Joint and Several Liability

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Jointly and Severally liable essentially means that each co-tenant is independently liable to the landlord for all of the rent. Landlords often remind co-tenants of this obligation by inserting into the lease a chunk of legalese that says that the tenants are "jointly and severally" liable for paying rent and adhering to terms of the agreement. If one tenant can't pay a share of the rent in a particular month, or simply moves out, the other tenant(s) must still pay the full rent.

According to NOLO, Law for All:

  • One for all. The landlord can demand the entire rent from just one co-tenant. The rent-sharing understanding you have with your roommates is immaterial to the landlord. In other words, even if you pay $400 for your tiny room and your roommate pays $800 for a master suite, you’ll be liable for the full $1,200 rent if for some reason your roommate flakes out. 

  • All for one. Even innocent co-tenants will suffer the consequences of one co-tenant’s misdeeds. Unfair as it seems, the raucous party that your roommate threw when you were out of town can result in a termination notice directed to you, too.

The lesson here is to choose your roommates carefully, document all payments, and always draft a roommate agreement outlining who pays what costs and what will happen if one tenant has trouble paying their share of those costs.

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