CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Q. I rented an apartment with two friends. The lease was for one year, and we all signed it. Everything worked out well at first, but then one roommate caused noise violations on several occasions, and now isn’t paying her share of the rent. The landlord is trying to get me and the other roommate who has paid to cover all the unpaid rent, including the share still owed. He said if we don’t pay the full amount of the rent owed, he will take us to court. They rented to us as roommates, knowing there were three of us. Shouldn’t it be up to the landlord to collect from the one who hasn’t paid?
A. No, the landlord has every right to collect the rent from you. In fact when you signed the lease, each of you agreed to be responsible for the entire rent. If this should go to court you will be a defendant, and you will be held liable for the unpaid rent. Each of you also agrees to be responsible for the other’s actions and the actions of any guests when you sign a lease. It doesn’t matter whose guest it is. If they soil a carpet or punch a hole in the wall, you, all of you, individually and collectively are responsible for repairing the damage.
You also will be held responsible for the noise violations. After vacating, when reference checks are completed and your rental history is reported, most likely it will show that you have been delinquent on the rent and had violation notices fi led against you. If the House Rules violations continue, the Homeowner’s Association can force the landlord to evict you based on non-compliance of the rules.
Also, I would be negligent if I didn’t point out the importance of reading documents carefully before you sign. Never hesitate to ask questions, as many as you need to ask to fully understand all the clauses and conditions of the lease, which is a legally binding contract. Nothing should be assumed without clarification.
Something else to be aware of is how your security deposit is handled. That deposit belongs to each of you unless you instruct your landlord otherwise. However, even if the deposit is documented as belonging to one person, and there is damage, unpaid rent, cleaning, etc. to be covered upon check-out, that deposit will be used to make things right regardless of who has caused the damage.
When you decide to move in with friends it is very important to have a clear understanding of priorities in paying for and maintaining the home. Here are a few important items to consider. Rent: What is the breakdown per person and how do you pay it so each of you knows the whole amount is paid? Utilities: Whose name is on the utility bills and who pays them? Yard maintenance: Who is responsible for cleaning and maintaining the yard and what specifically are they required to do and how often?
I have seen very successful roommate relationships. In some cases, one bank account is set up that each person contributes to and all bills are paid out of it. Many have hired people to clean the house or maintain the yard on a regular basis to keep everything in satisfactory condition and avoid falling behind, which can cause stress. Some tenants designate cleaning days where everyone shows up and pitches in. In the successful roommate relationships I’ve seen, each person knew how they would relate as roommates before they even saw the property. They would come to a showing with a plan on how they would relate. As a landlord, I have to say that I am always happy to have such roommates walk through the door in a property I manage.