Setting Rules for Co-Tenants and Guests as a Landlord
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 co-tenants, 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 Co-Tenants
Even if co-tenants agree among themselves to split rent a certain way, they will each remain liable for the entire amount of rent due.
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 co-tenants. This way, any individual co-tenant 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 co-tenants. Note that while in some situations you may have the right to enforce the terms of the lease against all co-tenants 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 co-tenants to find a new roommate.
Bringing in New Co-Tenants
It is in your best interest to set and communicate clear rules about bringing in new roommates or co-tenants. 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 co-tenant without your approval.
Disputes Among Co-Tenants
If you rent a unit out to co-tenants, 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 co-tenants 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 co-tenant. It may however be helpful to refer them to mediation in some cases to see if they can resolve their issues.
A landlord generally cannot evict a tenant for a dispute with a co-tenant unless the tenant is violating the lease or rental agreement in the process.
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, legal aid organizations, or non-profits 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.