Q: I have been living in a house with my roommate for almost a full year. We do not have a written agreement; instead, we have a verbal agreement.
My roommate has a boyfriend who becomes angry and violent, and who threatens her. He has been arrested for assault in the past. She asked me if he could stay in our rental home for one month. After a recent incident involving him, I told her he could not stay in our house for one month, since I do not feel comfortable with this arrangement. However, she is going against my feelings and letting her boyfriend stay with us for one month.
I have children, and we have another roommate who has a daughter. Neither of us are comfortable with our roommate’s boyfriend staying in our home. What should I do?
A: You have a few options. Since you have less than one month left on your verbal lease, you should contact your landlord and request to terminate your lease early. You may need to pay a small break-lease fee to terminate your lease early, but it will be worth it for your peace of mind.
You could also go to your landlord and tell him or her that your roommate let her boyfriend move in, which was not part of your agreement. Since your roommate’s boyfriend isn’t included in the verbal lease agreement, then he is not allowed to live in the house because it is a lease violation. That way, your landlord will be the one enforcing the rules of your verbal lease agreement. Your roommate may be more inclined to obey the lease terms set by your landlord.
Do not move out before having an agreement with your landlord to terminate your lease early. Otherwise, your landlord could sue you for the remaining rent, and it could affect your credit or ability to rent in the future. A third option is to find a replacement tenant to move in.
Keep in mind that if you do negotiate with your landlord to terminate your verbal lease early, you should get it in writing and signed by both parties. Make sure the writing states that you have no duty to pay anything more after paying a break-lease fee and moving out.
You also may qualify for a harassment restraining order against your roommate’s boyfriend. The standard for harassment under Minnesota law seems broad enough to contain the boyfriend’s actions. You can go to the courthouse in the county where you live and apply for a harassment restraining order. The order can prevent the boyfriend from entering your shared residence. That may be enough to give you time to find a new place after giving notice to your current landlord.
Minnesota law also allows for a tenant who is the victim of domestic abuse to cancel the lease and depart the residence upon giving notice to the landlord. It may be that you could argue that your fear of the boyfriend constitutes domestic abuse, allowing you to cancel your lease. There is a Minnesota tenants’ rights organization called HomeLine that you could contact for advice at 612-728-5767. HomeLine also could assist you in giving your landlord appropriate notice.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.