Particularly if you own rental property in a more expensive housing market, it is likely that your prospective renters will seek to share costs by finding roommates. As a landlord it is important to have clear rules and procedures that apply to roommates or cotenants, and to communicate your expectations upfront. Similarly, you should address whether your tenants are allowed to have guests temporarily stay in the rental unit, and what the applicable rules in those situations will be.
Joint and Several Liability Among Cotenants
When you are in the process of renting an available unit to new tenants, it is best to have all individuals who will be sharing the unit, including married couples, sign the lease as cotenants. This way, any individual cotenant can be held responsible under the legal theory of joint and several liability if there is a failure to pay rent, damage to the property, or any other violation of the lease. Although it can be advisable to include a joint and several liability clause in your lease, this is generally not necessary for this sort of liability to attach to individual cotenants. Note that while in some situations you may have the right to enforce the terms of the lease against all cotenants for violations by just one person, for example by evicting all of the roommates for noise violations perpetrated by just one of them, it is permissible to come up with another solution, such as evicting just the offender and allowing the remaining cotenants to find a new roommate.
Bringing in New Cotenants
It is in your best interest to set and communicate clear rules about bringing in new roommates or cotenants. One way to address this is by having an occupancy limit, and also to require your written permission as well as a new lease that all roommates must sign when someone new wants to move in. This way you will have the opportunity to screen any new tenants to the same extent that you did with the original tenants, and to take action up to and including evicting the existing tenants for violating this lease provision if they bring in a cotenant without your approval.
Disputes Among Cotenants
If you rent a unit out to cotenants, it is possible that at some point a disagreement will arise between them regarding payment of rent or some other issue, and your intervention may be requested. In these situations it is generally best to require your cotenants to work out their differences on their own, and if needed, reiterate that whether one or more of them is unable to fulfill their obligations under the lease, you have the ability to seek rent or enforce any other terms of the lease against any single cotenant. It may however be helpful to refer them to mediation in some cases to see if they can resolve their issues.
Special rules apply in situations involving domestic violence, or some other situation where one tenant is threatening the safety of another. Individual state and local laws can vary, but in general you have an obligation to contact law enforcement if you know of violence between tenants, or hear about it from a reliable source. You may also be required to warn the intended victim. In order to avoid liability and keep your tenants safe, seek information from local law enforcement or nonprofits regarding your responsibilities in the event of actual or potential violence between your tenants.
Most leases contain a limitation on the number of nights a guest can stay in the unit. These limits can vary, as can the wisdom of strictly enforcing them. For example, if a tenant invites a guest to stay for a significant length of time without your written permission, in order to avoid a situation where the guest begins to acquire the status of a tenant or subtenant, you would likely be best served to address the situation and require the guest to leave, fill out a rental application, or commence eviction proceedings against your original tenant. However, in cases where a tenant’s significant other is spending the night on a regular basis, these may not be situations that warrant enforcing the letter of your tenancy agreement assuming that the guest otherwise complies with the rules of the property.