Landlord Tenant Q&A with CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI

CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Broker-In Charge, Callahan Realty, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. I rented a townhouse with two friends. We all signed the lease for one year with the landlord. Things started off good and went well for the first few months. But recently one of the roommates has gotten noise violations and hasn’t paid her share of the rent. The landlord is trying to get me and the other girl who did pay to cover the share of the unpaid rent; he said if we don’t pay he will take us to court. They rented to us as roommates, knowing there were three of us. Shouldn’t they just be collecting from the girl who didn’t pay?

A. No, the landlord has every right to collect the rent from you. In fact when you sign the lease (assuming you sign the standard Hawaii Association of Realtors lease) each of you agrees to be responsible for the entire rent. Item K states, “TENANTS JOINTLY AND SEVERALLY RESPONSIBLE: By signing this Rental Agreement, each tenant shall be jointly and severally (collectively and individually) responsible for compliance with all its terms and conditions, including the payment of rent in full. Each tenant is responsible for the other occupants and guests and shall ensure they comply with the terms and conditions of this rental agreement.”

In fact this is so important to understand that it is in bold print and all capital letters directly above the signature line on the lease. If this should go to court you will be a defendant, and you will be liable for the unpaid rent. Each of you also agrees to be responsible for the other’s actions and the actions of any guests. 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.

The noise violations will be recorded as a violation against the property and all occupants. Later, 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 filed 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.

You mentioned that the owner rented to you knowing there were three of you. If he didn’t rent to you because you were single adults and not a married family he would be discriminating against you, which would not be right or legal. Also, I would be negligent if I didn’t point out the importance of carefully reading documents that you sign. Ask questions, as many as you need to ask to fully understand. A lease is a legally binding contract. No question is silly and nothing should be assumed. If your landlord cannot explain something to you, consult the Landlord Tenant Hotline provided by the City and County.

Something else to be aware of is your security deposit. That deposit belongs to each of you unless you instruct your landlord differently when you submit it. However, even if the deposit is documented as belonging to one person and there is damage, unpaid rent, cleaning, etc. 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. A few things to consider are: Rent What is the breakdown and how do you pay it so each of you knows the whole amount is paid? Utilities Whose name are they in and who pays them? Cleaning and maintaining the yard Who specifically does that? Some roommates have one bank account that each person contributes to and all bills are paid out of it. Many have hired a cleaner and/or yard person twice per month to keep up with the necessary maintenance. Some have cleaning days where everyone shows up and pitches in. In the successful roommate relationships I’ve seen, each person knew how they would relate before they even saw the property. They would come to a showing with a plan. As a landlord, I am always happy to have roommates like that walk through the door in a property I manage.

Answers to questions in Landlord Tenant Q&A are provided by members of the Oahu Chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM), an organization that supports the professional and ethical practices of rental home management through networking, education, and certification. The Oahu Chapter, founded in 2004, has become the largest in the nation with 237 registered members.

Disclaimer: The answers provided in this column by Realtors address individual cases and should not be construed as interpretations of the law. For specific information on Hawaii State Law, go to http://hawaii.gov/dcca/areas/ocp/landlord_tenant or contact an attorney.

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