Tenants don't become roommates intending that one of them will face eviction in the future, but it often happens. Normally, a landlord holds the primary responsibility for dealing with tenant evictions, but there are some situations where one roommate might be able to legally file to evict another.
Of course, you'll need standing, a legally valid reason, and you'll have to involve the court system.
Your Tenancy Status
Your ability to evict a roommate depends on the tenancy status in the lease agreement. This usually falls into one of three categories:
Both roommates are named on the lease agreement in this situation. They're considered equally liable for paying rent, paying utilities, and following all other terms of the lease agreement, such as quiet hours and pet policies. You share responsibility for any damage done to the property.
One co-tenant can't file to evict another co-tenant. Only a landlord can file for eviction in this situation.
The eviction would appear in public records under both co-tenants' names, but you can ask your landlord to sign an agreement that releases you from liability if you've personally been following the terms of the lease.
You're the Master Tenant
The master tenant is named on the lease agreement as the primary tenant and essentially sublets to the other roommate, sometimes referred to as the subtenant.
You must have the landlord’s permission to sublet to the other tenant. Otherwise, you'd be violating your lease by allowing an unauthorized person to live in the rental.
The master tenant typically collects rent from the other roommate and is the one who subsequently pays the landlord.
You might have a separate roommate agreement with your subtenant. You might be able to file to evict the other roommate for just cause in this situation. The process would be largely identical to the process a landlord must follow to evict a tenant.
State laws for this process can vary somewhat. Check with an attorney or legal aid to confirm the rules that apply in your state.
Your Roommate Is the Master Tenant
Unfortunately, you have no right to file to evict the master tenant if you're the subtenant. Your only options are to move out of the rental after giving the legal notice stated in your agreement.
You might also contact your landlord and explain the situation. It's possible that the landlord might file to evict the master tenant and agree to rent to you after the master tenant has been evicted.
Evicting for Good Cause
Your roommate must have violated a clause in the lease agreement or the separate roommate agreement you signed. In legal terms, this is "good cause."
Good cause can differ based on your state's or municipality's landlord/tenant laws, but common legally permissible reasons are more or less the same as would be required for a landlord to evict. They include:
- Failure to pay rent
- Failure to pay utility bills
- Damage to the property in excess of normal wear and tear
- Engaging in illegal activities on the property
- Threatening the health or safety of the other tenant
- Repeated breaches of the lease after receiving a "Notice to Quit Behavior," such as noise complaints
The Formal "Notice to Quit"
You must serve your roommate with a formal notice to quit if they don't agree to move out voluntarily. This notice must include:
- The roommate’s name, address, and unit number
- The specific ways the roommate is violating the lease or roommate agreement
- How long the tenant has to fix the behavior or move out of the rental unit. This will be determined by state law.
- A statement that you will be filing a formal eviction if the behavior isn't remedied or if the tenant doesn't voluntarily move out
- The date and your signature
You must deliver the notice to your roommate according to your state's law. You might have to deliver it personally, send it via certified mail, or you might be able post it on the door to the apartment.
Again, check with a local professional or legal aid office to be sure.
File a Formal Notice to Evict
You'll have to file a formal eviction with the court if your roommate refuses to leave or fix the violation within the allowed time frame stated in your notice to quit. The court will set a date for an eviction hearing and will serve your roommate with formal notice of that date.
You might have to personally arrange to have your roommate served with the papers in some states.
You'll be required to prove that your roommate has violated the lease or roommate agreement, so gather any evidence that backs up your claim while you're waiting for your court date.
For example, take pictures of any damage or of pets in the rental unit if the tenant has an animal that's not allowed. You'll also want to make sure you have copies of all your paperwork.
Appear in Court
Make sure you appear in court on the scheduled date and at the correct time. Failure to appear is usually an automatic victory for the other side. Bring any evidence you have that supports your case.
If You Get a Judgment
Your roommate will be allowed to continue living in the rental unit if the judge rules against you. Otherwise, your roommate will be given a certain amount of time to move out. This can be as short as three days in some states.
The eviction notice will usually be posted on the front door of the rental unit. You can contact the local marshal or sheriff to forcibly remove your roommate from the residence, usually for a fee, if they don't move out by the required date.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
Try to avoid eviction. Talk to your roommate and ask them to move before you file a formal eviction action. Explain why you would like them to leave and make them aware that an eviction judgment will be a matter of public record and could make it more difficult to rent in the future.
Be professional. Any communication with your roommate regarding the eviction should be done in writing. Don't break the law by changing the locks, removing your roommate’s possessions, or threatening your roommate with illegal actions.
Protect yourself. Don't hesitate to call the police if you're ever concerned about your physical safety.