My Achy Breaky Lease

When you share an apartment, breaking up can be even harder to do

June 14, 2013

Breakups are tough enough as is, but add a shared apartment to the equation and things really start to get complicated — and expensive.

When Dion Foxworth, 32, was going through a split, the high costs of breaking a lease and starting fresh were enough to keep him and his ex under the same roof for another three months.

They tried to keep their distance despite the awkward situation. “She would stay in her room and read while I was watching TV,” he says.

When you’re in the throes of love, few couples are prepping for the worst — they’re usually more focused on how much they’re saving on rent ­— but if discord strikes, it helps to be prepared. Here are a few tips to navigate those challenges.

Moving On and Moving Out

Forget everything you’ve learned from Cher or Bethenny Frankel, who both continued shacking up with their exes after a split. Post-breakup, it’s crucial for one or both roommates to move out as soon as possible, relationship experts say.

“One of the ways people resist the breakup is they end the relationship but continue to live together,” says Elisabeth LaMotte, a D.C-based psychotherapist and author of a self-help book for people with divorced parents.

Bad idea, LaMotte says. “It holds people back emotionally.”

Better to crash on a friend’s couch than to sleep in the same place as your ex, she says. Another, albeit pricier, option is finding a short-term or month-to-month lease while you look for something more permanent.

Foxworth, a home mortgage consultant for Wells Fargo, who now rents in Silver Spring, agrees that you can’t move on till you’ve moved out.

“It didn’t get normal till we stopped living together,” he says.

There are a few things to consider when deciding who stays and who goes, LaMotte says, such as who was there first (if applicable), who is more financially capable of moving out and who really wants the breakup.

Something else to consider is whether one person is more attached to the apartment or neighborhood, says Lisa Steadman, a relationship expert and author of the book “It’s a Breakup, Not a Breakdown.”

“Even though it’s a breakup, you want to be fair,” she says.

Of course, that’s easier said than done when you’d sooner strangulate than negotiate. Steadman’s known ex-couples who hired a mediator to handle the trickier issues.

“This is about putting your grown-up panties on — both the men and women — and being able to be an adult,” she says.

Know the Costs

But as they say, freedom isn’t free. The cost of breaking a lease could range from several hundred dollars to two month’s rent plus the security deposit, property managers say. Tenants also are usually responsible for paying rent for the remainder of the lease until new tenants are found, though in the D.C. area this usually doesn’t take long.

And remember that getting out of the apartment doesn’t always mean getting out of the lease. “Make sure you have enough money to cover rental payments that you might have to continue paying,” suggests Natalie Branche, lease coordinator at property management firm Evolve DC.

It’s also worth talking to your landlord or property manager to see if there’s any wiggle room.

“Oftentimes we’ll tell the tenant [who wants to move] to market or show the apartment themselves and kind of put the onus on them,” says Laura van de Geijn, a VP at property management firm Nest DC.

In such cases, in lieu of the usual termination fee of one month’s rent, they may just charge the costs of processing the new tenant’s application. Van de Geijn advises tenants to give as much notice as possible and proactively line up some people who could take over the lease.

“If you present some alternatives, people tend to be quite flexible,” she says. “We know this is crappy for you. Let’s try to make it a little less crappy.”

Policies tend to be stricter at larger firms, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

“Landlords are human too,” Branche says. “They want the best-case scenario for all parties involved.”

Take the High Ground

For the easiest transition from the apartment post-breakup, keep negotiations with your former partner as amicable as possible.

“There may have been a communication breakdown, but this is when the communication needs to come back together,” says rental expert Jonathan Addison, founder of D.C. rental property license expediting firm Rent Jiffy.

“Try to be adults about it,” Foxworth says. “We’re all human. People make mistakes.”

 

Make the Apartment Yours Again

If you’re the one staying in the rental after the breakup, it’s important to make some adjustments physically to help you move on mentally, says relationship expert and author Lisa Steadman. “You’d want to start with your bedroom,” she says. Rearrange the furniture, get new sheets, paint the walls if your lease allows it, or even get a new bed. “I just started over,” renter Dion Foxworth says of his past breakup situation.

“It’s almost more beneficial to have less,” Steadman notes. “It can be healing to get rid of more stuff.” E.B.

 

A No-Nup Prenup?

Nowadays, couples can sign a “living together contract” before moving in together, which can cover property, joint purchases, expenses and other things (i.e. cats?). The contract could lay out what happens to your commingled stuff in the event of a breakup. Sure beats fighting bitterly over that joint collection of “Dexter” DVDs. E.B.

 

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