Landlord / Tenant Overview and Roommate Agreements
Along with your lease agreement, having an agreement between roommates is one way to avoid potential problems. These agreements may casually be called "house rules" but are often ignored. Having a roommate agreement in writing is a good way to prove a roommate has crossed a line and resolve conflict.
What to Include in a Roommate Agreement
The issues you include in a roommate agreement can range from major to minor.
Minor issues in a rental unit may include:
- Who cleans each room
- Who washes dishes
- Who takes out the garbage
- Whether you share food costs
- Rules for overnight guests
- If guests can bring pets over
- Use of shared living spaces, such as the basement or kitchen
Major issues in a rental unit may include:
- Rent due dates
- How you split rent
- How you divide rent and utility bills
- Noise levels, quiet hours, or large parties
- Pets (when they are not allowed on the property)
- Someone's partner moving in but not paying rent
- Underage drinking or illegal drug use
- Lawn care or snow removal
- How garage or parking spaces are shared
- The process for withdrawing from the lease
- What actions could lead to roommate eviction
These issues are considered major because they can have legal consequences. When you sign a lease with others, you become liable for each other's obligations to the landlord. If your co-tenant does something that violates the rental agreement, it negatively affects you. This is called joint and several liability and most rental agreements have language reflecting this responsibility. It means if one or more of your roommates fails to live up to the rental agreement, all of you are responsible.
For example, let’s say one roommate fails to pay rent. Under these laws, the other roommates must pay the missing money, or the law can get involved.
From a landlord's perspective, this liability is understandable. They don't want to be bothered with the internal roommate problems, they just want the rental agreement to be followed.
No tenant wants to be held liable for the negative actions of another. A roommate agreement that explains what each person is responsible for is an easy way to help resolve disputes before they grow into problems.
Avoid Common Rent Payment Conflicts
Nonpayment of rent is the most common way that people violate rental agreements. It is also a big issue between roommates.
Rental agreements generally don't list how rent is to be split between co-tenants. Unless your rental agreement says how the payment is split, roommates are jointly 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, your landlord has the right to evict all of you.
To avoid this liability, it never hurts to ask your 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, 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 view, it is the landlord's decision.
Other Violations of the Rental Agreement
Many violations can lead to negative consequences for all tenants. These usually include noise violations, proper upkeep of the premises, and subletting the premises (if prohibited by the lease).
"Joint and several liability" means that by law, any violation committed by one tenant is considered a violation by all. Therefore the landlord may take action against everyone. But again, it's the landlord's discretion; if you can separate yourself from the actions of your roommate(s), the landlord may only punish the guilty roommate.
Writing a Roommate Agreement
Considering the common problems outlined above, it's a good idea to cut off potential problems before they balloon into more significant disputes. The best way to do this is to:
- Reach an agreement about the issues you find most important while everyone is calm and new to the lease
- Put it in writing
- Have everyone agree and sign the document
The court will generally enforce written agreements involving money such as rent, utilities, and security deposits. Written documents also tend to be taken more seriously by the parties who sign them. So if you want your agreement respected, 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. At the end of the day, the roommate's action affects you, and vice versa. An agreement to mediate gives you more control over the dispute.
Sample Roommate Agreement Document
The 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, 2020, lease term effective through December 31, 2020, for a rent price of $1,200 per month. We hope to make certain that the 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.