Sub-leasing Apartments

Sharing apartment expenses by co-signing a lease with friends or acquaintances is an economic necessity for many students, but can involve substantial legal risks.

For example, standard form leases widely used by DeKalb landlords often provide that each signator to a contract is “jointly and severally” liable to pay rent and fulfill the other obligations of the contract. Thus, if your roommate leaves in mid-semester because of an argument or illness, you can and likely will be held accountable for your roommate’s rent share. You can also be held liable for the damages your roommate commits or his or her violations of other terms of the lease such as having illegal pets or permanent type guests. These obligations can also be inferred by law, even without being explicitly stated in the lease.

The ideal response to such situations is to avoid them by carefully selecting as roommates only those people whom you know a substantial amount about, and can make reasonable judgements about concerning their financial resources and your mutual compatibility. Regrettably, even the best of friends sometimes fall out. The best recourse is to insist that all parties to the lease, and anyone who subsequently becomes a roommate execute a written roommate agreement which makes explicit and binding the legal obligations of all parties, including activities which are allowed or prohibited to all the tenants, such as having live-in friends. Roommate agreement forms are available in the Students’ Legal Assistance office.

One of the biggest questions which the roommate agreement can address is the policy to be followed if one or more roommates leave during the lease period. A departing roommate remains legally liable under the lease and can be sued by the remaining roommates for the damages resulting from the departing roommate’s failure to pay rent or utilities. This gives rise to the departing roommates’ right to mitigate the changes he or she might owe by subletting to a new roommate. A roommate agreement can avoid the distressing and financially hazardous conflict over whether remaining roommates must accept a new roommate chosen by the departed roommate, and on what terms.

Financial crises resulting when a roommate leaves are often generated by a breakdown in communication or different or changing lifestyles. A test of maturity is to be able to be reasonable and tolerant with those whom one dislikes. Counseling and/or mediation is available on several places on campus, including Counseling and Career Development, Ombudsman and Students’ Legal. In many instances, the choice boils down to compromise or facing substantial and legal jeopardy.

Don Henderson

Lynn Richards

Students’ Legal Assistance