tenant_union university_of_illinois home

Know Your Roommates

You and your roomate(s) will be legally responsible for each other's payment of rent. You can also expect to be held responsible for each other's payment of public utility bills.

The actual circumstances of a conflict between you will not change this fact. Even if you are right and your roommate is wrong, you will still have to pay his or her share of the rent if your roommate does not pay.

From the landlord's point of view, the house or apartment is rented to one household. Its up to you, the members of the household, to work out the details of dividing bills.

If one of you fails to pay the rent, the landlord can, and usually will, sue all of you. If the person who did not pay leaves, the roommates who paid their rent will face a lawsuit for eviction. Even if the landlord does not evict, expect that all of the roommates, including the one who left, will have the bad debt listed on their credit records. Very few landlords anywhere in the United States will rent to you if your credit record shows that you owe a landlord rent.

This may not sound fair, but that's the way it is, so you must choose roommates wisely. Do not just consider how well you get along -- although that is very important. You must also evaluate a roommate's financial responsibility.

Questions to ask each other before you decide to rent an apartment together:

1. Is it possible that any of your potential roommates might study abroad next year or graduate in December or leave for student teaching or engineering co-op? Discuss this before you sign a lease together.

Are you confident that each of your potential roommates would continue to pay his or her share of the rent if a replacement tenant cannot be found? Don't assume that the replacement tenant will be someone you know. If you find one at all, it will probably be a stranger. Please know that it is very, very hard to find replacement tenants.

2. If a roommate does not come back to school next year or moves out at any time before the lease ends:

3. Most leases are for an entire year. What do you plan to do about summer rent?

Roomate Agreement

This contract will not protect you from joint liability to the landlord, but it can be helpful for deciding in advance what you'll do if one person leaves before the lease is up, and for reminding each other what you agreed to if the situation were to arise.

A copy of the roommate agreement can be found here.

Can I evict my roommate?

Roommates do not have standing to evict other roommates, even for non-payment of rent or violating the lease. If you want to have the authority to go to court to evict a roommate, you need to get authorization from the landlord. Including this clause in your lease would help:

Lessor agrees that a non-defaulting co-lessee may act as the landlord's agent for purposes of seeking eviction of the defaulting co-tenant(s).

Be sure to have the landlord initial this statement in your lease.

Renting 1 bedroom in a larger apartment with strangers

In the past few years, several apartment complexes have started offering individual leases for one person's share of the apartment. In these cases, you would not be responsible for your other roommates' rent. However, there are other issues to be aware of:

- There is no guarantee that your roommate will be a student, someone your age, or someone you find compatible
- You will still share joint liability for damage done in the common areas of the apartment
- In most cases, the management can relocate you to a different apartment at any time during the lease period

The trade-off for not having to worry about your roommate's rent is that if s/he leaves, the landlord can replace your roommate with a stranger, whether you like that person or not. Also, in some of these situations you still share joint liability with your roommate for utility payments. In most of these situations, you share joint liability for any damage to the property -- even if it was caused by your roommate. Discuss any such arrangement with the Tenant Union before you make a commitment. We hear from many people, every year, who have financial and legal problems with roommates, even when they are on separate leases.

Also consider the wisdom of making a legally-binding commitment to live with strangers. Unlike in the University residence halls, at apartments that lease by the bedroom with individual leases, you cannot expect the landlord to help you if you have a roommate problem. Remember, your roommate could be ANY human being including someone who: is a lot older or younger than you, is not a student, is a slob or is an extremely neat person, a smoker or heavy drinker or user (or seller) of illegal drugs, really loud or complains you make too much noise, emotionally unbalanced and acts out against people in close proximity like roommates. Your roommate could be someone who eats your food without permission or steals from you when you are not home, someone who watches television in the common living room day and night, someone who moves a dog into the apartment in violation of the lease or moves a lover into the apartment to live there (also in violation of the lease).  These are all the issues about which Tenant Union has heard complaints from students who thought the so-called roommate matching would work to get them someone compatible. Hence, this is something you should consider seriously before moving into any place where the landlord can choose your roommates. Again, you will NOT have the same protections you have in the residence halls for dealing with serious roommate problems.

 

The Tenant Union does not provide legal services of any kind. All information provided in this publication is intended to help the average person prevent problems and deal with common concerns of renting. When legal help is needed, always consult with an attorney at law.