Cotenants and Roommates

Two or more people can rent one property. In that situation, the occupants are known as "cotenants." Landlords typically require all persons, not related, living on the premises to sign their own individual lease covering the property. Although it is a common belief, cotenants do not have half the obligations under the lease; they are each responsible for all the obligations. For example, if the rent is $500 per month and one of the tenants moves out or fails to pay, the other tenant is liable for the entire $500. Likewise, if one tenant damages the property and does not reimburse the landlord for his repairs, the landlord can demand all the costs from the other tenant.

Sidebar: One cotenant cannot keep the other tenant from living on the premises if they get into a disagreement. They both have a right to occupy the premises under each of their leases.

Can someone move in with me who is not on the lease?

Not without the landlord's consent. Having another person move in usually violates the lease agreement. The landlord will give you notice that the person must move out, and if you fail to correct the situation, you can be evicted.

Standard lease forms usually state that no one else may occupy the apartment other than the tenant and the occupants listed on the lease when it is signed. Additionally, you can be limited to how many days in a month an individual can stay over as a guest at your apartment.

I am looking for a roommate. How can I make sure the person will pay the rent, clean the apartment, and be fairly quiet?

A good screening tool is a questionnaire you can have potential roommates fill out. It should include questions concerning your personal preferences and pet peeves, such as whether you object to overnight guests. Other topics to ask about include:

  • Hours kept on the weekdays and weekends (Do you sleep late on the weekends? When do you leave for work or school? How late do you stay up? How much time do you spend in the bathroom?)
  • Furniture and other items (What furniture do you want to bring with you? Do you have computer/stereo equipment and how much room do you need to set it up?)
  • Visitors (Do you have family and friends that will come over often? Will you have out of town guests? Do you expect to have overnight guests? Do you plan to entertain?)
  • Working from home (Do you work from home and what is your schedule?)
  • Cooking (Do you cook frequently? Do you expect your food to be kept separately from mine?)
  • Alcohol consumption (What types of alcoholic beverages do you drink? How often do you drink?)
  • Smoking (Do you smoke? Do you have friends and family who smoke that will visit?)
  • Pets (Do you have a pet? Do you object to pets? Do you expect any visitors to bring pets with them?)
  • Cleanliness (How important is cleanliness to you? What types of cleaning are will you do-bathrooms, kitchen, vacuuming, etc?)
  • Sharing and borrowing (Do you normally borrow items such as clothes or jewelry? Do you expect to share dishes, appliances, etc? Do you expect to borrow my car?)
  • Leisure activities (Do you watch a lot of television? Do you like to have music on while you are in the apartment? Do you object to television? What types of music do you object to?)
  • Rent obligations (How do you plan to pay the rent-by mail, in person, to me? What will you do if you cannot pay the rent?)
  • Repairs (Can you pay for repairs if the problem is your fault? Can you be home if a repairman needs to come into the apartment? Do you have a problem talking to the landlord about repairs or other items that need fixed?)
  • Rental history (Have you had a roommate before? When and where? Did you move out early? Were you able to pay the rent every month?)
  • Criminal history (Have you been arrested or convicted of a crime? When and where? Have you ever had to call the police? Has anyone ever complained to the police about you?)

Do I need to have a written agreement with my roommate if we are renting an apartment together and have both signed the lease?

You do not have to have one, but it is highly recommended. If your roommate moves out, you are still obligated to pay the rent, including her half, for the remainder of the lease.

My roommate and I want to enter into an agreement with each other concerning our obligations while we are renting an apartment together. What needs to be included?

Your agreement is called a "Cotenant Agreement" or "Roommate Agreement." The following items should be covered in the agreement:

  • Term of the lease (attach a copy of the lease to the agreement)
  • List move-in and move-out dates for each tenant
  • State who gets what bedroom, bathroom, closet, etc.
  • Set out advance notice to be given of guests (e.g., each tenant will notify the other 24 hours in advance of an overnight guest)
  • List expenses to be paid by each tenant and the amount (e.g., rent - $400; utilities - 50 percent of monthly bill; telephone - 50 percent of monthly bill; Internet service - $30; cable - $40, and so on)
  • Reimbursement (e.g., The tenant that pays the telephone/utility/cable bill will be reimbursed the other tenant's portion within 24 hours of payment)
  • Repairs (e.g., Each tenant will pay the entire amount charged for any repairs for which he or she is responsible)
  • Late fees (e.g., The tenant who causes the rent/utilities/telephone payment to be late must pay the entire late fee, if any)
  • Amount of security deposit owed to landlord (e.g., Each tenant will pay a proportionate share of the initial security deposit)
  • Insurance (e.g., Each tenant agrees to take out renters' insurance covering their items in the apartment)
  • Sublet by permission only (e.g., Each tenant agrees that he or she will obtain permission from the other to sublet)
  • Eviction rights (e.g., Each tenant has the right to evict the other if a tenant is charged with a crime)
  • Damage (e.g., The tenant who causes damage to the apartment will reimburse the other tenant if the security deposit is withheld)

The agreement should be dated and signed by each of you. Although the landlord has no obligation under the Roommate Agreement, offer a copy to him for his files.

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