If he just moves out and refuses to pay the rent? Does anyone have any advice/experience on making sure that your roommate finds a replacement/subletter so that you don’t end up with an issue with the apt. building?

    • See my prior post – you will be jointly and severally liable for the ENTIRE monthly payment and can be evicted if the entire rent is not paid. It doesn’t matter if it’s “his portion” that wasn’t paid – you are both on the hook.

    • My only advice is that YOU want to find the subletter/replacement, and not leave that up to your roommate. You will have to live with this person, deal with getting them to pay their half of utilities, etc. so you want to make sure this is someone compatible. Your roommate doesn’t have those same goals so will want to find someone quickly and with minimal effort.

        • I agree. When I was in a similar situation, I had to find someone to take over my portion of the lease. I was nice and made sure it was someone who meshed with my roommate, but find someone to pay the rent, get signatures, and get out.

  • In short, “joint and several” means you’re responsible for the whole of the rent if your roommate bails/refuses to pay/etc. It’s standard for DC leases and most people don’t realize it until they get in a bad situation. While the common practice may be for the vacating roommate to make the effort to find a replacement, if your roommate isn’t cooperating, it’s probably best to do the leg work yourself and find candidates. And if your roommate is moving out and not finding a replacement, you should — you’ll be the one living with them so probably want to make the decision anyway.

  • Think you’re out of luck if your roommate refuses to sign the notice allowing you to be removed from the lease, but I don’t think he can realistically hold you hostage to forever paying half the rent after you moved out and gave him notice. I would think you’d at least have sort of cause of action against him for unjust enrichment or something. But look save yourself the stress and do the legwork for your roommate’s lazy a@#. Put an ad up on CL, set up some roommate interviews and schedule them around your roommate’s availability. Your roommate surely is just being lazy and not planning on holding you hostage for the rent.

  • I do a lot of L&T work and ShawRes is on the money.

    • I get that from a legal standpoint, both are fully liable. However, from a practical standpoint, OP wants to leave, and other roommate wants to stay. Why would a landlord go after a tenant who leaves, when the far easier mechanism by which to enforce the terms of the lease would be to require the tenant who *is still there* to either pay in full or leave.

      • The landlord wouldn’t do that. He would go after the one who stays and force them to pay the entire rent. The one who stays would then be forced to go after the roommate who leaves to recoup the losses, which would be unlikely to happen if the roommate left was given adequate notice and time to mitigate his damages by finding another roommate. Granted, if the roommate who stays simply refuses to pay the other half, the landlord might sue both tenants for the money. But he is also likely to evict the one who stayed. Which is why the one who stays would get off the pot and find a roommate.

      • ah

        If the landlord doesn’t get full payment from the remaining tenant, he can begin eviction proceedings.

        At that point (or before) the remaining tenant (not OP) will be forced to (a) come up with the full rent; (b) vacate; (c) find a roommate to help him pay the rent; (d) sue the OP on a theory of J&S liability to continue paying the rent.

        I see (d) as the path of greatest hassle (not to mention time and cost), and from the OP’s description, the roommate doesn’t seem like one to choose that path.

  • You should be the one looking for a roommate and your current roommate should cooperate. You cannot expect the current roommate to do all the work. Maybe that is why he/she hasn’t been that cooperative because you expected him to do all the work. I am a landlord and this happened a few times with my tenants. The tenant who was leaving was the one arranging all the showings and making sure that the other tenants was there and liked the prospective roommate. In any case you have to work together with you current roommate.

    • I have actually been the one doing all of the work. I’ve posted the apartment on Craigslist and have shown it multiple nights. He’s traveling right now and kinda just left it in my lap and washed his hands of it. I don’t want to be the one liable come next month, so I’m trying to find someone. IF I don’t find someone though, what are my options? A lawsuit for the rent? We have monthly emails saying how much each of us owe for rent and he is the one breaking the lease, not me.

    • Sorry, I didn’t realize that you were answering the OP’s question and not my question at 2:28.

      • I think you are doing the correct thing and your roommate is liable for his part of the rent until his name is off the lease. Documents all the steps you have taken. Also If I was you I will talk to the landlord/Lease office to make sure that they know the situation and let them know you will only continue to pay your part of the rent if you roommate move out without finding a replacement first. As I said in my previous comment to the OP, he one breaking the lease should be the one make all the arrangement and I am amazed that your roommate is not doing it.

  • While joint and several liability would indeed mean he cannot leave unless they both terminate (or the roommate cooperates and signs a new lease with a new roommate), the key here is that it is a month-to-month lease. You are not bound beyond whatever notice you are required to give in the lease. Give the notice and exit. The lease will end at the end of that monthly term. If this were a year lease and you were only six months in, then you’d be responsible for the remainder on the lease. But if you do not consent to its renewal at the end of the monthly term, there is NO lease.

    • PDleftMtP

      I don’t know what the answer is under DC law, but this is the right question. Most of the answers above seem to miss the fact that they’re on a month-to-month lease, not leaving the lease mid-term.

      • Not true. A month-to-month lease continues until notice is given, so these comments do apply to month-to-month. Leaving mid-term would add another set of issues that are even more difficult.

        • Legally speaking, the lease’s term is an additional month. Period. And it is renewing each month until notice is given. I find it hard to believe that one tenant on the lease cannot alone give notice and thereby end the lease as it exists. Once one party expresses their intent to vacate and terminate the lease, the lease it terminated at the end of that term. Period. The idea one roommate can force another to renew a lease over and over is absurd. You have to consent to be a party to a contract. And this contract has term limitations that start and end each month.

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