Breaking Up When You Live TogetherRachel Bell
You meet a great person. You fall deeply in love. You decide to move in together. Your parents are like, “It’s too soon.” You ignore them. What do they know? They’re old. The power of love is stronger than any other force on earth, right?
Wrong. Love is not stronger than a legally binding contract. A residential lease is a legally binding contract. If you sign a lease with a romantic partner and your love nest falls apart, you can get severely screwed over.
We don’t mean to discourage you from moving in with someone you’re dating. It’s a new age, people live together before getting married all the time! Housing costs are expensive, and you already sleep over at their place every night anyway! But we want you to be prepared for the possibility that what smells like roses may eventually turn to dog poop. I moved in with my boyfriend when I was nineteen. He cheated on me. Six years later I realized I had a utility bill in collections that he had just never paid because he knew the bill was in my name. Learn from my mistakes. Don’t let your youthful ignorance permanently alter your credit score. Also, Chris, if you’re reading this, you’re ugly.
We’ll walk you through how to protect yourself when moving in with your partner and how to handle it if you do break up. Spoiler alert: we're going to suggest that you let us take care of the lease stuff while you pick up the piece of your life. Breakups are hard enough without having to navigate landlord-tenant law and confusing lease language.
Before you move in
Reality check: You may not be in a relationship with this person for the rest of your life. Sorry. In case that turns out to be true, prepare yourself for it on the front end.
Understand the lease before you sign it
Make sure you are aware of everything you’re agreeing to when you sign your lease. Read up on the most common lease terms and their definitions. Never be afraid to ask questions before signing your lease. During a lease signing, you can make changes to the terms of the lease by crossing them out and initialing next to them, then having your landlord initial as well. Sometimes leases contain totally illegal clauses - look out for those, too.
It’s also a good idea to be aware of your state’s subletting law. If your state allows subletting but it depends on whether or not your lease forbids it, ask your landlord to include a clause allowing subletting before you sign the lease.
Decide who’s on the lease and who isn’t.
Keep them off the lease if possible. Here’s why:
If you’re the only one on the lease, you’ve got the most power. In most cases, you will have to meet the landlord’s income requirements on your own to make this happen. Most apartments have approval processes that require you to make a certain amount of money every month or have a certain credit score. If you meet all these requirements on your own and your partner is fine with it, you can have the lease totally in your name. It may seem sneaky or ominous to plan for the possibility of disaster when you’re happily moving in with someone you love, but if they end up being a trashcan, having the lease completely in your name will be a huge help.
On the other hand, having both your names on the lease is very risky. If your name is on the lease then you’ll end up responsible for your ex-lover’s financial situation. Here’s a term to be familiar with: joint and several liability. This means that every person on the lease is responsible for every obligation in the lease. So if you and your ex are both on the lease and you move out, you’re still bound by the lease. If you have an especially evil and vindictive ex, they can simply stop paying rent, and the action for eviction will be taken against you both in court. Also, if you move out without legally removing yourself on the lease (a process we’ll walk you through below), your ex has the right to get your portion of the security deposit when it’s returned at the end of the lease term.
When the break up happens
We asked our Instagram followers if they had ever broken up with someone they lived with, and if so, how they handled it. The most common answer was ‘Alcohol,’ which, okay, that may help you feel better in the moment, but isn’t going to fix the problem.
Decide what to do
Do you want to try and stay in the apartment? Do you want to move out? Warning: this step may require you to talk to your ex. Once you decide, you can move forward.
Consider a sublet
Find out what your state’s laws are in regards to subletting, all of which are available on our site in plain English, rather than confusing legal jargon. Or if you don't want to read laws or deal with your landlord, sign up for our leaseholder plan - we designed it for renters who need to leave early.
Break your lease
One of our Instagram followers told us she had to pay two month’s rent to get out of her lease after breaking up with her partner. A lot of leases will include lease break fees. If you're feeling like you have the extra cash, you can try this route.
Just run away from your apartment
Please don’t do this. We do not recommend this, for a whole list of reasons. This is legally referred to as ‘abandonment,’ and while it may be tempting when you’re drinking your sadness away post-heartbreak, it will have long term negative effects on your life. And you could end up in court.
As always, we’re here to help. Don’t slide into our DMs asking for relationship counseling, but if you need guidance with how to navigate anything apartment related, we got you.