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What You Should Know: Your Rights as a Tenant with Roommates

Tenant Rights

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What You Should Know: Your Rights as a Tenant with Roommates

By Carolyn Hauck on August 06, 2015

Sharing an apartment or a house has long been a way for students and mostly younger folks to live according to a smaller budget. However, with the rising costs of urban living across the country, living with roommates has increasingly become more common over the last fifteen years, with an elevated surge during and post the Great Recession. Articles published in magazines like The Atlantic and Forbes highlight the growing trend of more adults sharing housing situations than ever before.

While relatively simple and straightforward, your rights as a tenant should be known to you before you enter into any house-sharing situation. And probably the two major areas of concern are how roommates pay rent due to a landlord and who’s responsible for what.

Tenancy definitions

If you inhabit a house owned by someone else, you are considered a tenant and enter into a legal agreement with the landlord called a lease. If you occupy the house with others, and you are all listed on the lease, you are by definition, cotenants. If you are listed as the only tenant on the lease, and your landlord allows for roommates, then your roommates would be considered subtenants, meaning you in effect would be a landlord to the subtenant.

Joint and several liability

All the occupants of an apartment or house share legal obligations termed in the legal world as “joint and several liability,” meaning you are all responsible for the rent and obligations of the lease together. This is the important legal part of a lease, because it means that if one tenant or roommate doesn’t come up with rent or doesn’t fulfill other obligations of a lease, ALL of the tenants are liable and responsible for coming up with the rent or for the misdeeds of one tenant. This applies to all leases, oral ones, and those that don’t include this clause.  

This is the clause that covers all tenancy questions like, “What if my roommate is consistently late on rent?” or “What if my roommate moved out without notice and didn’t leave rent money?” or “My roommate painted the walls and are lease clearly states that we can’t paint without permission, what should I do?”

In these instances, the other roommates would have to cover any late or delinquent rent, and they would be responsible for the property altered by the one roommate.

Dividing rent

Rent does not need to be divided into equal parts, meaning tenants do not have to divide rent 50/50 or in thirds or fourths. Tenants have the right to divide rent however they see fit, but it should be drawn up as a contract. A lawyer on JustAnswer explains how to do this:

“To ensure that the other party will pay his or her percentage, what the roommates want to do is to enter into another agreement which specifically states that each shall pay 50% (or however much you have decided), and that EACH shall be liable to the other if they quit the lease early. It does not have to be complicated. Here’s an example:

A and B agree that for the lease of (property address), each shall be responsible for 50% of the lease to the owner. At any time if either party quits the lease before its written contractual end, that party shall indemnify and hold the remaining tenant liable for the 50% of the rent the quitting party would have been paying had they not quit the lease.

This agreement applies to the end of the written lease only, and not to any month to month lease that may follow after.”

Eviction or evicting a delinquent or harassing roommate

The trickiest area of roommate politics is eviction of someone who is not paying rent or who you think will potentially harm you. In cases where a roommate is not paying rent and you want them to leave, you may be able to be designated as a “master tenant” and perform duties such as eviction as a landlord would. You should always make sure to understand eviction rules as outlined in the lease.

If you feel you could be in harm’s way because of a harassing or violent tenant, you should contact the police for information about obtaining a temporary restraining order, and contact your landlord immediately.

Every living situation is different. If you’re having issues with a current or past roommate, landlord or cotenant, have an affordable conversation with a lawyer on JustAnswer about your rights in a specific circumstance.