Taking on roommate comes with risk

How to terminate a tenancy that's turned hostile

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 19, 2012

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How to terminate a tenancy that's turned hostile

Robert Griswold
Inman News®

Q: Although I'd been renting a house for several years by myself, I recently got a roommate to help make ends meet after my employer cut my hours.

Everything started out OK and we mutually signed a month-to-month rental agreement that established certain house rules: take off shoes indoors; no smoking in the house; no peeing on the toilet seat, et al. But pretty quickly it was evident the arrangement was not working out.

I have tried to talk with this person and got nothing but attitude. The next time I tried to send him a text message requesting a little dignity and compliance with the house rules, but the response I got was so aggressive and vile that I had to call the police. The police told me this is a civil matter, but I did take this opportunity to serve a 30-day written notice to vacate.

I tried to politely ask the roommate to leave immediately, but he claims that he has an attorney who says he should fight the legality of the 30-day notice as being improper even though we have only a month-to-month agreement.

I am feeling super-anxious and afraid of what he might do. I have installed a lock on my bedroom door to have a tad of peace while I'm gone during the day at work. What should I do?

A: Your situation is unfortunate and happens all too often. I understand that this observation doesn't address your problem directly, but you are on the right track. As difficult as it may be right now, you need to break down the issue of your roommate's right to live in the rental home as your subtenant from the serious issues you are having with his aggressive and threatening behavior.

The police may be correct that they cannot simply remove your roommate as a trespasser, as he has the right to live there based on the agreement you made with him. But that doesn't mean the police shouldn't and won't respond to any situation in which there are threats of violence or illegal actions by your roommate.

However, it is not going to be practical for the police to be at your rental home for the next 30 days so you need to continue to take steps to protect yourself and your property until he either leaves voluntarily before or at the end of the 30-day written notice.

In the meantime, I do think you should also contact an attorney, as preventive legal advice is the best kind. But based on his claim that he has an attorney who will assist him in fighting your notice to terminate his tenancy, you need to have your documents all reviewed by your own attorney and follow the attorney's advice if the 30-day notice needs to be modified and re-served on your roommate.

However, this time let a professional process server handle this.

While it is painful for me to suggest that you be forced out of your own home, it may not be a bad idea for your own personal safety (and sanity) to see if you can minimize your time at the rental home or at least have someone stay with you until this matter is resolved. Of course, you are living proof of why I have always felt that the prescreening and selection of roommates requires even more scrutiny than is usually done by a landlord.

Q: I wanted to minimize the chance of any issues with my landlord over the return of my security deposit by requesting a walk-through the day before I vacated my apartment. But the landlord was a no-show and despite my best efforts she did not conduct a joint review of the property upon my move-out due to her schedule. She did call and apologize, but I couldn't take another day off work so I just went ahead and moved out -- but I did take pictures. Now I hear from my former neighbor that she has crews starting to do work on the apartment. Can she claim any damages or keep my deposit?

A: The information from your former neighbor could be based on the landlord just replacing worn-out items for which she has no intention of charging you. Such expenses are normal costs of doing business as a landlord. Of course, if you do find that the landlord is renovating or seriously upgrading the rental unit and the charges are inappropriate, then you do have the photos to make your point.

Note that in some states (like California), a pre-move-out inspection is an option that a vacating tenant can request and is a great idea designed to minimize the disputes and issues surrounding the common claim of improper deductions. While not always a perfect solution from the perspective of a landlord, this pre-move-out inspection can also offer the tenant an opportunity to make certain simple repairs or cleaning, or hire the work to be completed professionally and billed directly to them.

The problems often occur when the tenant doesn't do a professional or thorough job and the landlord has to have the work done again only to have the tenant complain that it wasn't necessary.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of "Property Management for Dummies" and "Property Management Kit for Dummies" and co-author of "Real Estate Investing for Dummies."

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