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Q&A

What if tenant's roommate stops honoring their agreement on rent?

Agreements between roommates over rental terms should always be documented in writing

Question: My roommate and I have been living in an apartment for the past three years, splitting the rent. Last year, she was laid off, so we made an arrangement that she would handle most of the housework and pay 25% of the rent, while I pay the rest. We recently had a major argument, and she decided not to do any more cleaning. So I want to hire a house cleaner and charge my roommate for 50% of the rent plus the cost of the house cleaner. Can I do this?

Answer: Since you use the term "arrangement," we assume this agreement between you and your roommate was never documented in writing.

A verbal agreement is generally enforceable, but the lack of a written version means that you and your roommate may well disagree about the exact terms of the arrangement.

This type of situation is why we always recommend that these types of agreements between roommates be documented in writing. Assuming you can prove the agreement existed, you could enforce it in a small claims action against your roommate.

But taking her to court will require you to expend time and energy, and it will almost certainly cause further damage to your relationship.

If the relationship totally breaks down, the next step will depend on whether both of you signed the rental agreement with the landlord or whether only one of you is on the rental agreement and the other is a subtenant.

When both of you are on the rental agreement, only the landlord can evict one or both of you. If only one of you is on the agreement, the person on the agreement would have to pursue the eviction against the subtenant.

All of these approaches generate unhappy consequences, so our strongest advice to you is to contact the local mediation program in your area. A mediator can bring both of you together under conditions that are neutral and convenient.

Mediation would enable you to look for ways to repair your relationship or at least mutually agree on a peaceful resolution.

For more information, contact a local fair housing or mediation program, or Project Sentinel at (888) 324-7468, or visit http://www.housing.org.

Van Deursen is director of Dispute Resolution Programs for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. Send questions to info@housing.org.

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