Beware of the Roommate!

It is that time of year again when many young people return to college.  Many others may be doubling up to save on the exorbitant rents that seem to be in effect these days.  I was reminded of the dormitory woes of my stylist’s child while getting my haircut.  A client also called recently because his son was being hounded by a collection agency for unpaid rent. No one is immune even Tasha had a tale about a roommate stiffing her in college.

Most leases provide that the co-tenants are jointly and severally liable.  That means that the landlord can pursue either or both of the tenants.  Furthermore, the landlord can collect all of his damages from one of the co-tenants or an unequal portion from each.  For example, he can get three-quarters of his losses from one and one-quarter from the other.  In this case, the boy who moved first left behind some furniture and abandoned property.  The client’s child did not feel like cleaning up after his roommate and left it there when he left.  Even though the abandoned property did not belong to the client’s child, the landlord can collect the cost of clean up from the client’s child.  Likewise, the landlord can collect from either co-tenant for any physical damage to the property regardless of who caused the damage.

You must also be cautious of joint liability for utilities, phone bills, cable TV, cable TV equipment and the like.  Invariably, it is the roommate who liked to chat via telephone with his cousin in Tokyo while watching pay per view and who always left the lights on who moves out first.  The remaining roommate can be left with the inflated bills if they are in joint names.

If you are going to rent an apartment with someone, then you may want to make sure that you can afford the rent if the roommate breaches the lease and moves early.  Otherwise, you may be forced to move early and pay for the roommate’s default too.  These days you do not have to get a landline telephone and can use your cell phone for calls.  Cable TV may not be avoidable and without a landline you may need it for high speed internet access. However, you might want to avoid access to pay per view if you can and get the most basic package.  The idea is to avoid any situation where a roommate can run up the bills and stick you with them. 

You should investigate potential roommates as best you can.  The fact that you know someone or went to high school with them is no protection though.  Unfortunately, many a friendship has been ruined because of one friend breaching a lease early and sticking the other with the bills. Good luck!

Copyright Notice:  All Rights Reserved Harry Thomas Hackney, P.A. 2007


2 thoughts on “Beware of the Roommate!

  1. These tales of woe do not distinguish if both tenants are on the lease. Does it make a difference? Many times, only one person’s name is on the lease, then they advertise for a roommate. Is the person coming on board as a sub-tenant liable if their not on lease? And would if there is no lease to begin with, a month-to-month, which is my situation? How about kicking out this sub-renter in that situation?

    For example, in Florida, do Landlord-Tenant Notice laws apply in a situation where, #1, there is no lease between main tenant and landlord (month-to-month), and no lease between person who comes on board later as a “roommate”?

    I have such a situation and am extremely curious what I have to do to get rid of my roommate who is always late paying his agreed rent and share of utilities…

    • Steve raises some valid issues. There would be no contractual agreement between the roommate and the landlord. Consequently, the roommate would have no liability on the lease to the landlord. Part II of Chapter 83 of the Florida Statutes applies to residential tenancies whether there is a lease or not. A landlord can terminate the rental by giving the tenant(s) 15 days notice before the next rental payment is due. The first step to getting rid of an unwanted roommate would be to ask them to leave. If they do not leave, I’m not sure exactly sure what your next step would be. It could be that as between you and your roommate that you are the “landlord” and can give 15 days notice and then “evict” the roommate. However, I’ve never encountered that situation so I don’t know for sure. (Most people don’t hire lawyers to evict roommates.)

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