Roommates are people who rent a home together. This article covers the most common problems people have with their roommates and offers some possible solutions for them. This article addresses roommate situations where the roommates are all tenants that are on a lease with the landlord. If you have someone living with you who is not listed on a lease, this article may or may not apply to you, depending on your situation.
If someone lives in a home they own and rents a room to someone else, these people are not roommates. The owner of the home is the other person’s landlord. To learn more about being a landlord, read Landlord Rights and Responsibilities.
If all roommates are listed as tenants on a lease with the landlord, leases usually say that each roommate is “jointly and severally liable”. This means that each roommate is fully responsible for the rent and any damage to the home. If the landlord files a court case, they can ask any single roommate for all the rent or other damages. This is true even if the roommates had an agreement that each would only pay their share, and if only one roommate has not paid rent or has caused the damage. A landlord can also try to evict all the roommates for activity that violates the lease even if only one of the roommates is responsible for it.
What Can I Do If My Roommate Isn’t Paying Rent?
Roommates are usually equally responsible for rent unless there is an agreement that makes another arrangement. This means that if you have to pay for your roommate’s part of the rent or utilities and they refuse to pay you back, you usually can sue them. You can file the case in small claims court if they owe you less than the small claims court limit. If your roommate owes you money for some other reason, you may still be able to sue them in small claims court. To learn more, please see Small Claims.
If you do not pay your roommate’s part of the rent and your landlord starts an eviction case, you can file a crossclaim in the case against your roommate. This is not a defense to the eviction, so it will not stop the eviction case against you, but you could get money damages from your roommate. A crossclaim is complex and you may want to speak with a lawyer who can help you. If you have low income, you may qualify for free legal services. Whether you have a low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area. If you are not able to get free legal services but can’t afford high legal fees, consider hiring a lawyer for part of your case instead of the whole thing. This is called limited scope representation. To learn more, read Limited Scope Representation (LSR): A More Affordable Way to Hire a Lawyer. To find a limited scope lawyer, follow this link to the State Bar of Michigan lawyer directory. This link lists lawyers who offer limited scope representation. You can narrow the results to lawyers in your area by typing in your county, city, or zip code at the top of the page. You can also narrow the results by topic by entering the kind of lawyer you need (divorce, estate, etc.) at the top of the page.
Roommates cannot evict one another. The eviction process is only available in landlord-tenant relationships. This means you cannot force your roommate to leave the home, and your roommate cannot force you to leave the home. This is true even if your roommate stopped paying for their portion of rent and utilities. If your roommate has threatened or abused you, however, you might be able to get a personal protection order (PPO) which could restrict a roommate’s ability to enter or stay in the home. In some situations you can also break the lease. To learn more, read the “My Roommate Threatened or Abuse Me” Section.
If you are not sure whether you are a landlord, read How Do I Know If I Am a Landlord?
My Roommate Threatened or Abused Me
If your roommate has threatened or abused you, you can ask a judge for a personal protection order (PPO), or you can break your lease and move out of the home.
Getting a PPO
A PPO can help you if your roommate abused or threatened you, or if you have a reasonable fear for your personal liberty or safety. The type of PPO you would ask a judge for is a Domestic Relationship PPO because you live or lived with the person from whom you need protection. Your PPO could order your abusive roommate to stop some or all of these things:
- Entering your home or another place
- Assaulting, attacking, beating, molesting, or wounding you or another named person
- Threatening to kill or physically injure you or another named person
- Buying or having a gun
- Interfering with you removing your children or personal property from the shared home or a place the abuser owns or leases
- Interfering with you at your job or school, or acting in a way that harms your job or school relationships or environment
- Stalking you
- Intentionally causing you mental distress or controlling you by harming or threatening to harm an animal you own, taking the animal from you, or keeping it from you
- Any other specific act or behavior that interferes with your personal freedom or makes you reasonably afraid of violence (this could include other specific behaviors that you want the judge to prohibit.)
To learn more, visit Filing a Personal Protection Order – Domestic Relationship.
Breaking Your Lease
If you want to move because of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault, Michigan law lets you end your lease early to move to a safe location. You can do this without having to pay rent through the end of the lease.
There are steps you need to take to end your lease early for this reason. First, send your landlord a letter that says you need to end your lease. Also send a copy of any documents that show you are at risk if you stay in your home. For example, you could include a police report or a letter from your doctor. Send these by certified mail. Keep the receipt you get back as proof you mailed the letter.
To learn more, read Breaking a Lease in Domestic Violence Situations.
Roommate Violating Lease or Law
Most leases make roommates jointly liable for each other’s activities. This means that all roommates could be evicted, even if only one of them is doing something that violates the lease or the law. If your roommate is doing something against the lease or the law, and you are not a part of it, you can try to report it to your landlord or to law enforcement. The risk is that doing this could cause your landlord to start an eviction case against both you and your roommate. If this happens, you could try explaining to your landlord that you did not take part in the activity. If your landlord starts an eviction case against you and your roommate anyway, you might not be able to prevent the eviction from happening, but you may have a claim for money damages against the roommate who caused the eviction.
If there is no eviction case, but your roommate’s illegal or lease violating activity makes living in the rental unit so bad that it forces you to move, you may also have a claim against that roommate for your share of the rent until the lease ends and for any higher rent you have to pay for a new rental. You may want to speak with a lawyer who can help you. If you have low income, you may qualify for free legal services. Whether you have low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area. If you are not eligible for free legal services and you can’t afford high legal fees, consider hiring a lawyer for part of your case instead of the whole thing. This is called limited scope representation. To learn more, read Limited Scope Representation (LSR): a More Affordable Way to Hire a Lawyer.
Illegal Drug Activity: 24-Hour Notice to Move Out
You can be evicted for illegal drug activity in your home if your lease says that. To do this, your landlord first needs to file a police report alleging that you or someone under your control has unlawfully manufactured, delivered, or possessed illegal drugs on the premises. Then your landlord has to give you a Demand for Possession with a 24-hour notice to move out. After this notice, they may start an eviction case.
My Roommate and I Are Not Getting Along
If you and your roommate are not getting along and you both no longer want to live together, you can speak with your landlord to see if you can end your lease early, change your existing lease, or move into separate apartments.
Another option is to seek help from a mediator. Mediators charge their own hourly fee, so the cost can vary. Many counties have a Community Dispute Resolution Center (CDRC), which may have a sliding fee scale. You can find information about whether there are mediation services in your area in the Courts and Agencies section of this website.
My Roommate Moved Out and Left Things Behind
If your roommate moved out and left some of their property in your home, you need to give them a chance to pick it up. Send them an email or letter giving them a reasonable amount of time to collect their belongings. In your message let them know you plan to get rid of the property if they do not pick it up within the time frame you provided. Keep a copy of your message for your records. If your former roommate contacts you to arrange a different pick-up time, decide on a time that works for you both.
If your former roommate does not respond or pick up their property within the reasonable time frame you gave them, you may throw it away or donate it. If you get rid of the property, your old roommate could later come back and demand their property or its value. This is why it is important to give them a chance to get their property and to keep a copy of the e-mail or letter you sent them. If they decide to file a case in court, you can show the letter to the judge to prove you gave them notice and a reasonable amount of time to pick up their property.
Speaking with a Lawyer
If you have a problem with your roommate, you may want to speak with a lawyer who can help you figure out what to do. If you have low income, you may qualify for free legal services. Whether you have a low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area. If you are not able to get free legal services but can’t afford high legal fees, consider hiring a lawyer for part of your case instead of the whole thing. This is called limited scope representation. To learn more, read Limited Scope Representation (LSR): A More Affordable Way to Hire a Lawyer. To find a limited scope lawyer, follow this link to the State Bar of Michigan lawyer directory. This link lists lawyers who offer limited scope representation. You can narrow the results to lawyers in your area by typing in your county, city, or zip code at the top of the page. You can also narrow the results by topic by entering the kind of lawyer you need (divorce, estate, etc.) at the top of the page.