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Multiple Roommates? 5 Common Legal Problems

By Betty Wang, JD on August 29, 2013 8:59 AM

Living with multiple roommates is always an exciting move to make, but of course it raises many legal issues.

While you may feel like you're prepared, having been a tenant in the past, it may be a different situation when others are involved in the process too.

So before you break out those invites to your housewarming party, here are five legal issues to keep in mind if you're going to have multiple roommates:

  1. Moving out early. Unlike living by yourself, living with other people comes with the risk of different life circumstances that may call for one of your roommates to move early. Make sure you understand the terms of your lease. For example, are you allowed to sublet your apartment? How much notice do you have to give before moving out? Will the other housemates be responsible for the rent if someone unexpectedly moves out?
  2. Rent. The tricky thing about rent when it comes to living with multiple people is that your lease likely doesn't specify how to divvy it up. Therefore, it's important to know a few things before you sign your lease. Who's paying what? Are separate checks accepted? Is there a primary leaseholder or is everyone co-signing? With co-signers, joint and several liability may apply: If one person fails to fork over rent, the other tenants may be liable for the difference.
  3. Living with a partner? Is your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner going to be living with you? Drafting a cohabitation agreement might be a good idea. Putting your cohabitation terms in writing -- like who's paying for living expenses and how property will be divided if things turn sour -- can help you avoid unpleasant disputes in the future.
  4. Ground rules. Make sure you set some ground rules for important things that affect all roommates' enjoyment of your apartment, like overnight guests and raucous parties. While it may seem a bit too formal, you could even draft a roommate agreement, ensuring that the terms are all in writing and that everyone is on the same page.
  5. Criminal charges. While you yourself are obviously not a criminal, you could potentially be liable for one of your roommate's criminal actions in certain circumstances. For example, if your roommate is selling drugs and leaves contraband in a communal area, everyone who lives in the house could possibly face charges of drug possession if police happen to barge through your door.

Lastly, don't forget that while domestic pets may be OK (depending on your lease of course), hipster farm animals are likely not welcome. Let your roommates know.

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