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When should landlords require a co-signer?

The purpose of a co-signer is to have an additional person who is financially responsible for the lease if the tenant is unable to pay rent or for damages they cause. A common example of a co-signer is a parent of a college student where the college student needs an apartment but may not meet the income requirements.

Landlords often require a co-signer when the applying tenant cannot meet the landlord's income or credit requirements on their own. Alternatives to a co-signer include a higher security deposit or paying a number of months of rent in advance. However, some state or local laws limit security deposits or advanced payments. In the end, many landlords may feel that having a co-signer gives them greater protection against a non-paying tenant.

Can landlords restrict who can be a co-signer?

Landlords generally have the right to choose whether to allow co-signers or not. Landlords can also generally choose whether they want to allow individual co-signers or commercial co-signer services. Trying to limit a co-signer based on their relationship to the tenant, such as requiring the co-signer to be a parent, could potentially violate fair housing or other anti-discrimination laws.

It is common for landlords to require the co-signer to meet their tenant screening criteria or even go beyond it. For example, it may be required that a co-signer have income that is double the normal income requirement since they are also responsible for their own housing costs.

Do co-signers need to be credit checked?

Landlords may want to strongly consider credit checking a co-signer for the same reason they would credit check a tenant. A credit check may show whether a prospective tenant and their co-signer are paying their bills on time or burdened with high debt. Even if someone has a very high income, they may not be responsible with their money or they could have debts that leave them with less cash available to pay their rent or other bills.

Landlords can ask the co-signer to fill out a Rental Application, enabling the landlord to check the co-signer's income, credit, and background. If the co-signer lives far away, they can sign electronically using RocketSign®. If approved, a co-signer would sign a Co-Signer Agreement rather than being a tenant on the lease.

Can landlords sue a co-signer for back rent without evicting a tenant?

Most co-signing agreements state that the tenant and co-signer are jointly and severally liable for the rent. This means that the landlord can sue either party for the full amount of unpaid rent. If the landlord sues the co-signer, the co-signer could potentially sue the tenant for reimbursement based on their agreement.

Typically, if the tenant has not already moved out, the landlord would file eviction proceedings against the tenant and also name the co-signer in that lawsuit. However, the landlord may also choose to notify the co-signer of a late or missed payment and ask the co-signer to pay. If necessary, the landlord may warn the co-signer that the tenant faces potential eviction and the co-signer may be responsible for all costs and back rent under the lease.

Can a co-signer terminate, or end, a lease?

Unless otherwise provided for in the lease or co-signing agreement, the co-signer is legally bound to the lease for its duration in the same manner as the landlord and tenant are. If the tenant and co-signer request it, the landlord may agree to release the co-signer if there is a replacement co-signer or if the tenant now meets the landlord's financial requirements without a co-signer.

The co-signer typically has the right to be removed as a co-signer for any renewal periods. Landlords may want to check local laws and the language of their lease for any notice that needs to be provided to the co-signer when the lease is coming up for renewal.

If the co-signer wants to terminate the lease because the tenant is having financial trouble and can't pay their rent, this is a similar situation to a tenant who wants to terminate their lease early. Landlords may want to consider negotiating a termination with the tenant and co-signer that includes the right to enforce any costs allowed by the lease and local law.

Does a co-signer have rights to the apartment or rental?

A co-signer is not a tenant. They typically do not have any right to use the rental unit unless invited by the tenant. They also generally don't have legal rights as a tenant. However, landlords may want to ensure that the co-signer is not living in the unit as an unauthorized tenant or the co-signer may ultimately gain tenant's rights.

To learn more about how to work with co-signers or how to collect unpaid rent from a co-signer, talk to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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