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Can One Person Break a Two-Person Lease? What’s the Deal? 


In the United States, 35.9% of households are occupied by renters, and 21% of those renters have roommates! Despite being able to save $517 per month by living with someone, the question, “Can one person break a two-person lease?” isn’t that uncommon.

People will move for various reasons – many of which move to find more affordable accommodations. Right now, 54% of renters spend more than the recommended 30% of their income on rent.

What’s worse is that 25% of renters spend more than 50% of their income on rent.

When you consider that rent in 50 of the largest cities in America has increased 175% faster than household income, it’s no surprise that for many Gen Z and Millennials, the prospect of owning a home may feel like a foregone dream.

If you have a roommate and want to move out before the lease is up, read this article in its entirety before making any decisions.

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When Can One Person Break a Two-Person Lease?

It is a legally binding contract between the tenant(s) and landlord when you sign a lease. If the lease is illegally broken before the contracted date, it has serious consequences.

These may include:

  • The tenant could be sued for owed rent, breach of contract, and damages.
  • The tenant may have an eviction on their record.
  • Judgments from lawsuits and eviction could negatively impact their credit score.
  • It may be hard for the tenant to find a new rental because of the low credit and eviction.

Note: The actual penalties will depend on your state’s laws regarding a tenant’s rights to break a rental agreement. You can find your state’s laws on NOLO.com

So, what are the justifiable (and legal) reasons you could break a lease without facing negative consequences?

1. Breach of the Implied Warranty of Habitability

A landlord is legally responsible for maintaining the property so that it doesn’t become a health or safety hazard. For a rental to be suitable for human habitation, the landlord must provide:

  • Access to clean running water at all times
  • Access to heating during cold months
  • A roof that keeps the rain and snow out
  • Sturdy floors and walls that aren’t showing signs of collapse
  • Safety from environmental hazards like lead, asbestos, and mold
  • Reasonable protection from criminal activity or intrusion
  • Other points outlined under state-specific health and safety codes

an empty room with peeling paint and a window

2. Breach of Quiet (or Peaceful) Enjoyment

For the lease to be broken, for this reason, the landlord disregards the tenant’s rights to privacy or inhibits the tenant’s ability to enjoy their rental in peace. This means that the landlord cannot enter the rental without giving the tenant adequate notice.

Find out the amount of notice required in your state here.

Also, a tenant can break a lease if the landlord is harassing them or if they’ve complained about other tenants and the landlord has ignored those complaints. This is tricky, so contact the landlord/tenant attorney for advice. If you think your landlord has violated your right to quiet enjoyment, contact the landlord/tenant attorney for advice.

3. Active Military Deployment

As active-duty military personnel, you can break your lease without penalty. A tenant who receives deployment orders must give the landlord notice of their intent to leave and a copy of their deployment orders.

4. Domestic Violence Victim

Many states allow victims of domestic violence to end a lease without being penalized after giving adequate notice (usually 30 days). Keep in mind that most of these states will require you to provide proof, such as a protective order, noting their status as victims of domestic violence.

5. Health Crisis

Some states may allow tenants to break their lease early if they face a severe physical or mental health issue. Unfortunately, this isn’t permissible in many states, so consulting a landlord/tenant attorney is advisable.

6. Early Termination Clause

Modern lease agreements include specific language that would allow a tenant to end the lease early – which will incur a penalty fee. This sometimes equates to two months’ rent and requires adequate notice (at least 30-days).

If the lease does include an early termination clause, make sure you read it thoroughly and ask the landlord about conditions that would negate the penalty fee if you were to leave early.

What Happens When Someone Breaks a Two-Person Lease?

At the time, the thought of living with a friend sounded like the ideal agreement because you enjoy their company and you can save money. This kind of lease is designed so that both parties are responsible for following the lease terms.

These responsibilities include (but are not limited to) paying their portion of the security deposit and paying a percentage of the rent. But what do you do if someone wants to leave before the lease?

Before any action is to be taken, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you want to stay in the rental, or do you want to leave also?
  • Will you be able to cover the rent when the roommate leaves?
  • Do you know someone who may be interested in moving in with you?
  • Does the person who left owe any money?
  • Was there a roommate agreement in place?
    • If so, did the roommate leave according to the agreement’s terms?

What Is a Roommate Agreement?

A roommate agreement is not the same as a lease – it is a legally binding contract between the tenants of the rental unit. The agreement should outline the rights and obligations of each tenant, as well as house rules that all tenants agree to.

While your roommate agreement needn’t be as meticulous as Sheldon’s, it should cover the basics such as:

  • The shared cost of communal items like cookware, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc.
  • How cleaning tasks will be divided between tenants
  • Specific rules regarding guests and partners
  • A breakdown of each tenant’s schedule to determine a “quiet” time
  • If the rental allows for pets, this is something worth including
  • Agreements for temperature range based on time of day and season

You can find a basic roommate agreement here, or you could create your own.

If You Decide to Stay…

Your landlord may review the rent-to-income ratio to see if the remaining tenants can afford the monthly payments. If you decide to stay in the rental unit, be aware that you will be expected to pay the total amount of the monthly rent.

You can figure out your rent-to-income ratio using this equation:

  • (Monthly Rent / Gross Monthly Income = RTI x 100) x 100
  • Example: ($1,200 Monthly Rent / $4,500 Gross Monthly Income = 0.26) x 100 = 26%

For this example, the RTI is 26%, below that ideal 30% ratio for rent. Now, if the total combined gross monthly income for two tenants was $4,500 and the tenant that stays only brings in $3,000, the new RTI will look like this:

  • ($1,200 Monthly Rent / $3,000 Gross Monthly Income = 0.4) x 100 = 40%

The new RTI is 40%. As the remaining tenant, you might feel like you can still afford rent. But when lifestyle, existing bills, groceries, and other expenses are factored in, staying in the rental may not be an option.

There is a work-around that your landlord may be open to, and that is to look for another roommate. The new roommate will need to complete an application fee (if applicable), credit check, and background check.

Keep in mind that before going out and finding a new roommate on your own, you’ll need to speak to the landlord and get their consent.

If You Decide to Move Out, too…

If you’re unable to stay in the rental because you do not make enough to cover the rent on your own, you might need to talk to your landlord about your options. If your RTI is over 50%, allowing you to break the lease early is a win-win for both you and the landlord.

On the flip side, if you know that you cannot afford to pay the rent but refuse to leave, the landlord has the right to evict you. Remember that eviction on your record will make it more difficult to find a rental in the future.

What to Expect If You’re Going to Be Evicted

Each state has its laws regarding residential evictions, but the proceedings usually follow a similar process.

  1. The landlord must have a valid reason to evict (nonpayment of rent is a valid reason).
  2. The landlord can speak to the tenant to see if they will leave independently.
  3. The landlord can serve the tenant with a written eviction that outlines how long the tenant has to pay all past due rent.
  4. Both the landlord and tenant must prepare for a court hearing. They should have documents that show the breach of lease, the original lease, rent payment records (bank statements or receipts), and any written correspondence between landlord and tenant.
  5. After the landlord receives the court order to evict, local law enforcement can come to the property to remove the tenant – sometimes physically if need be.

The landlord can hire a collections agency to collect past due rent and court costs incurred by the eviction process. In some instances, a tenant’s wages may be garnished until debts have been settled.

What to Do If You Want to Break a Two-Person Lease?

If you’ve signed a joint lease but want to break the agreement early, you can’t pack up and move out when the mood strikes. You have to be respectful to your roommate and your landlord.

Getting your name removed from the lease will be a little tricky, but it can be done. Here are four things you’ll need to do to (or try to) break a two-person lease.

1. Talk to Your Roommate(s)

First and foremost, you need to talk to your roommates and inform them of your plans. You need to clue them in, but you’ll also need to be empathetic because wanting to move out is a big bombshell to drop on someone, especially if the news comes out of the blue.

When you talk to your roommates, try to give them as much notice as you can so they can figure out what they need to do. You’ll also need to get their written permission for the landlord to create another lease without your name on it.

2. Talk to Your Landlord

After speaking with your roommates, you’ll need to speak to your landlord. Keep in mind that a landlord doesn’t have to remove your name from the lease; everyone agreed to the terms when the lease was signed

However, if you go to your landlord and explain the situation, they may grant your request. When you’re pleading your case, you have to be respectful and apologize for the inconvenience.

You’ll want to inform the landlord that you’ve spoken to your roommates, and they’re okay with the situation. You can present the letter your roommates signed and even go so far as to offer to pay a penalty fee for breaking your agreement.

Note: If your landlord agrees to anything, make sure you get it in writing and get a receipt if you wind up paying a penalty fee. 

a man is holding a piece of paper that says ' a ' on it

3. Look for Someone to Fill Your Spot

One way to soften the blow for all involved you can offer to find someone to take your spot. Your roommates won’t have to pay more in rent, and your landlord can rest a little easier knowing the rent will be paid.

When you’re looking for a new roommate to take your place, look for someone the others will get along with – a mutual friend is ideal. If you don’t have a mutual friend who can take your place, look for someone who:

  • Has similar interests as the existing roommates
  • Is in the same age group
  • Has a steady and reliable income
  • Is responsible enough to help out with chores and pay their fair share on time

Remember that while you may find someone who will take your place, that doesn’t mean the landlord has to approve them. If the landlord doesn’t agree to put them on the lease, you may have to go back to square one with your search.

4. Seek Legal Council

As much as we want to believe these types of situations are easy enough to settle, that isn’t always the case. If neither the roommates nor the landlord agrees to remove you from the lease, you may need to seek legal advice.

Seeking legal advice and potentially hiring an attorney will be an additional cost that you need to plan for. Yet, it may be worth it if you’re in a bind and the attorney can find an out for you.

5. Review the Changes in the New Lease

After everything has been worked out between all parties involved, you’ll need to confirm the changes to the new lease. The new lease should include people living in the rental unit, both the existing tenants and the new person who’ll be moving in to take your place.

If your landlord modifies the existing lease to remove your name and add the new tenant, you need to be aware that your roommates may try to get rent that you originally agreed to pay. If that were to happen, an attorney might need to get involved.

In the worst-case scenario and the landlord refuses to do anything, you’ll need to carefully weigh your options and ask yourself if you can wait until the end of the lease or feel confident that your former roommates won’t act recklessly after moving out.

Breaking a Two-Person Lease Is Possible, Though Not Ideal

Although a two-person lease is legally binding, breaking the contract and leaving early is possible. It’s not going to be a walk in the park, to be sure, but you aren’t stuck.

The options you have may not be the best, especially if your roommates and landlord aren’t interested in working with you to resolve the matter amicably. Sometimes you may have to suck it up and pay penalty fees.

On the flip side, if you’ve been thinking about investing in a rental property, if you’re considering buying a house with tenants, or if you’re considering renting a primary residence, New Western can help.

New Western is a great way to find the best off-market properties in your area. To begin the process, all you need to do is fill out a short form, and within 48-hours, a New Western representative will reach out to schedule a meeting to discuss your goals and options available!


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