Landlord/Tenant Q&A: LAURENE H. YOUNG (B) MPM

LAURENE H. YOUNG (B) MPM, RMP, REALTOR
Young Hawaii Homes, Inc.
2011 President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. I signed a lease two months ago with a friend, but now want him out. He is messy, does drugs and is always late with his portion of the rent. I cover his rent on time so that we aren’t charged a late fee. How can I get him out? Someone suggested that, if I file a TRO on him, he has to leave.

A. This happens more often than you think. Roommates change so often that some landlords charge a fee to rewrite a lease to add or remove tenants. No matter how well you know someone before you move in together, it takes living with someone to really get to know them.

Do not file a TRO (temporary restraining order) on someone unless you have a legitimate fear for your safety. It may work for a very short time, until you both have to go to court to plead your case.

You would have to prove to the judge, through documented incidents, pictures, witnesses, etc., that you were hurt by your roommate or fear that your roommate will hurt you. If the judge does not grant the TRO, it can make things worse. Your roommate would be allowed to move back in and there will be bad feelings between you that could make both your lives even more miserable.

Both of you have equal rights to live in the unit. If you do not want to live with him anymore, you should mutually decide which of you should leave. The landlord needs to approve any changes, so let them know what is going on. If you cannot qualify for the rental on your own, the landlord might require that you find another qualifying roommate (who would have to fill out a rental application and meet certain criteria) or have someone guarantee the rent for you. If neither of you can find a replacement or guarantor, your only option at that point might be to break your lease, pay the cancellation penalty and go your separate ways.

If you break your lease, you are both liable for the remaining term of the lease, unless you or the landlord can get someone else to take your place. Section 521-70(d) of the Landlord-Tenant Code states that “the tenant shall be liable to the landlord for the lesser of either the entire rent for the remainder of the term or all rent accrued during the period reasonably necessary to re-rent the dwelling unit at the fair rental rate, plus the difference between such fair rent and the rent agreed to in the prior rental agreement and a reasonable commission for the renting of the dwelling unit.” The landlord needs to mitigate his damages by actively trying to find another tenant but can charge fees that might include advertising, fees charged by the landlord for their time to find a new tenant, re-keying the unit, that sort of thing.

As always, communication is important in any roommate situation. Before you move in with someone, you should have some rules and guidelines and understandings. If you watch “The Big Bang Theory,” you know that one of the characters has a very detailed roommate agreement that can be very irritating for his roommate, but spells out what happens in every situation so there is no misunderstanding. You don’t need to be that detailed but you should at least decide how utility expenses will be handled, who is responsible for cleaning, what happens when someone can’t pay the rent on time, how to handle guests, and what is prohibited.

It is important that you are both safe in your living situation and don’t cause problems for the landlord and the neighbors. If things get bad, the landlord may take steps to evict one or both of you, so don’t let it go too far. You may love your home and not want to leave, but it is probably not worth the fighting and stress that a bad living situation can cause.

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