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Landlord / Tenant Overview and Roommate Agreements

This article will cover major issues involved in rental agreements, how roommate agreements can address them, and tips on what to include in an agreements between roommates.

If you've ever lived with another person, you know that the arrangement is awash with potential problems. From major disputes over rent and noise to more mundane issues such as cleaning dishes or taking out the garbage, living with others takes patience, hard work, and if you're able, an agreement in writing between roommates.

When you sign a lease with other people, you become liable for each of your roommates' obligations to the landlord. If a co-tenant does something that violates the rental agreement, it negatively affects all tenants. It's called joint and several liability, and most rental agreements have language reflecting this responsibility. It means simply that if one or more of your roommates fails to live up to the rental agreement (for example, fails to pay rent), that all of you will be responsible to make up for the deficiency.

From a landlord's perspective, it's understandable--they don't want to be bothered with the internal problems of roommates, they just want the rental agreement to be followed. But no tenant wants to be held liable for the negative actions of another. That's why roommate agreements are useful because they outline individual responsibilities and squash disputes before they grow into problems.

Paying Rent

Rental agreements generally don't entail how rent is to be split between co-tenants. Whether roommates wish to split rent evenly or unevenly is totally up to them, but unless there's a rental agreement to the contrary, roommates are jointly and severally liable for the total rent. This means that if your roommate fails to pay rent, you are still responsible for paying the full amount to the landlord. If you fail to do so, the landlord has the right to evict all of you.

In an effort to evade such liability, it never hurts to ask the landlord whether they'll accept separate rent checks from the roommates. Don't expect a landlord to agree to this--it's much easier from their perspective to cash one check than to chase down two or three separate checks, but it's worth a shot. By separating rent checks at least the landlord would know who's late or can't pay rent and potentially just evict that one tenant rather than all of you. As a practical matter, landlords who know which tenant is late on rent will typically not punish the non-guilty parties. But from a legal perspective, joint and several liability means that it's the landlord's discretion whether to evict all of you for paying rent.

Other Violations of the Rental Agreement

Nonpayment of rent is the most common violation of rental agreements and the most contentious issue between roommates, but there are other violations of the rental agreement that can lead to negative consequences for all tenants. These violations can include noise violations, proper upkeep of the premises, subletting the premises (if prohibited by the lease), and anything else that violates the lease.

Joint and several liability dictates that any violations committed by one tenant is considered a violation by all of the tenants, and therefore the landlord may taken action against all. But again, it's the landlord's discretion, so if you can separate yourself from the actions of your roommate(s), the landlord may only seek redress from the guilty roommate and not you.

Roommate Agreements

Considering the common problems outlined above, it's a good idea to cut off potential problems before they balloon into larger disputes that consume your time, sap your emotional energy, and get you into trouble with your landlord. The best way to do this is to come to an agreement about the issues which you find most important to you as well as the issues which are most likely to cause problems between roommates. Roommate agreements should be put in writing wherever possible, because oral agreements are easily forgotten (particularly over the long term), misinterpreted, or not afforded much weight by all the roommates.

A few key issues which should always be included are:

  • division of rent;
  • utilities -- who pays for utilities and how they are divided in terms of cost;
  • food -- whether food cost is to be shared or everyone is responsible for their own;
  • schedule and responsibilities related to cleaning (dishes, vacuuming, pets, etc.);
  • rules for overnight guests;
  • ground rules for parties or gatherings;
  • designated quiet times;
  • noise issues generally;
  • allotment and/or schedule for use of parking space;
  • the process for withdrawing from the lease.

While a court will likely ignore most clauses in a roommate agreement, a court will enforce agreements regarding monetary issues, such as rent, utilities, and security deposits. Written documents tend to be taken more seriously by the parties who sign them, so if you want to assure to the best of your ability that your agreement is adhered to, get your roommate agreement in writing.

Writing Your Own Agreement

Sample roommate agreements abound on the internet, and for college students, most universities offer standard forms through their university housing departments. Many of these forms contain a mediation clause, which requires roommates to seek some form of third-party mediation before taking any action. It's a good idea to include such a clause because at the end of the day, the roommate's action affects you, and vice versa, and an agreement to mediate gives you more control over the dispute.

Following is a sample agreement that exemplifies the basic contents of a roommate agreement. Like any sample form, you should modify it to reflect your needs, desires, and differences in state and local law.

SAMPLE ROOMMATE AGREEMENT

We the undersigned have signed a rental agreement for 777 State Street, Ann Arbor, MI, on January 1, 2010, lease term effective through December 31, 2010, for a rent price of $1,200 per month. We hope to make certain that responsibilities of renting will be shared equally by all roommates. It is for this reason that we are signing this agreement.

  1. Roommates

The roommates of the above address and lease are:
Joseph Blough
Jonathan Q. Public
James Nasium

  1. Terms of Lease

Each roommate is responsible to uphold the terms of the lease through the end of the lease period. A roommate may leave if a substitute roommate is found and is acceptable to the remaining roommates and landlord. Remaining roommates agree not to withhold approval of a new roommate unreasonably. Each departing roommate will be responsible for finding his/her own replacement tenant.

The landlord must be informed of any roommate change and the departing roommate will be responsible for their portion of rent through the end of the rental period unless other arrangements are made with the other roommates and landlord, in writing.

  1. Rent

Each roommate will pay $400. Rent will be submitted by the other roommates to James no later than the 1st of each month. Joseph will be responsible for writing a single check, incorporating the rents of the other roommates, to the landlord no later than the 4th of each month.

  1. Security Deposit

The roommates have paid a total deposit of $1,200, split equally between them. Each roommate will be responsible for damage he/she or his/her guests cause. If the person who caused the damage cannot be determined, the cost will be shared equally by the roommates.

  1. Pets

Each roommate will be responsible for any damage associated with their pet. This includes damage to furniture, carpeting, blinds, doors, windows or any personal property

  1. Kitchen Use and Clean Up

Food is to be bought separately by each individual. There is to be no sharing of food without prior approval. Each roommate is responsible for cleaning up their kitchen use within 24 hours of use, including dishes, pots, pans, utensils and any other equipment that was used, such as wiping off stove tops, microwaves and the oven.

  1. Household Supplies

A single ledger with receipts will be kept by the roommates for supplies which all of the roommates use on a regular basis for upkeep of the apartment. Such supplies include paper towels, trash bags, detergent for laundry and dishes, and other goods which are shared by all roommates. The cost of such supplies will be shared equally between the roommates, and reconciled by the 4th of each month.

  1. Cleaning

The roommates agree to clean the common areas of the apartment together every other Saturday morning. This includes vacuuming the living room, mopping the kitchen floor, wiping down the dining room table, and any other reasonable task involving common areas. Each roommate is responsible for the cleaning and upkeep of their own bedroom and bathroom.

  1. Utilities and Cable

All utilities are to be split evenly between the roommates.

Alex has paid a $200 deposit for the electric and gas utility and within three days of receiving a copy of the gas and electric bill, Michael and Blair will pay him for one-third of the total.

Michael has retained the cable bill, including TV and internet. Within three days of receiving a copy of the cable bill, Alex and Blair will pay him one-third of the bill.

  1. Personal Property

All roommate agree to refrain from borrowing personal property of the other roommates without express consent of the owner. If the owner agrees to let a roommate borrow property, it will be handled reasonably and returned in the same condition. If there is any damage to the property, the borrower will be held liable for the damage.

  1. Guests

Each roommate agrees to have no more than one overnight guest at a time, unless both of the other roommates are given 3 days advance notice and agree to it. Each roommate agrees they will not have overnight guests more than 5 times per month.

  1. Parties and Gatherings

Any roommate who wishes to have a party or a gathering of more than 10 people in the apartment must give the other roommates 3 days notice and receive their assent to the gathering.

  1. Quiet Times

Each roommate agrees to limit their noise and the noise of guests after 10pm on weekdays and 12am on weekends. Noise includes music, television, loud conversations, cooking and cleaning, and any other activity that reasonably disturbs the other roommates.

  1. Exam Periods

During exam periods, the roommates agree that they will not have overnight guests or gatherings in the apartment, and quiet times will be 9pm on weekdays and 11pm on weekends.

  1. Smoking and Alcohol

Roommates agree that smoking and alcohol consumption will not be allowed on the premises or in the area immediately surrounding the premises, including stairwells and the front and back entrance of the apartment.

  1. Mediation

Roommates agree to discuss unresolved roommate problems with an advisor at the University Housing Office. Any roommate may initiate this process, which includes consultation and mediation. All roommates agree to make a good faith effort to discuss /obtain a resolution prior to taking any action, particularly with respect to paragraph 16, Violations of Agreement.

Signatures of Roommates:

_________________
Joseph Blough
___________
Date

_________________
Jonathan Q. Public

___________
Date
_________________
James Nasium
___________
Date
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