Roommates are great if you need someone to help split the bills or just want the company. But sometimes they can throw you a curveball with consequences much worse than a sink full of dirty dishes. For example, they decide on leaving a lease early with roommates to take the blow. So what happens when someone doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain? If your roommate left without notice and without paying rent, your first thought may be to panic. But before you get out the paper bag, let’s take a look at your options.

Is your roommate on the lease?

A lease is a binding legal contract. So the good news is, according to most state laws, if your roommate left without notice, they will be obligated to continue paying rent for the remainder of the lease. Or in some cases, pay until another tenant can be found. While it offers you some protection and leverage to force your roommate to pay, it can get tricky if you co-signed the lease. Ultimately, the landlord expects rent, and it’s up to the tenants to secure that, regardless of who pays how much.

“Ordinarily, it would be the landlord’s right to sue a defaulting tenant for failing to pay rent,” says attorney Brian C. Caffrey. “However, if the roommates are jointly liable for the rent, it would be up to the co-tenant to sue the defaulting tenant for his/her portion of the rent.”

Take it to court

A situation in which a tenant wants to sue another tenant would be handled in small claims court. But many won’t go that far because they’re afraid of the cost, says Caffrey. Alternatively, you can file a claim and represent yourself in court. Your roommate left without notice and doesn’t even show up in court? You’ll get an automatic judgement in your favor (though collecting payment might still be difficult). If nothing else, you can tell your landlord the truth. Then see if he/she is willing to work with you while you find a new tenant.

“Having been a co-tenant in college and law school, I can attest that is common for roommates to come and go. Often, the remaining tenant(s) are left holding the bag,” Caffrey says. “I think it would be helpful, if possible, to anticipate a roommate’s departure, so as to be able to a seek suitable replacement roommate who would be satisfactory to the landlord.”

What if your roommate left without notice and is not even on the lease?

Here’s where it gets sticky. If your roommate left without notice they were not on the lease, legal action can be difficult. As there is no binding contract saying they’re responsible for payment. In such a case, your best bet is to find a replacement quickly and inform your landlord of the situation. And for the future, always sign a roommate agreement when someone isn’t on the lease. While it’s not the same as a lease, it might help the judge rule in your favor if you do go to court. In the least, signing a roommate contract will encourage honesty and communication up front so you don’t have to worry if your roommate left without notice.

“An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure in this area,” Caffrey advises. “Tenants must choose roommates as carefully as landlords select tenants.”

We couldn’t agree more because some people might decide on leaving a lease early with roommates facing the consequences. So, do your homework, and make sure you and your roommate are on the same page before you move in. If your roommate leaves without paying rent, you can find a solution, but it’s better to research your future roommate for trustworthiness and dependability.

D’you know what else Roomi does outside of helping its readers deal with sticky situations like a roommate leaving without paying rent? With our ever-increasing lists of rooms and roommates across the world, we help you find your perfect match!