Scenario 3: A housemate moves out leaving you to pay all the rent and..

(A) You are a co-tenant

As a co-tenant, you are ‘individually and jointly liable’ for the rent. This means that if a housemate leaves and you continue to occupy the rented premises, then you are responsible for all the rent until a new tenant moves in or you decide to end the lease. You need to have a new tenant approved by the landlord before they move in.

If you are still within the fixed term of your agreement, it’s probably best to try to get a new housemate in as soon as possible (see Looking for a New Housemate). If you have problems, try explaining the situation to your landlord and asking them to reduce the rent until another tenant can be found. However, they are under no obligation to do this and may try to evict you if you fall two weeks’ behind in the rent.

If the fixed term of the agreement has expired, you might decide to just give 21 days notice and terminate the agreement.

If you are left paying all the rent yourself, you could try to get compensation from your previous co-tenant. This would involve recovering the money as a debt through the Local Court. Taking court action can be difficult and expensive and take up a lot of time. You should get advice from a community legal centre before you go ahead (see Contact Points).

(B) You are a head-tenant

If a sub-tenant leaves without giving correct notice (21 days), the head-tenant may pursue compensation for loss of rent through NCAT in the same way that a landlord can if a tenant abandons their lease. If you have entered into a fixed term agreement with your subtenant and the sub-tenant leaves, you may be able to claim compensation for your loss through NCAT. You should also look for a new housemate as soon as possible to minimise your loss (see Looking for a New Housemate).

(C) You are a sub-tenant with a written agreement

If your head-tenant walks out and has no intention of returning, the names on the residential tenancy agreement will no longer match the tenants actually living in the house. The problem is that you, as a sub-tenant, do not have a legal relationship with your landlord.

The best way to resolve this problem is to let your landlord or agent know what has happened. Do this in writing, and keep a copy of the letter. If you assure them that you are interested in staying and can pay the rent, they might allow you to stay as a tenant. You and the landlord may decide to sign a new tenancy agreement.

If you’ve been paying rent and the landlord or agent knows the people whose names were on the tenancy agreement have gone, you could apply to the Tribunal to be recognised as a tenant.

(D) You are a boarder/lodger

With the head tenant gone, you have very few rights in relation to your landlord unless you tell them about what has happened. If you want to stay, you should explain the situation to the landlord. The landlord may agree to you staying there, in which case you become a tenant and should be asked to sign a residential tenancy agreement. You can also apply to the Tribunal, see Scenario 3(c) above. Also see the Boarders & Lodgers Kit for more information (see Useful Resources).