Renting With Others

When two or more people live together there are bound to be clashes over expectations of behavior, cleanliness, social time, noise level, guests and handling conflict. Communicate those expectations early on in the relationship.  Complete a Sample Roommate Agreement (PDF) before you move in together so you can get things out in the open early and in writing.  Once you move in together, post the roommate agreement in a place where all roommates can see it and are reminded of the terms that were outline in living together.  These should be revisited within a month of living together to make sure ideals match reality.

What Happens If One Roommate Doesn’t Pay Rent

If you live in one of the student-oriented apartments, everyone signs an individual lease.  There is lease for every bedroom.  So if someone doesn’t pay rent the landlord deals with that person.  The challenge will be when one or more roommates exhibits negative behavior.  Every resident that signed a lease for that apartment can be held responsible for that negative behavior.

If you live in a house or a traditional apartment/condo/townhouse/community or rental home there is usually one lease, signed by all tenants.  When two or more people simultaneously sign the same rental agreement or lease — or enter into the same oral rental agreement — they are co-tenants and share the same legal rights and responsibilities. But there’s a special twist. One co-tenant’s negative behavior — not paying the rent, for example — can affect everyone’s tenancy. Co-tenants may decide to split the rent equally or unequally, depending on their own personal wishes. However, such agreements don’t have any impact on the landlord. Each co-tenant is independently liable to the landlord for all of the rent. Landlords often remind co-tenants of this obligation by inserting into the lease a chunk of legalese which says that the tenants are “jointly and severally” liable for paying rent and adhering to terms of the agreement. If one tenant can’t pay a share of the rent in a particular month, or simply moves out, the other tenant(s) must still pay the full rent. Landlords often insist on receiving one rent check for the entire rent — they don’t want to be bothered with multiple checks from co-tenants, even if each co-tenant pays on time and the checks add up to the full rent. As long as you have been advised of this policy in the rental agreement or lease, it’s legal for your landlord to impose it.

If One Roommate Violates the Lease or Rental Agreement

A landlord can, legally, hold all co-tenants responsible for the negative actions of just one, and terminate everyone’s tenancy with the appropriate notice. For example, two co-tenants can be evicted if one of them seriously damages the property or otherwise violates the lease or rental agreement. In practice, however, landlords sometimes ignore the legal rule that all tenants are equally liable for lease violations, and don’t penalize a blameless one. If the non-offending roommates pay the rent on time, do not damage the landlord’s property and can differentiate themselves from the bad apple in the landlord’s eyes, the landlord will probably want to keep them.

Agreements — and Disagreements — Among Roommates

Roommates make lots of informal agreements about splitting rent, occupying bedrooms and sharing chores. Your landlord isn’t bound by these agreements, and has no power to enforce them. For all sorts of reasons, roommate arrangements regularly go awry. If you have shared an apartment or house, you know about roommates who play the stereo too loud, never wash a dish, always pay their share of the rent late, have too many overnight guests, leave their gym clothes on the kitchen table or otherwise drive you nuts. If the situation gets bad enough, you’ll likely end up arguing with your roommates about who should leave.

Only Landlords Can Evict Tenants

As a general rule, you can’t terminate your roommate’s tenancy by filing an eviction action. The more you can anticipate possible problems from the start, the better prepared you’ll be to handle disputes that do arise. First, try to choose compatible housemates. Before you move in, sit down with your roommates and create your own agreement covering major issues, such as:

  1. Rent. What is everyone’s share? Who will write the rent check if the landlord will accept only one check?
  2. Space. Who will occupy which bedrooms?
  3. Household chores. Who’s responsible for cleaning, and on what schedule?
  4. Food sharing. Will you be sharing food, shopping and cooking responsibilities? How will you split the costs and work?
  5. Noise. When should stereos be turned off or down low?
  6. Overnight guests. Is it okay for boyfriends/girlfriends to stay over every night?
  7. Moving out. If one of you decides to move, how much notice must be given? Must the departing tenant find an acceptable substitute?

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