My daughter is starting her senior year of college and like many students..she wants the independence of living on her own. Well sort of. She has rented an apartment with two other girls. Surprisingly, the owner/landlord of the building did not ask for a parental co-signor. That was quite a relief because it meant I did not have to shatter my daughters plans. Why? Because I would not have agreed to provide a co-signature or guarantee. I do support this move by my daughter as I did the exact same thing my senior year. I just have a better idea of how these co-tenant relationships legally work. I know my daughter believes all will be rosy for the next year. I have lived long enough to realize the odds are not in their favor and when one of them decides to move on, and not pay the rent, it does not let the other roommates off the hook for the deserting roommates liability. This is the reason I would not serve as a co-signor. I would have put myself in a position to be brought to court by the owner for the full liability of the unpaid rent for the apartment!
The owner may legally hold each co-tenant wholly responsible for the lease and lease terms. This applies to each occupant who has signed the lease agreement. The individual roommates often fail to realize that they have full responsibility for the entire group, thinking that if they pay their share of the rent, their responsibility to the owner/landlord ends at that point. Likewise, if one of their roommates goes AWOL, the thinking goes that the owner will have to pursue the AWOL tenant for their share of the balance.
To document this your lease should contain a clause for co-tenancy. Generally this is identified as the “joint and several liability” clause. Joint and several liability is the sharing of obligations and liabilities among two or more people both as a group and as individuals. When two or more tenants are jointly and severally liable the landlord can choose to hold all of them, or just any one of them responsible to pay rent or pay for damages. Add a few parental co-signors and the landlord/owner can pick and choose who to sue among a selection of likely candidates to pay up instead of fight.
Although most states make co-tenants jointly and severally liable by statute, the lease agreement should still contain the clause because the tenants then cannot claim to be unaware of their liabilities. If one roommate materially violates the lease agreement, the owner/landlord can terminate the tenancy of all the roommates including those innocent of the violation. As an example, if one roommate is unable to pay his share of the rent, the landlord can demand the entire rent amount from one or all of the remaining roommates and terminate the tenancy of all if the rent is not paid. With a co-signor the landlord/owner will likely just skip over the other tenants and pursue the easiest target.
If you are just getting into renting a property, keep this information in mind when deciding how to handle co-tenants and potential co-signors. I believe it is commonly misunderstood and has been the source of many friendships crumbling apart when former well meaning friends create liabilities for their former roommates. As a manager, I think it is best to discuss this with potential roommates to make certain they understand the liability the lease they are signing creates.