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.
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, and hard work. Having an agreement in writing between roommates is one way to alleviate potential problems.
When you sign a lease with others, you become liable for each other's 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 roommate problems, they just want the rental agreement to be followed. But since no tenant wants to be held liable for the negative actions of another, roommate agreements outlining individual responsibilities help resolve disputes before they grow into problems.
Rental agreements generally don't entail how rent is to be split between co-tenants. Unless there's a rental agreement to the contrary, roommates are jointly and severally liable for the total rent. So if your roommate fails to pay rent, you're still responsible for paying the full amount. 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. Don't expect a landlord to agree to this, but it's worth a shot. However, 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.
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 that can lead to negative consequences for all tenants. These may include noise violations, proper upkeep of the premises, and subletting the premises (if prohibited by the lease).
Joint and several liability dictates that any violation committed by one tenant is considered a violation by all, and therefore the landlord may taken action against all. But again, it's the landlord's discretion; if you can separate yourself from the actions of your roommate(s), the landlord may only seek redress from the guilty roommate.
Considering the common problems outlined above, it's a good idea to cut off potential problems before they balloon into larger disputes. The best way to do this is to reach an agreement about the issues which you find most important. Roommate agreements should be put in writing wherever possible.
A few key issues which should always be included are division of rent and utilities; whether food costs are shared; division of household responsibilities; rules for overnight guests, parties, or gatherings; noise issues; allotment of parking spaces; and the process for withdrawing from the lease.
The court will generally 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
Roommate agreements often 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:
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.
Signatures of Roommates:
Joseph Blough___________________________________ Date____________
Jonathan Q. Public________________________________ Date____________
James Nasium___________________________________ Date____________
Have Questions About Landlord/Tenant Law or Roommate Agreements? Ask a Lawyer
The best way for tenants and landlords to protect their interests is to have a basic understanding of applicable laws and to get their agreements in writing. Contact a local landlord-tenant attorney near you for help drafting or reviewing a rental or roommate agreement.