Help! How do we minimize backlash when kicking out a toxic roommate?

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Would a “go away!” doormat be too rude?
I currently live in a house with four roommates and our lease is up at the end of October. Here’s our problem… Everyone wants to stay in the house, but none of us want to stay with our one roommate.

The other three of us want to kick her out, but we aren’t sure how to without backlash. When is a good time to hand her her walking papers? What is a good and formal but polite way to tell her we’ve all agreed she shouldn’t live here? Help! -samanticore

We’ve talking about what to do when evicting a roommate you love, but what about when it’s a roommate that you have a rocky relationship with? How do you politely tell a problem roommate that they need to leave?

Comments on Help! How do we minimize backlash when kicking out a toxic roommate?

  1. Wish I had some answers for you- but I don’t since I was in the same spot in university. Two of us had a third and she needed to go as she was making the home a place no one else wanted to be. We sat down for a “house meeting” and let her know how we felt (in as kind and gentle manner as we could) suggesting she take the summer (when she was elsewhere) to find a new place. This led to the next three months of hell while she did everything in her power to make life miserable for the both of us. The end result- myself and my other roomate were the ones who moved into new places of our own free will- and she ended up having to find a place of her own: because no one wanted to live with her. All I can say is make sure you try to be your best person and have no regrets about your own behaviour- and make sure you know what rights you have legally above all else!

  2. Oh- and the “kind and gentle manner” was a short list of the specific reasons that we felt she would be better living somewhere else. I think it was four things, so as not to be a tirade of “holy shit, move out of here you toxic leech”. Things like “You have been really interested in having your boyfriend with you for a few weeks at a time, which when we moved in together, we had decided was not acceptable. Its now making us really uncomfortable and prehaps you should consider getting a place of your own together” and “The shared expenses you no longer want to pay (ie: phone, internet, etc) but are still using are two expensive for the two of us to pay for- so if we don’t have a paying third we will need to cancel them all”. Etc.

    • Be careful, though. If she corrects the behaviors you specifically cite, are you prepared to allow her to stay? If not, it’s only setting you up for more awkwardness down the road. If the situation is irreconcilable, she needs to know she needs to go.

      If you’re 100% sure she’s going: I’d let your landlord know that three of you will be staying (with a new fourth roommate, if applicable) before you talk to her. Then let her know that the landlord is already aware that she’ll be leaving, and is prepared to refund her portion of the deposit. (Sidenote: If the landlord won’t divide the deposit, the three of you need to pony up her share.)

      I wouldn’t give her more than two months notice, to avoid the situation listed above, because that’s long enough to find new housing pretty much anywhere. Technically speaking, you aren’t required to give her any reason at all. Your votes outweigh her. If you decide to list your reasons, or she grills you about it, I’d keep it short and sweet: “We’re so sorry, but we just don’t think you’re a good fit living with the three of us. We like things cleaner/quieter/livelier/more private than you do. We don’t expect you to change how you like to live; we’ll all be more comfortable if we part ways. We’re happy to help you move your stuff but the landlord says you’ll have to move by the end of next month.”

      Without knowing her specific offenses, that’s my best advice.

      • This is a tough situation, but I agree with the above. I would, however, still try to give about 30 days’ notice to her, however. Seems to me, that’s usually what landlords are required to give (at least, I think that’s what it is here in PA, could be 45 days), so that should still give her enough time to process the situation, find another place, and move all of her things out. Since I don’t know the specifics of why you have voted her out, I can’t give anything further, but just make sure it’s not a “hey, we want you out at the end of the week, good luck finding another place” situation. And good luck to you. I hope it goes well.

    • It sounds like she’s an inconsiderate roomie. Just tell her the honest truth, that she’s better off just getting her own place with her boyfriend. I personally would have had a house meeting a long time ago! Leaving drama unresolved is just too stressful.
      Let her know of the “house” decision as soon as possible to give her time to find a new place. It’s unfortunate, but necessary to cut all ties. Also, make sure at least two of you are in the house when she moves out, just in case she tries to take vengence out on your home or possessions. Good luck.

  3. Oof, that’s a tough one, especially since we don’t know if the problem roommate causes physical problems like dirty living spaces or personal problems like verbal or physical confrontations. If you think that you can’t trust her alone with your stuff or you after you give her walking papers, then I would say that your problems are bigger than just kicking her out and you probably need to evict her with police present.

    Assuming that isn’t the case, present a united front with all the roommates. Call a family meeting or whatever you want to call it, and say, “Okay, our lease is coming up. Who wants to keep living here? Do we have any changes we wish to make to our arrangements?” Don’t allow yourself to be the only person telling this roommate it’s time to go. Don’t gang up on her and beat her up about why she’s a bad roommate, but it’s not your responsibility to take the brunt of her wrath by speaking for everyone.

    Give her as much notice as you can so that she can find a new home.

    Make sure everyone has a weekend free at some point to help her pack. This makes sure that she doesn’t accidentally take someone’s stuff, and it’s just nice to help her out.

    If you like her as a person, make sure she knows that. If your goal is to lose a roommate and not a friend, explain that you aren’t mad at her for washing dishes with her dog’s tongue; you’d just prefer not to eat off of them. That doesn’t mean y’all can’t keep playing softball together on weekends.

    Gentle honesty is your best bet here. If she offers to fix her behavior, you and your other roomies have to decide if you believe she can or will fix them and if you’re willing to give her that chance. She may be upset, but that’s okay. Stand your ground.

    Also, you and your roomies need to decide how much progress you’re expecting to see from her and what you’ll do if you don’t see any. You’re not her mom, and you shouldn’t have to sit on her to make sure she apartment hunts and packs. However, if she decides not to look for another place to live, eventually you’ll have to actually evict her. That, again, should be done with police present. Look into your local eviction laws just in case.

  4. Give her the notice now so it’s not sudden and leaving her with too little time to find a home. Even if you don’t intend on maintaining a relationship with her post-housing, it’s a bit cruel to give someone about a month’s notice. Especially when it will become clear that she’s being kicked out. If things appear to be going well but there’s some underlying tension openly acknowledge what was bothering the three of you.

    I’ve been on both ends of this situation, and I think I handled it fairly well as a recipient (a choked, “oh, okay”). I knew that X was an issue, and was trying to control it. However, I didn’t know how badly it was affecting my roommate until she randomly gave me the news. If she had told me a few months in advance that X had to be fixed by a specific date I probably would have initiated the departure myself. Depending on what the issue is (partners, pets, work hours) the offending roommate might be okay with leaving. I’d try and get them to see this as a move in the right direction for them and be as friendly as possible. Sometimes the X problem solves itself once the offending person is in another environment!

    The time I was the kicker it went as badly as you might expect. The person in question was someone we all knew to be spiteful, so we’re not sure if there was a way to avoid drama. If I could have changed anything about that meeting I would have made a point to be kinder when breaking the news. It might not have changed the offender’s later actions, but I’m disappointed in myself.

  5. Figure out how far in advance landlords in your area sign new leases. (In really high demand areas it could be a couple months, but it could be much less than that low demand areas.) You need to give her enough time to look.

    I second being present and legitimately helping her pack her stuff, at least for the kitchen and common areas where you have mixed belongings.

    You are already being firm with your actions (kicking her out) so you need to be kind with your words and subsequent actions.

    I think how you become roommates in the first place would be helpful information to know how to navigate the exit. Were you friends? Friends of friends? Strangers from craigslist?

  6. I think that one important thing to remember about toxic relationships is that they normally go both ways. If they’re toxic to you, you’re probably toxic to them as well. I doubt there would be much surprise on their end that the living situation isn’t working.

    I agree that having a house meeting may be a good solution and telling them basically that while they are a good person, that there are obvious difficulties in the living situation that you feel would be best resolved by not cohabitating. Try to use “I” statements. I know it’s corny, but expressing it as your opinion and feeling is less confronting and accusing as explaining. At the end of the day, you may have to take a tough, united stance.

    My sister in law was in a similar situation with housemates. They also had an issue with their landlord, so the three of them that wanted to stay together told the fourth that none of them were staying in the house because of the issues with the landlord. The three of them then secretly signed a lease together at a different house a few blocks away. I don’t know if I would recommend this method, but it did work for her.

  7. These situations are so icky.
    I say that discussing the end of your lease might be a good opportunity for the toxic roommate to bow out of their own accord.
    Often, people turn kind of toxic when they don’t like their living situations. Maybe they are more than happy to go?
    If not, I agree with the family meeting strategy and be CLEAR everyone should briefly discuss the talking points and come up with no more than a few. It doesn’t need to be an hours long, intervention style diatribe of what an awful roommate she is. It should also not feel to her like you all have spent months bashing her behind her back.
    Take it in turns. A quick vote of who wants to stay in the house (this may solve the problem without having to do anything else). Then if she does want to stay, you’ll have to say something like “We appreciate that you don’t want to move and that this seems like a good fit for you. Here are some concerns we have going forward, and if these problems can’t be solved by September 1, then we just won’t be able to renew with you as our roommate. (This gives ya’ll time to find a roommate and her a time to find a place)
    Good luck!!
    I hate dealing with stuff like this. Which is why I chose to live in delightful shit-holes in sketchy neighborhoods alone than face any more roommates!

  8. I know this isn’t helpful, but I’m reminded of Michael Bluth being “mistakenly voted out of a four-person housing situation in a pack-first/no-talking-after scenario.” Make sure that doesn’t happen! There was a lot of angst about it!

  9. Take a minute to reflect back on previous disagreements with her. How did they go, and how did she behave afterward? If she was able to be civil, this might not suck! If she was pouty, vengeful or otherwise crappy about it, though, prepare yourself for a potentially horrible situation.

  10. I think sometimes it is just best to be the one to move out rather than asking the other person. We can’t control what others can do but can control ourselves. I was in a very toxic housing situation and even though I had first located the house and took the measures to secure it and invested far more time in it and I had lived there first, I was the one to leave because “the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.” My view is there is always another house, another apartment, etc. You can always move. Trying to force someone out is going to make your life hell.

    • “We can’t control what others can do but we can control ourselves.”

      I definitely agree with this. I’ve never been in a roommate position where this was possible. I lived in dorms in college and then an apartment on my own, and then a few places with me then-boyfriend/now-husband. However, I would just say as best you can to put yourself in her shoes. How would it feel to not only be told “We don’t want to live with you anymore” and “You have to leave”. No matter how nicely you phrase it, it is very likely that she will feel pretty vulnerable and hurt at this prospect. It’s hard enough to hear one of those things without hearing both.

      Even if she’s difficult to live with or a horrible person, or just a personality that clashes with yours really badly, she’s still a person.

    • Having asked a very dear friend to no longer live with me once, I agree that “the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze” (such a good way to put it). I’d just move with my other roommates into a new place. Now, I’m a bit of an avoider by nature, I admit. But it almost cost me a friendship and created a lot of heartache when we asked her not to live with us.

    • Yup, I totally agree. I think it would be easier if you guys all moved out rather than kicking her out. Of course, this depends on your situation… if you have an amazing rent-controlled apartment and won’t be able to find anything else in the same price range or something, then you might have to throw her out. But if you could easily find a comparable place to live, it might be better to just opt to move out yourself.

  11. I actually disagree with most of the comments above. If you’re concerned about backlash (which seems to be a main point of the question), you should NOT give her as much time as possible. You should give her the legal requirement of a notice length. Most US states require 30 days’ advance notice. So September 30, give her a notice, in writing (email counts in most places as writing) that your lease is up and that she will regrettably not be included in the next lease. I would keep it short and business-like in order to avoid anything that could be turned into drama or twisted around emotionally. You can include a phrase that indicates your willingness to share the reasons with her, but I wouldn’t get into them in the notice. Just pretend you’re the landlord- would your landlord write the reasons to not renew the lease? No, he/she would just write that the lease will not be renewed. If you’re being EVICTED, that’s another story- the landlord would have to cite reasons, prove points, get authorities involved (on that note, someone above mentioned just evicting her with the police- that’s actually VERY difficult to do in a legal manner, and it normally takes more than 60 days to do that process and all its paperwork, plus I’m not sure you’d have the authority to do that since you do not own or manage the property).

    30 days is plenty of time to find a new place, and you won’t have to babysit. I think you should maybe consider exactly what type of backlash you’re expecting, and plan accordingly. If it’s emotional, just set up daily empowerment convos with the other roomies to get yourselves in the right headspace- that you won’t be cowed and won’t allow each other or yourselves to get drawn into shouting matches. If it’s physical, like with the security of your stuff, arrange your schedules so at least one of you is home most of the time for the next 30 days. And so on.

    Here’s one way to NOT do it (this happened to me as the roomie they wanted to move out): Sign a new lease with your landlord and leave the signed lease sitting on the counter without telling your roomie anything. Yeah, that was fun.

    • I’m not an expert on landlord-tenant law (and it varies by state/jurisdiction), but I don’t think that fellow roommates are usually considered to have the same rights and responsibilities as the landlord. Beyond what’s in the lease, they probably don’t have requirements about giving notice, and–like you said–they probably don’t have the power to evict a fellow roommate in the legal sense (in response to someone else who used the term “eviction”).

      If you see this going poorly, it would be good to brush up on your local laws as well as your lease terms before approaching your roommate. What if she moves out immediately–are you three required and prepared to cover her portion of the rent? What if she does damage to the home or your belongings–do you know your rights and would you want to pursue any action? Do you have a safety plan? Discuss all of this with your remaining two roommates, not to invite drama but to be prepared just in case things go south.

      I’ve had to go through situations like this, and it’s really painful. Your roommate will probably feel as if you’ve all ganged up on her and talked about her behind her back (which is partially true) and that’s never a good feeling. It sounds like you’re trying to be as kind and sensitive as possible. When you break the news, try to keep the tone of, “We’re just not a good fit as roommates,” rather than, “You’re a deficient human being.” She’ll probably come away hurt no matter what (unless she’s also unhappy) but the more you keep it focused on the situation at hand and less on her personality flaws, the better.

      Assuming there’s no major safety risk, give your roommate a couple of months’ notice and offer up any leads you have on other housing options. Even if your roommate doesn’t lash out, be prepared for tense silences, less diligence with chores or paying her portion of expenses on time, etc.

      I hope this goes without saying, but keep this situation private and definitely don’t blog/tweet/Facebook about it, etc. Many years ago my partner wrote a frustrated blog about a problematic roommate, and someone passed it along to the roommate. The roommate then shared it on public forums, which led to other people harassing my partner and making threats. The roommate then moved out without notice and without cleaning out most of his stuff. It was a bad situation that could have been made easier by a little more discretion on both sides.

  12. She’s probably aware of the fact that there’s tension, right? It’s ok to just sit down, be honest and say “it’s been hard these last few days/weeks/months, yeah?” ideally, she says “yeah.” and the four of you can each make plans for the future that make sense. You don’t even have to enumerate the issues- she’s probably aware that the three of you have a list of “crappy stuff that happened” and she probably has a list of the same type.

    If she doesn’t realize there’s tension and this is a complete surprise to her . . . communication was broke a long time ago and any new attempts aren’t going to prevent backlash.

  13. Oh yay! Something I can comment on that I’ve done! I was in a flat with 2 others, and 1 of them was just awful. We’re very sure he was smoking in his room instead of outside (he denied this vehemently, but it smelt of cigarettes outside his bedroom door very strongly), his awful gf was over ALL THE TIME and didn’t contribute, they took over the communal lounge and turned off lights closed the door and made out on MY COUCH IN FRONT OF MY TV and made it awfully awkward for us, and had loud sex in his bedroom which was right next door to the lounge and kitchen. He left the key in the front door which faced the street overnight three times. Ugh. We had a couple of discussions about his girlfriend which didn’t go down well, so we decided to ask him to leave. And this was mid-tenancy agreement, not end of!!!

    So, what we did was enlist the help of the landlord first. The fact that he had broken a rule of the tenancy helped, even though he denied it. We had a good relationship with our landlord, so he backed us all the way. We sat down with the offending flatmate and basically said “Look, there’s these things we’ve discussed, they haven’t changed, we’re not happy, and we’d like you to move out.” He got really petty and nasty and whiny, and my other flatmate was starting to argue so I just stopped it and said “Look, we’re not happy, you’re not happy, so there’s no point in us continuing to live in the house. The landlord is aware that we’re asking you to move out. You have until . Sorry it didn’t work out.”

    And that was it. Things were pretty cold and awkward for a few weeks, but it was actually better with everything out in the open than me and K bitching about him behind his back constantly. I agree that it should be minimum notice that you could legally get away with (whatever your tenancy agreement says about your landlord ending your tenancy is a good guide). And as other commenters have said, it’s a hurtful thing you’re going to say, it’s probably like she WILL get petty, nasty, hurtful, whatever. But as long as YOU stay calm, and just reiterate your bottom line, then that’s all that matters.

    • Oh, and another thing you might want to consider is seeing if you can change locks afterward. Might be a pain, but in case there’s a risk of backlash and you DON’T all want to relocate elsewhere (which I would understand, as some places it’s hard to get a house/apartment/flat to rent in the first place), then at least you don’t have to worry about someone coming in and causing trouble.

        • Still try to get the locks changed (which your landlord might pay for since it’s the condition of thier home that could be at stake). People can get surprisingly vindictive when their feelings/pride have been hurt. And there’s nothing stopping them from making extra keys before they turn their originals in. We had a tenant/roommate who came back and stole stuff after he left (oddly from our other tenant, not us). We also recently found out that the one we just let go had made a copy and given it to his ex-gf, whom I had expressly said was not to be at our house before he signed the lease. She returned the key when she ran into me at a bar. But he’s had two “partners” since her. We have no clue if they were given keys, but we do know that only one was returned to us (also only one issued). I also overheard a guy at a bar bragging about giving out his “crazy exes” key to randoms on the street. Better safe than sorry.

  14. Several years ago, I watched something like this happen to a boyfriend of mine. He moved into a new place with people he didn’t know and all hell broke out all over him. The situation almost came to a physical fight at one point because the roommate he shared a bathroom with had a lot of issues with my ex over said bathroom. In short, my ex didn’t make it through the end of his lease. He packed up about 5 months in and left; last one in and first one out.

    Overall, the situation was not handled well. Nearly all of the complaints were given to the landlord and not my ex, so he never knew that there were issues until the landlord emailed him with what was essentially a “WTF is going on over there and do I need to evict you?” message. If your roommate seems totally oblivious to the fact that she’s doing something you all hate, discuss it with her as a house, and do it soon. Since your lease is up anyway, she may decide that it’s easier to bow out than try to fix the issue. If she’s just a nasty person and y’all are tired of putting up with mood swings, abrasive behavior, the fights she has with her SO at 3 am when everyone else is sleeping, whatever, you need to be blunt and straight-forward with her. Unite as a front so she doesn’t have the opportunity to set her anger on just one person. It’s likely that no matter how you handle her, it won’t be a unicorn and rainbows exit on her behalf. Let the landlord know how you are proceeding and why, because if they need to step in and evict her, they need to know the motivation behind the decision. Your landlord should know that there is a problem and you are trying to handle it, but you’d appreciate some back-up in case it doesn’t go well. Many landlords would rather not lose an entire house of rent checks because of one roommate, so it’s likely they’ll side with you if necessary.

    Don’t get mean and say anything that isn’t true/part of the issue at hand. Nitpicking is also not useful, since she’s likely already feeling attacked. Like others have said, even you hate her and the horse she rode in on, she’s a person with feelings like everyone else. I hope everything works out!

    • Depending on the jurisdiction, the burden of proof to successfully evict someone could be pretty high. Your landlord might be able to evict a bad roommate if she is breaking the lease in a serious way, like dealing drugs or destroying the property. Other than that, most landlords will hesitate to get involved in an eviction because they’re costly, messy, and don’t guarantee that the tenant will actually be forced to leave (usually the courts get to make the decision).

      It’s good for your landlord to be aware of any major issues that could threaten their property or your tenancy, but I wouldn’t expect them to get involved in terms of eviction or other legal actions unless this is a really serious situation.

  15. We handled this exact situation brilliantly, by not saying anything, letting resentment burn into our souls, praying to various gods that he would just leave.

    Eventually he moved to another city, so clearly our method works!

  16. Ugh, I know this well. Once, I was not the (only) problem roommate but I also wasn’t on the lease and was the only one who was willing to tell the Major Problems roommate she was unwelcome. Queue me moving out because No. I tried to do it while she was gone because she was spiteful and had already trashed a bunch of my stuff and been physically violent with me twice, but my boyfriend’s mom got wind of it and told her so she stayed and watched like a hawk while we were moving things, taking stuff out of my boxes that she wanted and breaking some of my fragile things and is it any wonder I wanted to move?! I still think moving out behind her back was the best way to go on that one.

    Once, the other roommate and I just signed a new lease with a new roommate, told the old roommate we had signed leases elsewhere, and then packed up a bunch of our stuff as if we were all moving out. Took it as an opportunity to declutter and rearrange the furniture, and the landlord had wanted to redo floors anyway so she would have needed us to move our stuff so we did it all at once. Old roommate did find out we ended up staying and was kinda miffed, but meh, didn’t have to live with her.

    Once we had a couch crasher who was supposed to be there a week, 10 days tops. After 3 months with her on the couch, we needed to get a roommate to fill a room being emptied by one girl moving in with her boyfriend (yes, in part due to some personality conflicts with me). With a month’s notice, and this couch crasher having claimed all along she had the money for first last and security on an apartment of her own as soon as she had a job, and her having secured a job, we the remaining three roommates had to decide whether we wanted to live with her. We didn’t, unanimously. I was the one that lost the rock paper scissors game to tell her. We had the monthly house meeting and told her that she could stay in the empty room that already had the rent paid for the next month by the vacating roommate, but that we would be interviewing other potential roommates and she would have to be out by noon on the last day of the month so we could get our new roommate in–so, 5 weeks’ notice. I genuinely think she stayed to the last minute just to be spiteful. I am the only one she hates for not letting her stay, despite it being a unanimous decision and the other roommates telling her that. Awesome. I’ve told three different therapists how that conversation went down and all three said I handled it perfectly and her being immature really isn’t my fault. Didn’t make it any less awkward though.

    Once we had a roommate move out overnight with no notice because I called the cops on him for dealing drugs and threatening my life. Despite having to cover his already-late rent, and the fact that he owes us about 2 grand for rent and utilities from before he moved out (which he had been repaying with the rent check), I vastly preferred the moving out overnight tactic to anything long and drawn out. It sucks, both ways, but if it’s an option, maybe it’s worth the hassle of arranging it.

    [And yes, I recognize the common denominator in here is me; that’s a whole other bag of noodles.]

  17. I know this isn’t the BEST place to post another question, but I am in a similar situation-
    my SO and I are moving out because of a toxic roommate situation, and we won’t get penalized for breaking the lease if everyone in the house signs a form at the same time.
    We can’t move into our new place until the end of the month, and we are worried that the other couple will hold out out of spite (they’ve threatened to sue us for all manner of things to try to scare us, but they can legitimately sue us for rent if we leave without their sign-off).
    Do we tell them the date we intend to sign right away, or will giving them little notice make it less likely that they’ll hold out (a la not giving them time to scheme)? We also have to be away for four days during this month with our stuff still here- is there anything we can do about that short of moving it out first?

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