Renting with Roommates: What are Your Lease Options?

Renting with Roommates: What are Your Lease Options?

Are you looking to relocate to a city like New York, San Francisco, or Toronto? It will cost you. Rental prices are continuing to rise, particularly in places with a booming economy, lucrative jobs, and good quality of life. As such, it’s becoming increasingly common to live with roommates in order to reside in a desirable location and save money.

If you’re curious about your lease options as either a landlord or tenant, keep reading to learn about some of the standard living arrangements between roommates, and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Co-signing a Lease

When renting property with one or more people, a landlord may have you sign the lease together so that you become co-tenants. A joint tenancy, or co-tenancy means that everyone is responsible for making rent payments and maintaining the property.

Pros

  • Landlords: Tenants who co-sign a lease can be held jointly and severally liable, which means everyone is equally responsible for rent payments. If one roommate leaves without notice, you can hold the remaining tenants responsible for paying rent in full.
  • Tenants: In a joint tenancy, each tenant has a direct relationship with the landlord, meaning they can challenge rent increases or request repairs. They also get an equal say in decisions and cannot be forced to leave by other co-tenants without cause.

Cons:

  • Landlords: Most landlords deal with lease violations at some point, forcing them into a confrontation with their tenants. You may need to serve an eviction notice or even take legal action against them.
  • Tenants: If a roommate leaves without notice, you are still responsible for paying their portion of the rent, utilities, and other expenses. Similarly, if one tenant causes significant damage to the property or otherwise violates the lease, you can be evicted along with them.

Signing an Individual Lease

In some rental arrangements, each tenant signs a separate lease with the landlord. This is common when leasing to individuals who are not acquainted, such as college students. When you sign an individual lease, you have your own bedroom but share common areas such as the kitchen, living room, and storage unit.

Pros:

  • Landlords: You can charge more when leasing your rental property room by room, particularly in densely populated or high-demand areas such as college towns, than by having a handful of tenants co-sign a rental agreement.
  • Tenants: If you sign separate leases, you do not have to worry about your roommate’s ability to pay their portion of the rent or other expenses. What’s more, you cannot be held liable for lease violations by other tenants, whether it’s causing major damage or breaking the lease.

Cons:

  • Landlords: Having individual leases creates additional work, as you are managing several tenants at once. It also comes with an added risk. If one tenant violates the terms of the agreement, you cannot hold the others responsible for missed rent payments or damage to the property.
  • Tenants: In this type of arrangement, you may not get a say in who you live with, as it’s the landlord who screens candidates and ultimately decides who will reside on the premises. Moreover, you may pay a higher monthly rent with an individual lease than with a joint lease, due to the added risk for the landlord (they cannot pursue you for missed payments or damages caused by your roommate).

Subletting to Boarders

In this arrangement, the master, or head tenant enters into a lease with the landlord and so has control of the premises. The master tenant acts as a sublandlord by renting out space to one or more individuals in exchange for rent payments.

Boarders live on the premises but are not named on the original lease and have no direct relationship with the landlord. Instead, they enter into a written agreement with the sublandlord.

This set-up is common for a tenant who leases a larger apartment and later finds a roommate to split the cost, or a tenant who rents a house and sublets rooms to subtenants. In some jurisdictions, tenants who have been residing at the property for a long time may be permitted to take on some of the landlord’s responsibilities, becoming the middle man between their fellow tenants and the landlord.

Pros:

  • Landlords: You only need to do business with one tenant, as opposed to several. So long as the subtenants adhere to the rules and regulations of the original lease, you won’t have much contact with the other residents.
  • Sublandlords: The master tenant gets to choose who they live with and has greater control over how the household is managed. They also have the authority to evict subtenants, so long as they provide written notice.
  • Subtenants: You may have a more flexible rental arrangement than a traditional fixed term lease (which locks you in for a specific period), allowing you to move out with little notice. Furthermore, if you have a written agreement with the sublandlord, you cannot be asked to leave without receiving proper notice.

Cons:

  • Landlords: You may have little say in who lives in your rental unit, and having a number of short-term residents can reduce security as well as raise the risk of damage to the property. Depending on the terms of the sublease agreement, you may only be able to hold the master tenant, as opposed to all tenants, liable.
  • Sublandlords: The master tenant is usually in charge of collecting rent from subtenants in order to make one monthly payment to the landlord. If a boarder is unable to pay rent, you will have to come up with the money, as you’re still responsible for paying rent in full. As the head tenant, you are also responsible for the state of the rental property and for any damages caused by subtenants.
  • Subtenants: If you’re subletting a room in a house, you may not have a say in who you live with, how rent is divided, or how common space is shared.

A Tip for Tenants

Whether you are living with roommates under a joint or an individual lease, you will likely have informal agreements around sharing chores, splitting bills, and house rules. These terms do not concern the landlord, so they do not appear on the lease, but it’s still a good idea to put them in writing so you can refer to them as needed.

Creating a Roommate Agreement allows you to attend to the needs of each resident, outline individual rights and responsibilities, and address potential issues. Your Roommate Agreement can include rules about overnight guests, groceries, and television usage, but more importantly it addresses how expenses are to be split. It’s wise to have a written record of your financial arrangements in case one roommate defaults on their portion of the rent.

Living with Roommates

In most cases, the landlord decides whether to create an individual or joint lease, or whether to allow subtenants. Whether you value picking who you live with or having limited liability, it’s a good idea to know your options beforehand so you can find the rental arrangement that suits you best.

Do you live with a roommate?

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Jessica Kalmar

Marketing Writer at LawDepot
Jessica is a reader, writer, and outdoors enthusiast.
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