By Neil Fjellestad and Chris De Marco
You and two friends decide to lease an apartment together. Things are going well until one or these friends loses their job and moves out because he/she can no longer afford the rent. What if a roommate damages the property or has a pet that damages the property and after move-out you get the bill for the excess damages? Who pays? Who is liable? The answer is that ALL of you are liable for the damages or lost rent even if it’s not your fault.
This is because most rental contracts contain the language that the tenants “will be held joint and severally liable”; all tenants are each responsible for the full execution of all the lease terms. So, if your roommate doesn’t pay their share of the rent on time, you are in violation of the lease and subject to late charges and eviction. Your credit may be negatively affected for a very long time due to your roommate’s bad behavior and/or poor judgment.
Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself:
• Every roommate should be able to demonstrate good credit, responsible past performance as a roommate and provide a guarantor if needed. Don’t be bashful about asking for details and be willing to share your own circumstances.
• Make sure that all roommates have an application on file and have signed the current lease. Don’t move roommates in and out without proper written notice. Promptly attend to updating documents. You want roommates that are legally bound just like you are.
• Make sure that everyone adheres to all the terms of the lease. Examples: pets, guests, noise, parking, etc. Insist that you and your roommates sit down with the owner’s representative and thoroughly review the leasing documents together. Ask questions and present “what if” scenarios so everyone starts with the same understanding.
• Make sure that everyone holds up his/her end of the arrangement: rent payments, other charges, utility bills, etc. All roommates should acknowledge condition at move-in and requirements at move-out.
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