For most, a home is a shared space, which can be a great thing. The company of others can turn simple, lonely activities, like eating an entire pint of Rocky Road and crying to ABC’s latest drama, into something fun to share with another person or two (or more). It can mean coming home to a warm dinner from your roommate’s new cookbook, or enjoying the aroma of a cozy new candle they picked up for the apartment.
In less fortunate scenarios, it can also mean waiting to use the bathroom until your hostile roommate has retreated back into their weird lair, having screaming arguments with someone you then have to see the next morning, or avoiding coming home altogether, if the previous two kinds of interactions just become way too much.
If you find yourself in the latter camp, you’ve got two options: continue living in a home riddled with tension, or do something about it. If you can move out, go for it. If not (or if you struck gold with your bedroom’s lighting), here’s how to thoughtfully, but effectively kick out your roommate, per the guidance of the New York City–based therapist Shira Etzion LMFT.
First, though: Before you get ready to take your roommate’s keys once and for all, you should pay attention to tenants’ rights (which you can look up by state here). Your roommate may be able to legally stay in your apartment, even if they’re not on the lease and you’ve asked them to leave, for between a few days to a couple months, depending on the state you live in.
If your roommate is on the lease, you can’t technically kick them out, but you can ask them to leave nicely. Familiarize yourself with tenants’ rights in your state—especially if your relationship with your roommate is hostile—before asking them to leave. If, however, you're pretty sure that you can't be sued for dumping your roommate and their ugly little dog, let’s proceed.
How to Decide to Kick Your Roommate Out
Asking someone to uproot their home should not be taken lightly. That said, no one wants to put up with a roommate who’s become a problem in their life. According to Etzion, “There’s zero tolerance for keeping yourself in any abusive situation or circumstance, [like] if somebody's stealing from you, you feel unsafe, they're being abusive, or they're bringing people around that really compromise your wellbeing.” If you find yourself in one of these situations, it’s important you make a change immediately, whether that’s leaving or asking them to. You can deal with the repercussions—financial or whatever else have you—once you’re safe.
If the reason you’re not happy living with your roommate is less serious, like they’re messy, moody, or loud, wanting them to leave is still understandable. “Who you live with can really make or break your environment, your life, or the way you feel,” says Etzion. Her advice is “to not underestimate feelings of sadness, disconnection, or loneliness if you find yourself living with someone that really does not match the qualities in a roommate you want.” If the reason you don’t want to live with this person is something they can change, try having a conversation about the actual issue bothering you first. Talk to your roommate about tidying up more often or turning down the music before asking them to leave forever. If it doesn’t work, ask yourself if you’re bothered enough to make a serious change or if you can wait out your lease without compromising your mental health.
When to Have the Conversation
Dreading this conversation with your roommate is normal. It’s not going to be fun, it will probably be awkward after—and that’s something you’re just going to have to get over. If you’re having a hard time making peace with this, think about it as “a really good opportunity to have what could be a tough but authentic conversation,” as Etzion puts it. At the very least, it will be a learning experience, and a means to a happier future for the both of you.
If things are so bad that you’re considering asking your roommate to move out, they’ve probably got a clue it’s coming, or, at the very least, that you’re not happy with your current living arrangement. “Usually, if it's not good for one person it's not good for the other person, even if they're not aware of it yet,” says Etzion.
Planning this conversation when a lease is involved can be tricky. Have it too early, and things may be uncomfortable between the two of you for months until they move out, have it too late, and you risk not giving them enough time to figure out another living situation. Try to give your roommate one or two months’ notice at least. Asking them to leave at the tail end of a lease that still has six months or more left might mean more trouble at home than it’s worth.
Consider rent patterns in your area: For example, in NYC it’s fairly easy to find a new lease only a few weeks in advance of a move-in date. In other areas, it can take much longer. Be respectful of your roommate by allowing them enough time to find a new home, and be prepared that they may be unwilling to leave before the date your living agreement specified.
How to Tell Your Roommate You Want Them to Move Out
So you’re about to sit down with your roommate and tell them you don’t want to live with them anymore—now what? First things first: Take a deep breath. Remember, you don’t necessarily have to tell them that you don’t want to live with them if you don’t want to. Instead, you could just say that you’d like to try living alone, or that you have someone you’re close to that would like to move in. “It doesn't actually have to be personalized,” says Etzion. “It's good to give context to another person just from a human place, but you don't have to let them into your specifics.”
If you’d like to be forthcoming and honest, however, there are ways to do that while remaining civil and understanding. Before you begin the conversation, try to let go of any blame you may have towards your roommate about why things didn’t work out. Instead, Ertzion says to communicate to them that “this isn't about them doing something, you're just having the experience that it's not really a good fit. […] It doesn't mean you're a bad person and it doesn't mean they're a bad person.”
The news you’re telling this person means they’ll be facing a potentially huge life change, be understanding and respectful by answering all of their questions and having concrete information ready for them, like the exact date you want them out by. If they’d like to move out before their lease is up, you can offer to help find a subletter. “You want to honor that you did commit to supporting this other person and sharing space for an agreed amount of time,” says Etzion.
Above all, Etzion reminds anyone living with someone who they don’t enjoy sharing space with to consider making changes as a self-care decision. “It's okay to need different things from a home than another person,” she says. “And if you don't need the same things, they may be a wonderful person, but if what you're creating together is in conflict, you're not married to the person, you're not related to the person—you don't have to stay in that.”