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Although it's generally legal to have a roommate who isn’t on the lease, it may be a violation of your lease.

Many, but not all, landlords include lease provisions that require all tenants to be named on the lease. This is usually so the landlord can do credit checks and background checks on each tenant, and hold each individual living on their property accountable for damages. Lease agreements often limit the number of days guests can stay before they are considered a tenant instead of a guest. Violating these provisions of your lease may lead to everyone getting evicted, not just the extra person.

Who will be on the lease with the landlord, one tenant or all tenants?

Landlords and tenants often have different preferences for who should be on the lease. Some landlords want every tenant included, while others prefer to deal with only one person. Some tenants prefer to be on the lease so that their legal rights are in writing, while other tenants would rather be excluded to skip the screening process.

Who is on the lease ultimately depends on what the landlord and tenant or tenants agree on. If only one tenant is on the lease, they become the primary tenant. See our legal guide outlining the responsibilities of primary tenants and subtenants for more information. 

Do I need to set up sublease agreements if I am the primary tenant?

While it's almost always a good idea to have a Roommate Agreement, it may be especially important to have a Co-Tenancy Agreement if you are the primary tenant. When all tenants are named on the lease, they are responsible, both as a group and individually, for all obligations stated in the lease. If a roommate does not pay their share of the rent or leaves before the lease is over, the landlord can sue the other roommates. Then, the other roommates can sue the roommate who did not pay.

In a primary tenant situation, the landlord has a relationship only with the primary tenant. That leaves the primary tenant responsible for unpaid rent, damages, or other obligations under the lease. If the primary tenant does not have a written Sublease Agreement with the subtenants, their responsibility to the primary tenant might be unclear. For example, are they liable for the full length of the lease, or is their unwritten agreement with the primary tenant month-to-month? How much were they supposed to pay? These and other questions should be addressed in the Co-Tenancy Agreement.

How can I resolve disputes with my landlord or roommate?

Even under the best conditions, disputes may arise. Depending on the severity of the issue, your landlord may have the right to file for eviction or impose fines stated in the lease. However, open communication can help resolve disputes as many landlords are willing to work with a tenant who is trying to resolve the issue. These customizable tenant documents can help you jump-start communications with your landlord.

If you have a dispute with a roommate, refer to your Roommate Agreement. A thorough agreement can cover most potential situations. By reviewing it together, you can often get everyone to agree to follow it closely.

How can I legally kick out a roommate who is not working out?

Sometimes, problems with a roommate are not related to the terms of an agreement. If you have a clash of personalities or living styles with a roommate, this usually isn't a legal issue. You may be able to agree that one of you will move out early and find a new roommate to cover the lease.

If a roommate has broken the Lease Agreement, Roommate Agreement, or Co-Tenancy Agreement, it could be grounds for eviction. While the process varies by state, and sometimes by city, you usually can't just kick a roommate out. If you can't come to an agreement, you may need to go to court using the same or a similar eviction process as a landlord evicting a tenant.

To learn more about how to deal with disagreements between roommates or how to create an effective roommate agreement, ask a lawyer.

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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