LAURENE H. YOUNG, (B) MPM, RMP, REALTOR
Young Hawaii Homes, Inc.
2011 President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. I am a tenant renting a home together with friends. When the boyfriend of one of my roommates moved in, our property manager had him complete some paperwork, but he did not meet their requirements. The roommate said she would leave if he can’t stay. Isn’t she obligated to stay and pay for her portion of the rent?
A. Another roommate question! In Hawaii’s rental market, it can be very difficult for one person to afford a rental alone. We see a turnover of roommates quite often and now charge a fee to rewrite a lease or change roommates in the middle of a lease.
Your lease is a contract obligating you to pay rent for the entire term. Your roommate cannot be released from her obligations in the rental agreement, unless the other roommates and the landlord allow it, or at the end of the lease period. However, if your roommate is determined to leave to live with her boyfriend, there is not much you can do to stop her.
Landlords want to make sure that they have the best tenants possible. Many do credit checks, check with previous landlords, check employment history, require pay stubs and bank statements, check criminal backgrounds…whatever they need to assess the tenant’s qualifications and ability to pay the rent. They want to make sure that all the tenants on the lease meet certain requirements in case one or all of them leave or cause damage to the unit. Tenants are jointly and severally responsible for the rent. That means that the landlord can go after just one, or two or all the tenants listed on the lease in case of damages or non-payment of rent. It is in the landlord’s best interest to keep all the qualified tenants on the lease so they have more people to go after.
You should look for another roommate as soon as possible. Your landlord will probably want you to look for a substitute since it has to be someone you can all get along with. Keep your landlord informed about your progress. That person will still have to fill out an application and pass the requirements. It may take a couple tries before you find an acceptable replacement. When you find another roommate that is approved by your landlord, you can then ask to release the old roommate from the lease and add the new roommate.
Your old roommate is obligated to pay her portion of the rent until you have it re-rented. She may also be responsible for any fees charged by the landlord to re-rent the unit. However, if she does not pay the landlord, you are still responsible for that payment and may have to take your former roommate to small claims court to recover her portion of the rent. You have to try to mitigate your damages. You cannot just sit around and do nothing and just wait for the end of the lease period. Most judges will not award you rent for more than a month or two, especially in this rental market.
As for the security deposit, most landlords will not return it to the tenants until the end of the lease and will make it payable to all the tenants currently on the lease. You will have to settle it among yourselves. Make sure that the former roommate has cleaned her room and has not caused any damages. You can then have the new roommate pay their portion of the deposit to that vacating tenant. Good luck!
Answers to questions in Landlord Tenant Q&A are provided by members of the Oahu Chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM), an organization that supports the professional and ethical practices of rental home management through networking, education, and certification. The Oahu Chapter, founded in 2004, has become the largest in the nation with 237 registered members.
Disclaimer: The answers provided in this column by Realtors address individual cases and should not be construed as interpretations of the law. For specific information on Hawaii State Law, go to http://hawaii.gov/dcca/areas/ocp/ landlord_tenant or contact an attorney.