One day, blogger Kate Sitarz came home to a half-empty apartment. Her ex had moved out, leaving her with a now-doubled rent payment and responsibility for all the bills. Find out how she tackled this expensive crisis like a Grownup.
Moving in with a significant other is great. Until it isn’t.
I moved in with my now-ex a few months after dating. But nearly three years into what I thought was smooth sailing, I returned home to a half-empty apartment. He—and his belongings—had disappeared, as though I’d lived alone all along.
I was shocked, of course, but didn’t panic—and that made all the difference.
Breaking up with a live-in partner sucks. Ending things with a platonic roommate isn’t great, either. But with maturity and clear communication, it can work. Here are my Grownup ways to mitigate the headaches of moving on and moving out.
Note: This post covers rentals, not owned homes.
Have a Conversation
I get it—the moving out conversation is difficult, maybe even unpleasant. But whenever possible, it’s critical for a smoother transition. If you’re the one leaving, the sooner you can tell your roommate, the better: You can plan for breaking (or not breaking) the lease and divvy up belongings, among other necessary tasks. Giving a month’s notice is ideal, but sometimes a new job or other major life event may make shorter move-out times unavoidable.
But what happens if your roommate ghosts? You still have some major decisions to make—by yourself.
Decide to Break the Lease (or Not)
Both your names are on the lease, so what happens when one person wants to move out before the lease is up?
Tenants’ rights vary by location, so first and foremost, look up your state’s laws. Some states let you break a lease if you get a job in another state, for example. Let your landlord know your plans as soon as possible—you may find he or she is more understanding than anticipated. Get your agreements in writing, whether it’s you, your landlord, or your roommate—just in case.
In many instances, if you need to move before your lease is up, the landlord must mitigate the loss by looking for another tenant to replace you. Keep track of what your landlord is or isn’t doing to find a new tenant. If the issue does go to court, you may lose one months’ rent, taken from your security deposit.
You can also look for possible candidates to expedite the process, as well as whether you’re allowed to sublet. Subletting may not help you recuperate 100 percent of your losses, but it can cover a large chunk.
Determine Who Gets to Stay
If you and your significant other or roommate break up and neither wants to move, you may find yourself at an impasse. Since both names are on the lease, neither of you can legally make the other leave. If you’re willing, you can give them financial incentive—such as paying them the security deposit—to move out.
My brother found himself in this situation and decided to continue living with his ex-girlfriend for four months. He waited to leave until the end of his lease, simply because he knew he couldn’t afford to pay his share of the rent plus rent for a new apartment. However, if you’re a mere six months into a two-year lease, for example, it’s worth weighing the pros and cons across your options. As hard as it is, explaining your situation to friends and family may provide you with more choices. Maybe a mutual friend’s great aunt has a vacant apartment you can use while you figure out your long-term plan.
In my case, I was left shouldering double the rent for two months while I looked for a new roommate to sign a new lease. To me, it wasn’t worth tracking down my ex to make him pay up. Plus, I liked the apartment. (Admittedly, this is the most financially straining option.) Talk with your landlord to see if you can vet a new roommate before the lease renews, or if you can pay rent late or in installments.
Divvy up Your Stuff
As the 2000 short-lived hit said, The Hardest Part of Breaking Up (Is Getting Back Your Stuff). My ex made it easy: He knew what he brought to the apartment and what I’d contributed. He left things we purchased together, plus other items I didn’t want or need. (Tossing those was a minor irritation.) When summer came around, I noticed a box fan had disappeared, but that was easily replaceable.
If you’re moving out, try not to leave items behind for your roommate, or ask if they can use things you’d rather discard. Decide who keeps what, and if any compensation is needed so everyone feels they’re getting their fair share. Their personal items and gifts you gave them are theirs. Everything else is probably not worth fighting over.
Settle up Bills
Before a roommate leaves, settle outstanding bills, including utilities, Internet, and other expenses you shared. If one of you is staying at the apartment, make sure all accounts are in the right name.
In the case of a roommate disappearing, you’ll have to weigh whether it’s worth chasing the other person down. Remember how my ex left all the items we purchased together? He took this as fair payment for his half of the security deposit—even though I paid the security deposit and first and last months’ rent when we signed the lease. But the specific who-paid-what breakdown wasn’t in writing. Chalk that up to a lesson learned.
Expect the Unexpected (Costs)
You know those “rainy day funds” everyone tells you to keep? Well, I never thought I’d actually have to fork over a few thousand dollars over a couple of months. Turns out, having that safety net allowed me to live in my apartment at a time when I really didn’t feel like looking for a new house and a new roommate.
I didn’t expect to lose my security deposit or pay double rent and utilities overnight, but having financial backup allowed me to have more options. I could move out if I wanted, or stay. I chose to use some emergency funds in order to stay.
It was a small price to pay for some sense of normalcy.
Kate Sitarz is a freelance writer living in Germany. Her work has been featured on Yahoo Travel!, The Huffington Post, and USAToday, among other outlets.