Leasing with a roommate

Sharing a rental house or an apartment is something most of us have done at one time or another. It’s a great way to cut costs and seems logical, until your roommate turns out to be a bum. The problem? You both signed the lease! 

Here to tell us how to proceed is real estate expert John Adams:

Question:  Is there something about having a roommate that is inherently wrong - it seems like a lot of people do it successfully?

John Adams:  You’re right.  The vast majority of shared rental arrangements probably work out just fine, and that’s why you never hear much about them. It’s the ones that don’t work out that cause the problems.

Q:  OK, so give us an example of what can happen.

John Adams:  As often as not, it’s all about money.

You and a good friend agree to share an apartment and split all the costs 50/50. Things go great for the first few months, with each of you sending in a check for half the rent every month.

Then your roomie loses her job. She now has no income, and is actually trying to borrow money from you.

You send in your half of the rent check, and the landlord returns it. He says they can not accept partial payment, only payment in full, which is now subject to a late fee.

Now  your roommate is living for free and you are having to pay the full rental every month.

Q: Bad situation. So what can I do if I just want out of the arrangement?

John Adams:  Unfortunately, you and your roommate signed signed the lease “each and severally.”

That means each of you guarantees to be responsible for meeting all of the obligations of the lease, regardless of what the other roommate does or does not do.  Every lease I have ever seen has a clause in it making all signers responsible for complete performance of the terms, including payment of rent.

Q: Let’s say I want to get tough and kick my roommate out because she’s not paying her share of the rent. Can I do that?

John Adams:  No.  Under the lease agreement, she has just as much right to be there as you have.

Q: Is there anything I could do to get her out of the apartment?

John Adams:  You would have to sue her in small claims court and ask a judge to order her out, then it would be up to the judge to make a decision as to what to do.

Q:  Ok, but what would happen if I just moved out and quit paying the rent?

John Adams: In most cases, the landlord would file a dispossessory action against both of you, seeking possession of the property, back rent, late fees, and court costs.

It’s even possible that the court might award the landlord a judgment for all rent due through the remainder of the lease, which could add up to thousands of dollars.

In addition, any judgment against you and your roommate will negatively impact your credit report for seven years, making it much harder for you to rent the next house or apartment.

Q: And if I stay and she moves out, can I try to find another roommate?

John Adams: Yes, that can work, but you will need permission from the landlord, and the former roommate will remain legally liable for the entire rent for each month remaining on the lease.

Q: Why can't we just SWAP the new roommate for the old one.  

John Adams:  Because the landlord wants as much insurance as he can get.

Landlords are usually happy to ADD people to a lease, but there is no motivation to REMOVE anyone who has already signed, even if they are not living there anymore.

Q:  Is there ANY way to get someone OFF of a lease after it is signed?

John Adams:  YES, but the landlord has to be convinced to allow it.  

One way might be for you and the NEW roommate to offer to sign an entirely new lease in exchange for terminating the old lease. The advantage to the landlord is that you are now agreeing to stay for another year.

Another way to accomplish the same thing might be for you to find a new renter and ask the landlord to terminate YOUR lease in exchange for the NEW resident.

Either way, YOU are still on the hook until the landlord let’s you go!

Q:  How can our viewers avoid the problem of getting trapped in a lease with another person?

John Adams:  Simple.  DON’T AGREE TO GUARANTEE THE ACTIONS OF ANOTHER PERSON.

Most folks never read the lease they are signing, and in my opinion, that’s a big mistake. I know it sounds funny, but I recommend that, if you don’t understand any agreement you are being asked to sign, pay for an attorney to explain it to you. That’s the only way I know to stay safe.

The BOTTOM LINE:  READ & UNDERSTAND YOUR OBLIGATIONS UNDER THE LEASE.


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