The Common Law

Roommates and new owners – what's the law?

My roommate (who I thought was a good friend) just moved out of the house we were renting and now refuses to pay her share of the rent. We both signed the lease, but now the landlord wants me to make the entire rent payment. Can I really be forced to pay my ex-roommate's portion of the rent?

It depends on your lease, but most likely the answer is yes. Your landlord can hold you responsible for the entire amount of the rent because, as a general rule, by signing the lease you agreed to be responsible for the entire rental payment. This is one reason why landlords usually encourage as many people as possible to sign the lease: It gives them more options with which to recover unpaid rent. You should look at your lease to see if it contains a clause stating that you are only responsible for partial payment of the rental amount. These clauses, however, are rare. If you do pay all the rent, you both may want to consider bringing a separate claim against the roommate who moved out to recover her share of the rent. Another practical option is to try to find another roommate (subject to the landlord's consent). The moral of this question is clear: Choose you roommates with caution when signing a lease!

I rent a small house in Travis Heights with seven months left on the lease. The owners just sold the house, and the new owners have given me 30 days' notice to move out. Do I have to leave?

It depends – read your lease. If there are any provisions that talk about what will happen if the owner sells the property, then these terms will apply. These kinds of provisions usually include how many days' notice you must be given before you have to move out. Or, if the lease does not address the owner's sale of the property, the new owner is generally required to honor your lease and allow you to remain in the house for the rest of the lease. Of course, the new owner is under no obligation to renew the lease, so you should probably be prepared to move out at the end of seven months.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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