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Two Tenants On The Lease One Leaves: What Should a Landlord Do?

If you are a landlord, it’s important to know your options when two or more tenants are on the lease and one leaves. For example, what if a couple separates and only one tenant wants to stay in the house? What about roommates who want to split? 

An even worse scenario, what if there is physical violence and one tenant has to leave. In this blog post, we will go over some of these situations and discuss how you can protect yourself as well as help the person that needs to move out.

When tenants sign a lease agreement they become cotenants and they have “joint and several liability.” This means that each tenant is responsible for paying the entire rent. If one of the tenants is breaking the lease by smoking, for example, all tenants can be asked to leave or be evicted.

If one tenant decides to leave, she or he is still responsible for the rent until the end of the rental agreement. Moving out doesn’t release anyone from the responsibilities and obligations under the lease.

Example:

John and Jane are roommates. They sign a 12-month lease and decide that each will pay half or $700 per month. In month six, John moves out without notice, and Jane is left to pay the entire rent of $1400.

The agreement between John and Jane has nothing to do with the lease they signed together. If Jane stops paying rent and gets evicted, John’s name will be on that eviction notice and on his credit report. John moved out but he is still responsible for the entire rent amount just as Jane is.

So what should a landlord do? Let’s look at several scenarios.

One tenant vacating, the other tenant remaining

The tenants have decided to go their separate ways, but one tenant is staying and plans to pay rent until they find someone else. This is not an issue if the remaining tenant qualifies to rent based on one income.

If that’s the case, the tenant leaving should sign a Tenant Vacating Agreement (free template) releasing any claims on the security deposit and any other advanced rent money. The existing lease remains in place.

If someone else will be moving in, then a Tenant Swap Agreement needs to be signed instead of the Tenant Vacating Agreement.

If the remaining tenant does not qualify to rent based on the new income.

The landlord has to explain to the tenant(s) that they are fully responsible for the entire amount of the rent. If they stop paying, an eviction can be filed against all tenants.

From my experience, it’s best to let both tenants go if the remaining tenant doesn’t qualify with only their income. 

Swapping Tenants

A common situation with roommates is when one tenant leaves and another takes their place. What should the landlord do?

First, the new tenant has to pass the same credit and background check as the initial tenants. The next step will be to sign a Tenant Swap Agreement (free template).

This agreement releases the vacating tenant and the landlord from liabilities and obligations under the lease and makes the added tenant a co-tenant under the existing lease.

Feuding Tenants and Violence

Getting involved in petty tenant disputes between roommates is not a good idea for any landlord or property manager unless there is a credible threat of violence.

The landlord should report that to the police and take action to evict the offending tenant or all tenants on the lease based on the “join and several liability.”

From The War of the Roses

Divorce and Couple Separations

As landlords and property managers we sometimes have to deal with situations that we never thought we’ll encounter. Being prepared in advance makes property management less stressful.

Dealing with feuding ex-lovers is not easy. Especially when there is violence or a threat of violence involved. As a landlord or property manager, you can give the affected tenant resources on how to quickly get a restraining order.  Without a court order, there is little you can do because one of the tenants doesn’t have the legal right to deprive the other of a place to live.

As a landlord, you can’t participate in changing locks or anything to do with keeping one member of a married couple out of the rental property before you get a court order. The same applies to unmarried couples living together, their living arrangement may be classified as a common-law marriage in certain states.

What happens to pet rent when couples split?

Couples that live together might have pets. If one person leaves and takes one pet or takes the only pet but doesn’t sign a Tenant Vacating Agreement, the old lease agreement remains in place.

Example:

John and Jane, a married couple,  signed a lease with 2 dogs and are paying a pet rent of $15 per month per pet, $30 for the two pets. The tenants decide to break up and John leaves, taking one of the dogs with him. John doesn’t want to sign the new Agreement.

Because the old agreement is in place, Jane unfortunately will still continue paying $30 per month in pet rent.

Tenants can be great or they can be a nightmare for landlords and property managers, but knowing your legal rights and responsibilities is important in order to make smooth tenant transitions easier for everyone involved.

If you’re facing any type of tenant-related issue, I recommend reaching out to an attorney who specializes in landlord and tenant law for guidance on how to proceed.

About the author

Jana Christo is a business owner, real estate investor, and property manager. She has 16 years of experience in most areas of real estate.
During the last recession, she was also the managing partner for a company that bought and rehabbed properties from the court foreclosure auctions. Today, she manages her own portfolio of rental properties and shares her experience on Rentce.com.