Joint and Several Liability – Roommate FAQ

Being the largest leasing agency in Boston, we are asked a tremendous amount of questions about all aspects of room rentals, roommate lease agreements, and finding roommates. Some of the most frequent questions we get are about roommates and rent obligations, much of which falls under the legal term Joint and Several Liability.

What You Need to Know About Joint and Several Liability

What does it mean when tenants are jointly and severally liable under a residential lease?

Joint and several liability is a legal term meaning that each tenant is individually liable for ensuring that the full obligations under the lease are met. For example, if Tenant A pays half the rent, but Tenant B fails to pay the other half, the landlord can choose to collect the unpaid amount from Tenant A.

What happens if one of the tenants moves out of town, vacates the premises before the lease ends, and stops paying his usual portion of the rent?

If one of the tenants stops paying part of the rent, the landlord could pursue whatever default remedies are applicable under the lease. Among other things, the landlord would have the right to collect any unpaid rent or other monetary damages from either the remaining tenant or the departing tenant or in some combination from the two of them. If the remaining tenant ended up having to pay more than such tenant’s proportionate share, the remaining tenant would potentially have a claim for the excess against the departing tenant.

If one of the tenants damages the property, who is responsible?

The same rule applies. If there is damage from the property, the landlord can recover it from any of the tenants, not just the one who damaged the property. A tenant who was made to pay for another tenant’s damage (or who lost part of a security deposit because of the other tenant’s damage) would potentially have a claim against the other tenant.

What can tenants do to protect themselves given the joint and several liability rule?

Individuals should satisfy themselves that their co-tenants, with whom they share responsibility under the lease, are financially responsible and trustworthy and capable of fulfilling their lease obligations. In addition, all tenants should satisfy themselves that they will be able to get along with one another as co-tenants for the duration of the lease.

Why do I need to sign a join & several lease for the whole apartment with my roommates? Why can't I just sign a room rental lease for just one of the rooms in the house and only be held responsible for that portion of the rent?

Landlords typically insist on joint and several liability when multiple tenants occupy a single unit because it is the only way they can adequately protect their interests if there is a failure to pay rent or other default. Among other things, they do not want to have to chase after a portion of the rent from a tenant who runs out of funds or abandons the premises and leaves town.

If a landlord holds me liable for my roommates' portion of the rent, do I have any recourse against my roommates?

If your roommate fails to pay an agreed-upon portion of the rent and the landlord collects it from you, you would ordinarily have a right to recover that amount from your roommate.

If I want to move out before the leasing terms ends, how do I get off the lease or move out without having to pay more rent?

You will need to review the specific provisions of your lease concerning assignment and subletting. But typically you will have to find a replacement tenant acceptable to the landlord and to the other tenants in order to have that person take over your obligations.

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