Landlord / Tenant Overview and Roommate Agreements
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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.
The roommates of the above address and lease are:
Jonathan Q. Public
- 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.
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.
- Security Deposit
The roommates have paid a total deposit of $1,200, split equally between them. Each roommate will be responsible for the damage they or their guests cause. If the person who caused the damage cannot be determined, the cost will be shared equally by the roommates.
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.
- 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 stovetops, microwaves, and the oven.
- 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 the upkeep of the apartment. Such supplies include paper towels, trash bags, detergent for laundry and dishes, and other goods that 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.
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.
- 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 the internet. Within three days of receiving a copy of the cable bill, Alex and Blair will pay him one-third of the bill.
- Personal Property
All roommates agree to refrain from borrowing the personal property of the other roommates without the 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.
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.
- 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 consent to the gathering.
- Quiet Times
Each roommate agrees to limit their noise and the noise of guests after 10 pm on weekdays and 12 am on weekends. Noise includes music, television, loud conversations, cooking and cleaning, and any other activity that reasonably disturbs the other roommates.
- 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 9 pm on weekdays and 11 pm on weekends.
- 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.
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____________
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.