Is a Roommate Responsible If He Isn't on the Lease?

Roommates help cover the rent, but can also mean potential trouble.

Roommates help cover the rent, but can also mean potential trouble.

You've taken a roommate to help afford an apartment in a great location, but now he's left you holding the bag for the full rent amount -- not to mention some major damage to his bedroom in the apartment. The first step in allowing anyone to live in a place with your name on the lease is to check out your state and local laws and to read your lease carefully for important details.

Your Lease

Your written lease outlines what is legally acceptable for you to do in your rented place. Leases typically hold you responsible for any damages to the unit, guarantee you water and heat, and require your rent check by a certain date. Leases have the force of law, and if you violate any part of the agreement, your landlord can remind you to meet the lease terms. Management also has the right to notify you in writing that you're evicted because you violated the lease agreement.


Your lease includes language allowing you to have a roommate by ignoring the subject or failing to specify the number of people allowed in the unit, but it's still best to ask permission from your landlord. If your lease lists one person for your unit, includes language prohibiting subleasing your place or you forgot to ask permission for a sublease roomie, you're out of luck in holding your roommate legally responsible for any rent or damage payments. If you insist on taking legal action anyway to collect rent or money for damages, and your landlord finds out, you might end up on the street for violating the terms of your lease contract. In some states, your landlord can double your rent if you're caught violating the lease and renting a bedroom in your rented apartment.


If your lease allows a roommate, the secondary rental document must be in writing and include important language. Use the language in your original lease as a cheat sheet to create the new roommate agreement. The new contract must include the date and the length of the agreement, required rent and the due date the rent must appear. A savvy subleaser also adds limitations on the number of people in the bedroom used by your new roommate. If you want the roommate to contribute for the utilities, trash or pay for access to the apartment facilities, including parking, this must be spelled out in detail in the new rental agreement. Type up a formal contract and ask your new roomie to initial beside every clause to ensure both of you understand the details of the new roommate agreement. The signatures of both renter and sub-renter must also appear at the bottom of the contract.


Adding a clause to the written sublease allows you to legally collect from a roommate when if the renter damages the rental unit. The catch to collect money for damage comes down to evidence: You must prove that your roommate did the deed. Dated photos of the unit with the roommate's signature on the back of each image gives you legal ammunition should you need to prove damage in a subleased room. Collecting a cleaning and damage deposit with the sublease also means you have a basic fund to work with to repair the unit.

About the Author

Lee Grayson has worked as a freelance writer since 2000. Her articles have appeared in publications for Oxford and Harvard University presses and research publishers, including Facts On File and ABC-CLIO. Grayson holds certificates from the University of California campuses at Irvine and San Diego.

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