From the Forum – How do you terminate a month-to-month lease with co-tenants?

by Prince Of Petworth June 5, 2014 at 2:10 pm 40 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user scottahb

How do you terminate a month-to-month lease with co-tenants?

“Hi PoPville, I need some advice.

Last year, I agreed to a 6 month lease that went month-to-month back in January 2014. I am a co-tenant with two other people and we are all jointly and severally responsible for all the terms of the lease.

I gave the land lord my one month’s notice that I’d like to vacate and terminate my tenancy. The LL said that I cannot do that. Either I find a replacement, which is approved by all parties, and then transfer the lease and liability to them, or all three current co-tenants must agree to vacate. My roommates do no want to leave and aren’t inclined to find a replacement for me on the lease.

My understanding was that since it became a month-to-month lease, any co-tenant could terminate with a month’s notice.

It doesn’t make sense to me — and doesn’t seem possible — that I’m am bound to a month-to-month lease INDEFINITELY and can only leave at the mercy of my roommates, that is, if my co-tenenants approve my candidate or choose to leave as well.

I get that I have J&S liability for rent during the lease period (so any given month if one tenant doesn’t pay, the rest of us have to cover). But how can I be bound forever in a co-tenancy with two other people? The lease period ends at a certain point. At that point ever month is an opportunity to terminate the lease. Once I give proper notice, seems like I should get to terminate my obligations in the month-to-month lease.

Is my land lord really right here? Is this legal?”

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  • tmj

    I don’t know about the legal issues, but if you just put it on craigslist and advertise it as month to month, you’ll have a lot of people interested. A lot of people may prefer that to being locked in for a whole year. Just have them come by at a time when both roommates are there so they can meet, ask questions, etc., then afterwards they can give yays or nays. There are plenty of people in DC looking for housing, it shouldn’t be hard to find someone.

    • textdoc


    • Anonymous

      Ditto. Do the legwork for your roommates, as they are just being lazy.
      In my old group house, we used Google Docs to upload all the potential roommate descriptions and then we voted on who we liked. Make it easy for the existing roommates to make a decision.

    • Anony

      Except the current roommates have to approve whomever he/she finds. Sounds like this isn’t ending on a good note.

      Also, OP should read lease terms carefully before committing to such a binding contract like a rental lease. And should also consider whom he/she rooms with. Yes, you are stuck.

      • You are not stuck… at worst you would be responsible for a few months max. That is ridiculous.

        Ever watch Judge Judy folks. 2 months maybe. After that, the remaining roommates have the obligation to find a replacement.

        That being said, I agree, do the foot work for your roommates and set up 3 or 4 interviews, after that you have done your part…

        This is America baby, you are never stuck.

    • Anonymous

      In this case it does sound like the roommates don’t want to do the work. But it isn’t hard to imagine a situation where 3 people sign a lease, one moves out, and the other two opt to pay higher rent for it to be just the two of them. What happens then? Do they have to initiate a brand new (perhaps year-long) lease to absolve the 3rd roommate of any obligation?

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I found a replacement roommate in less than 24 hours. Granted, I was fortunate that the first person to stop by was really cool (and my housemates agreed), but if he hadn’t panned out, I had a dozen other people who asked to stop by.

      Took hardly any work. Posted the ad on CL, arranged meeting, signed document. I wish everything in lfie was so easy and painless..

  • textdoc

    The OP might want to check out this thread, which addressed a somewhat similar question:

  • Anonymous

    Why aren’t your roommates willing to get another roommate?!? That just sounds like a crazy mess.

    • textdoc

      It sounds like they’re not willing to _look_ for another roommate. It’s not clear whether they’d _mind_ having a new roommate, if the OP did the legwork to find one.
      Frankly, it’s in their self-interest to find a replacement roommate — I mean, they’re the ones who are going to have to live with him/her. But I can also understand how they don’t want to make this additional effort just because the OP decided to move out.
      So the OP’s best bet is to do the legwork himself/herself and try to find someone that he/she thinks the roommates will approve of.

  • Anon

    First, contact the DC Tenant Advocate to verify what I’m saying here (202-719-6560). Second, here’s my quick take, for what it’s worth:
    I don’t think your landlord’s right. If you were still under lease, it would be a different story, but it might help to clarify your terms a little. You are not on a month-to-month lease. The lease expired, so you automatically converted to a month-to-month *tenancy*, with the same terms and conditions as the lease (except for certain things like rent increases and your ability to terminate). So there’s no obligation past the next month, provided you give proper notice.
    Now what the landlord COULD do is treat the entire tenancy (the right of you 3 people in particular to occupy the unit) has having been terminated when one person leaves, so you might subject your roommates to eviction proceedings. If he chooses not to, I would think that this removes you from joint and several liability for the ongoing payments. Any agreement you have with your roommates, on the other hand, could still be enforceable.

    • Loganite

      This is close to right. If the lease provides any future conditions on the month-to-month tenancy, then the OP may be bound by that. But at the end of the day, you can give notice (recommended you give whatever was required in the lease originally) of your intent to move out. If your roommates do nothing and you leave, they have two options: pay your portion of the rent or not pay it. If they fail to pay it, the landlord has two options: evict or work something else out. If the roommates cover your portion to avoid their own eviction, they can technically sue you. However, any judge will quickly look at them and say, you were given notice of your roommate’s intention to vacate and you did nothing. You did not mitigate your damages. You are owed nothing. Mitigation of damages is a requirement on their part or even the landlord’s part if you give proper notice of your intent to vacate. The more time you give them, the more likely it is they will get laughed out of court. You should not have any obligation to find them a replacement roommate after the original lease term expires. None. You should however give them reasonable notice you are leaving.

      Franky the landlord has nothing to do with it until rent isn’t paid. But they cannot force you to stay there.

  • Anonymous

    It depends on what your lease actually says, but no, just because your lease has turned MTM, that doesn’t affect your ability to terminate only your portion of the tenancy. That’s the nature of joint tenancies and why group situations are all individual leases. Like the landlord said, you can either amend the lease by inserting someone else in your place with everyone’s consent, or you can terminate the lease, but if the lease is terminated, it’s terminated for all.

    • Anon

      It doesn’t matter what the lease says, because DC law trumps anything written in the lease. A month to month tenancy can be terminated on proper notice, regardless of what the original lease says. And as to your last sentence, that’s true but not the question. I didn’t get that OP cares one way or the other of the roommates can stay, only that he or she isn’t held jointly and severally liable for ongoing rent. If OP gives proper notice terminating the joint tenancy (which can in fact be terminated by any member) then the tenancy ends. It’s then up to the landlord and the remaining tenants to decide if they want to enter into a new landlord/tenant relationship. If so, great. If not, the landlord can evict the remaining tenants as holdover tenants.

      • Anonymous

        This is true of a joint tenancy, but this isn’t a joint tenancy–a JT requires ownership of land. This is a leasehold estate held by multiple persons. As you say, the “tenant” in a tenancy at sufferance can terminate, but the “tenant” here is all three persons jointly.

        • PRO

          Correct. Since you are a tenant and not an owner the lease is likely in all three of your names. Meaning you need the consent of all three to make any changes to your lease agreement. You have a lease takeover option in DC, I suggest you explore that. Post ad’s on craigslist, otherwise have your roommates agree to let you out in writing.

          • Anonymous

            But the lease term has expired and they’re now month to month tenants, so they’re not amending the contract. One person is declining to renew his or her involvement at the beginning of the next lease term (after giving the required 30-day notice) which is perfectly legal. There’s no way a DC judge would bind one person to a month to month tenancy in perpetuity.

  • cMaryc

    You want a good reference from your landlord. So, show him/her item 1F on the DC Tenant Survival Guide (PDF to be found on DC.gov), “What Happens When Your Lease Expires.” Provide your rookies with a list of prospects (copy the landlord), then provide the landlord with a draft of your ideal landlord reference letter. Make it easy for them, and you’ve made it easy on you.

  • Anonymous

    This is easy enough to work out. Two options: (1) if you’re on good terms with your roommates, do the legwork to find your replacement and sign over liability under your M2M lease; (2) if you’re not, move out without providing a forwarding address and stop paying your share of the rent. Given joint and several liability, the crappy roommates would be just as liable for your third of the rent as you, and your landlord is going to be a pain in their behind about not paying the third of the rent before coming after you (since coming after you involves the extra legwork of finding you).

    • Anonymous

      Option 2 may mean you lose your share of the security deposit though, but it still might be the better option.

  • AG

    If it’s about the roommates not wanting to do the legwork for finding a new roommate, well, it’s your responsibility to find someone new. Put up the Craigslist ad, sort through responses, find a few possibilities, and have them give you a time when they’ll be home to meet them. If they can’t even do that, you find a few possible tenants, confirm they’re interested, and forward your roommates and landlord the list. That’s the most you can do. I don’t see why they would want to bar you from leaving and live with someone who doesn’t want to live with them. Beyond that, if you just up and leave, it’s going to be their problem to cover the full rent. You might be legally responsible, but the landlord probably wouldn’t go through the trouble of going after you and will either harass your current roommates or kick them out and find a group that will pay full rent. If it comes to that, you might have to sacrifice your security deposit, but small price to pay.

    • Loganite

      No, it is not OP’s responsibility in the slightest. If the other tenants want to stay, it is their responsibility.

  • Anonymous

    As a landlord, I’ve been in this situation before and have had tenants go to small claims court suing each other after one person moved out, stopped paying and the second person refused to let them off the lease. I offered to change the lease as your landlord did above, however since the lease is with all tenants, I can’t just remove one person from it w/o the consent of all other parties. If your roommates are comfortable covering your share of the rent, the landlord would probably allow you to be removed from the lease and have a clause stating the security deposit is returned to whomever is on the lease at the end of term. Getting your deposit would then have to come from your current/former roommates.

    The tenancy is with all individuals on the lease, the jointly and severally clause. There is no implied split in responsibility, length of occupancy, etc. Any change in the lease (ending, etc) must be agreed to by everyone on the lease. To ensure there is no confusion, I go so far as to require single payment (one cheque only) so I’m not involved at all in how the tenants split up the rent. Multiple people on the lease sometimes gets tricky returning the security deposit. In most cases there is an agreement on how to split it out at the end, however if tenants can’t agree on how to split it, they get a check w/ everyone’s name on it.


    • Anon

      Are you a landlord in DC? Because I can assure you that a month to month tenancy in DC can be terminated on a month’s notice. If one of the tenants properly serves the landlord with a notice terminating the tenancy, then it’s terminated for all. What happens after that is between the remaining tenants and the landlord.

      • You are correct!

        DC favors the tenant always whether you want to stay or go. Give notice, find a few good replacments, set up the meetngs, and like one said above list what you did with names, phones, and dates of upcoming appointments.

        Then move. You are not stuck – period.

      • Anonymous

        yes, DC landlord and at the the time the tenants were part way through a 1yr lease, not mtm.

        On mtm, what happens if one serves notice to leave, moves out and the other decides to say f-it and refuse to move. They’re obviously responsible for the entire rent amount, but are they under obligation to vacate if they weren’t the ones giving notice and refuse to sign a new lease?

        • Anon

          Part way through a lease is pretty clear: all parties are liable until the end of the lease term. In month to month the tenant who says f-it is a holdover tenant and can be held liable for rent plus damages.

  • DC_Chica

    I agree with the advice to contact the DC Office of the Tenant Advocate – it sounds like the crucial question here is whether notice from you alone can legally end the lease (thereby forcing your roommates to sign a new lease if they want to stay there), or whether your roommates have to agree. I assume that the exact wording of your lease is ambiguous in this regard, which is why you’re asking PoPville, but I think you need the opinion of an expert on DC tenant protections laws to make sure that you don’t get screwed over. You may also want to inform your LL that your roommates plan to stay and only pay 2/3 of the rent every month, and see whether that motivates him to start threatening your roommates with eviction now, so that they either agree to start paying the share of the rent that you currently pay after you leave, or prod them into getting a new roommate. I’m sorry about your situation, but I learned several lessons about roommates the hard way, and that’s one of the reasons I live alone now — I highly recommend it if you can afford it.

  • Kara

    This happened to me as well. I was on a month-to-month with one roommate and I wanted to move on to get my own place and my roommate wanted to stay. My roommate was perfectly willing to find a new roommate, and did quite easily, but the landlord charged me a move-out fee and upped their rent when I moved out (which he had not done for the three years we both lived there and for the year she had already lived there before I arrived with a different roommate). I worked with the Tenants’ Advocate office and this was in fact all legal, but my former roommate and I were basically both penalized because one of us wanted to move out and the other did not. If she had moved out and then back in (this was an actual option they offered), I would not have had the move-out fee but the rent would have been raised the full amount available for a full vacancy, higher than what it was raised.

    • Anon

      In a month to month group tenancy one person can terminate by serving proper notice., which you did. Your former roommate then entered into a new tenancy, and it sounds like you reached a compromise about the move-out fee vs. raising the rent to the full rent ceiling amount. If I’m reading OP correct, the landlord in that case has said that it’s OP’s responsibility to find a new tenant or OP will be held responsible for ongoing rent payments. That’s just not correct.

    • Anonymous

      It seems a bit odd that your landlord didn’t raise the rent while you guys lived there for 3 or 4 years. Landlords can raise the rent once every 12 month period, even if the tenancy is month-to-month. No new lease needs to be signed.

      • Kara

        Yes, we were just lucky he had not raised it. I suppose I was annoyed because I was properly giving notice and leaving a month-to-month lease and was penalized for it with the move-out fee.. and did not receive the interest on my security deposit (minimal, but I still didn’t think that was quite right on principle). My roommate did have to sign on for a new full-year lease and could not continue month-to-month, so in that sense it was similar to the OP. She was good with that, sounds like these roommates are not.

        • Anonymous

          A move out fee is clearly not legal under DC tenancy laws. But yeah, it makes sense that he had her re-sign a new one year lease at a higher rent. That’s what happens when you change the contract (I.e. One of the original renters leaves the house).

  • ShawGuy

    Your landlord and your roommates have the ability to hold you to the “joint and severally responsible” part, but they have to realize that it is joint AND severally responsible, not “or”. In this case, you can notify the landlord, in writing, independently of your roommates, that you are terminating the entire lease agreement, and that you are speaking on behalf of all tenant parties, effective on whatever date. Then, on that date, your legal liability towards the apartment is concluded. If the landlord and other tenants want to reach some kind of agreement independently of you, then they can do so.
    But, to be clear, if the landlord wishes to hold you to the joint liability part, he has to agree to the severed part as well, which means you can give notice without the consent of the other tenants and he HAS to accept it.

  • Anonymous

    This happened to me recently. My boyfriend and I shared a 2BR apartment with one other roommate. We signed a one-year lease with a “jointly and severally” clause, then we entered a month to month situation. My boyfriend and I decided to move out of the apartment together because our other roommate was 1) doing cocaine in the apartment regularly, 2) bringing all sorts of unfamiliar folks back to the apartment to party at 4:00 am on week nights, and 3) wound up in the hospital without insurance after getting his ass kicked after a night of black-out drinking, thus destroying his credit. When my boyfriend and I went to give our 30 days notice, the management company would not let us out of the lease without our roommate’s approval. Said roommate would not give consent “because he did not want to move and his credit history would not allow him to qualify for another apartment.” Said roommate also did not feel inclined to try to find a replacement of us as we were paying 2/3 of the rent. Situation escalated, became ugly. I decided to inform property mgmt that drugs were involved; they still did not feel inclined to help us get out of the lease. Went on for weeks. A threat to call to the Office of the Tenant Advocate suddenly moved the situation along, and fortunately the roommate finally decided to find a replacement for us. I don’t know what would have happened if he did not feel so inclined. It’s very unfortunate that the “joint and several” clause can have such dire implications, even for the majority of roommates who pay a majority of the rent, after the life of the lease expires.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Some leases “joint and several” clause explicitly state that action by any one tenant constitutes action by all of the tenants (i.e., one notifies landlord that he or she is not renewing and that goes for all –> no more lease). However, when this is not made explicit, my minimal understanding is that whether the joint and several clause may be construed as “inaction by one constitutes inaction by all” (one notifies landlord that he is not renewing, but other does not –> still automatically renew?) varies from state to state. I do not know what the implications of the joint and several clause are for one of multiple tenants’ ability to unilaterally prevent the month-to-month lease from renewing automatically, but that is the question that needs to be answered in order to figure this out.

    • HaileUnlikely

      p.s. “majority of roommates” and “majority of rent” does not matter here. In essence the joint and several clause means that for the purpose of the contract, you, your boyfriend, and the other dude are one person, not three. That person (i.e., the three of you, without distinction) are liable for all costs, all damages, etc. However, I believe there is legitimate confusion regarding whether termination of the lease requires an action by all three of you vs. only one of you.

  • My lease turned to month-to-month after the first year but our management company won’t let us make further changes to the lease after 2 of the 3 original tenants on the lease moved out during the second year. So far, we’ve made amendments to the lease and paid a lease fee change both times but have been told no further changes to the lease are allowed (which makes sense). So the OP might be in this kind of situation?

    My management company is reputable in DC so I didn’t think they were doing anything illegal but the comments above make it sound like we would be able to make changes to the lease more than once a year?

  • dunning-kruger

    The OP is renting in a group house. In a group house you choose your own roommates, you all sign a lease for one lump sum, and you are jointly and severally liable for that amount.
    The OP is not renting in a rooming house, in a rooming house the landlord rents you a room, the rent for that room is separate from that of the house, as is the lease.
    Basically any amendment of the lease requires the consent of ALL parties on the lease (termination does not): the roommates are not going to let the OP take their name off as it will leave them on the hook for the whole rental amount, the landlord isn’t going to subtract the OPs rent from the lease so the roommates will sign, so the options are terminate or find a roommate to replace you.
    So to answer the OPs question, no they are not exactly right and no it is not legal, but your legal option is in extremely bad taste and the fact that it is your chosen path should make you wonder about the kind of person you are and hopefully encourage you to have a basic understanding of what you sign before you do. Landlord/tenant law was written to save illiterates from slumlords and despite signing an important legal document with no understanding of what it meant you’ll be ok. I encourage you to try that with banks who write their own laws, please post on this site with reference to this thread so I can savor it.
    Do what your landlord said and find a replacement like a grown up or go out in a blaze of sour grapes and screw everyone over because you couldn’t be bothered to ask some really basic questions at your lease signing.

  • Original Poster

    OP here. Thanks for all the suggestions on how to fill the room. I fully acknowledge that this situation isn’t so bad. I will most likely find someone with decent credit who my roommates are fine with and who my landlord approves of. But I still feel like I shouldn’t have to. And I’m frustrated that my LL has created a situation where he maintains all the power and has placed all the liability on to us. I am a cautious person. I read the lease and thought I understood the terms and I understood I was making a (6 month and then a) month to month commitment.

    I’m uncomfortable that I’m forced to assume all the risk when I have the least control over the situation. One of the reasons I’m leaving is that we split the rent based on room size (and unofficially, based on who has been here the longest). I think I’m being over charged for my room. But my roommates get to set the terms on what the rent will be for this room. They could further skew it if they wanted. They also have no incentive to make themselves available for interviews or open houses, because at the end of the day, I’m liable if a replacement isn’t found. They aren’t malicious, but they are busy, we all travel a lot, and we aren’t great at coordinating. My landlord isn’t very helpful, does the bare minimum required, and has pretty strict requirements for credit. I have no say in his decision to approve or not, and he has a lot of leeway to set terms that are stringent but still “reasonable.”

    The problem with this is that my landlord has basically created a situation where he advertises a month-to-month But it isn’t. Maybe he can terminate within a month, but anyone of us can’t – we could truly be stuck indefinitely. Even if you could sort it out in small claims court eventually, that is a huge burden and a great risk to credit and cost of time. He moves the risk of vacancy to us, the tenants. It seems, based on how tenant-friendly DC is suppose to be, this couldn’t be a legal lease.

    I’ll definitely call the tenants advocates and investigate. I’m hopeful that this situation will work out for me, but it doesn’t seem fair.


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