When you moved in with your roommate, it seemed like things would be great. But then your roommate lost their job and quit paying their share of the rent.

Or maybe you and your significant other decided to live together. But the relationship didn’t work out. When your ex moved out, they left you paying the full rent amount.

Both scenarios are all too common, and they can leave renters wondering how to get a roommate off the lease.

Here’s what you need to know about navigating these situations, so you can get out of a lease with your roommate.

The bad news: you can’t force your roommate off the lease

If you’re a renter, you can’t remove someone’s name from your lease. That means if your roommate or ex wants to stay—or keep coming back periodically—and they leave their belongings, there’s nothing you can do. Your landlord is under no obligation to take your roommate off the lease. But some landlords are willing to remove a person from the lease. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

Another bad scenario: if you can’t afford the rent by yourself, but your roommate or ex won’t pay and won’t leave, your landlord can sue both of you, or just one of you, to fulfill the lease agreement of paying the full rent. If you’re the one with the job, guess who the landlord will likely sue?

The good news: you have options

1. Get another roommate

If your roommate stops paying the rent but leaves, your landlord might allow you to find another roommate and let the new person to take over the lease. But the landlord doesn’t have to agree to this situation.

2. Find another place

If you can’t afford the rent on your own, you can arrange to move. Ask the landlord if they’ll break the lease. They might agree to break the lease for free, or they might charge you a fee for letting you get out of the lease.

Note: If you don’t move and you aren’t paying the full rent amount, your landlord could evict you then sue you for rent owed. The good news is that if the landlord chooses this route, they typically have to make an effort to find new renters. In most cases, they can’t just do nothing and sue you for the remaining rent until the end of the lease term. You would be responsible for rent, however, until the place is re-rented.

3. Stay and sue

If you and your roommate (or partner) are on the lease together and the other person stops paying (whether they leave or not), you might be able to cover their rent. You can then stay in the rental, and if you want to, you can sue your roommate in court for their portion of unpaid rent.

How to sue your roommate

You’ll need to check your state law on this procedure, but you’ll probably be able to file a small claims lawsuit to get the money owed to you by your ex roommate. You’ll need to prove that you have a 50/50 agreement (or whatever the agreement is) in order to win your court case.

1. Prove your roommate’s share

One way to prove your roommate’s portion of rent would be if you have written proof, which states what rent amount each party is responsible for. If you don’t have that, and only one of you pays the landlord, you can still prove your portion of the rent with your bank statements or proof of payment through Cozy.

If, for example, you paid the landlord, and your roommate paid you their share in cash or direct deposit, you can show the court this regular payment. If you ask, your landlord might help you by telling the court (in person or by a statement) how much you pay each month and how much your roommate pays.

2. Send a demand letter

Before you go to court, you might want to send your ex roommate a demand letter stating what they owe you. The demand letter should state that if you aren’t paid, you’ll take them to court. This letter needs to be sent by certified mail. That might be all it takes to get the money you’re owed.

3. Bring the right paperwork to court

If you don’t get your money after sending the demand letter, go to court. You should bring the following:

  • Proof of what you’re owed
  • Your copy of the demand letter (or some other proof that you asked for the money)
  • The lease
  • Your landlord or a statement from your landlord

Bottom line

Signing a year’s lease is serious business. Although you can’t predict the future, try your best to only sign a lease with people you can trust. If relationships end, then it’s best to respect the lease and come to some agreement on your own. If you can’t, then it’s okay to discuss your options with the landlord about removing one or both of you from the lease.