Can Landlord Toss Trouble-Making Roommate?

by | Jan 21, 2011 | Eviction Strategies

Q: I have a four bedroom house with four individual tenants with a common lease.  One tenant, who has been in the house for five years, has increasingly become a nuisance to the other tenants.  

The lease expires May 31, 2011.  My lease agreement states she can not be a nuisance to the other tenants.  Is there any justification I can use to evict her before that?  If so, how do I go about doing this?TVS Landlord 

Without any details regarding this tenant’s activities it is difficult to say whether you are justified in trying to evict her. The answer depends in part on how “nuisance” is defined in your lease agreement.

In order to win an eviction for nuisance, the tenant typically must be disturbing the quiet enjoyment of other tenants, or placing herself, other people, or the property at risk of harm.

Actions like frequently leaving clothing behind in shared laundry facilities after receiving warnings, parking in another tenant’s assigned parking space, making loud noises, inviting in a guest who is disruptive or has a violent criminal background, creating pest infestations, and chronic cigarette smoking could be considered nuisance behaviors. Annoying personal habits or grating personality traits alone are probably not enough.  

Typically roommates choose each other, then the rental property. Their relationship is their responsibility, not the landlord’s.   Trying  to resolve a spat between them is a no-win situation.  

That’s because roommates are often an “all or nothing” proposition –if they are, in fact, co-tenants under a “common lease” as you describe.  If you evict one, in all likelihood you would have the right to evict them all, even if only one is being a nuisance. In fact, if you evict one, you may be legally terminating the entire lease agreement. You will have to ask a local legal expert to review the specific language of your lease, but if this is the case, it is up to the remaining roommates to find some way to resolve this problem before they all get the boot.  

Another resolution would be for the roommates to coax the unruly tenant into moving out, then continue on with the three, or asking you if they could substitute another roommate for the one that is leaving.  Either way, you will have to check with a local legal expert to determine if this is allowed under the terms of the lease, or whether you will need a new lease agreement.  If you agree to this, be sure you reserve the right to have the newest roommate complete a rental application and give you authority to run a tenant background check before you allow them to move in.

This will leave open the question of the disposition of the security deposit.   Ask your attorney if you can roll the deposit into the new lease, and what to do about the roommate who is leaving.  If you return a portion of the deposit or otherwise “settle” with the vacating roommate, you may compromise your legal rights to go after her for any unpaid rent for the remaining term that she was on the lease, or any actual damages to the rental property that you discover at a later date. To view another landlord’s situation for additional insights, see our post Revolving Roommates Creates Security Deposit Nightmare.

It is possible to interpret your question to mean you have four individual leases, with tenants who moved in at different times and pay you rent directly.  If that’s the case, and evicting this one tenant would not change the tenancies of the others — they would not have to kick in the evicted tenant’s share of the rent,  it would be much easier for you to evict the nuisance tenant than if she were a co-tenant.

As for the eviction process itself, the rules vary depending on where the rental property is located.  You will have to serve a notice on the tenant and she will be allowed an opportunity to respond.  It is likely you will need to appear before an eviction judge or tenancy board.  

Evictions can be costly and time-consuming, and should be viewed as a last resort when all other avenues of resolution — talking to the tenant or issuing warnings,  have failed.  Some landlords resort to “cash-for-keys”, where they offer the tenant money to leave voluntarily, and save the costs and headaches associated with eviction.  In deciding what to do, you will need to weigh your costs against the likelihood you would win the nuisance claim.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).Landlord Credit Reports.

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

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