10.29.2018 | 1 Minute Read | By A.D. Thompson

These help in delineating not only “house rules,” but your financial responsibility to the household. But is a roommate agreement legally binding?

Your lease

Your lease and a roommate agreement are two separate documents. A lease is signed between the tenants and the landlord or property management company. You and your roommates (the tenants) are legally bound by this document and must pay the rent on time and follow all other terms in the agreement.

What if one of you moves out? That’s not the landlord’s problem. The remaining roommates will still owe the rent – including the share of their now-absent roomie.

Your roommate agreement

The landlord has nothing to do with this one. A roommate agreement puts the responsibilities of each roommate in writing – from financial to personal. It should outline how the rent and utilities will be divided and specifies who does what chores, food sharing and cooking, quiet hours, overnight guests and whatever else you agree to include.

While there are a host of valuable things to include, the three that are most important when it comes to legal matters are the amount of rent, security deposit and utilities each tenant is responsible for.

So, is a roommate agreement legally binding?

While your lease with the landlord is a legally binding document from start to finish, it’s likely that a judge – in the event of legal action against a tenant who broke a roommate agreement – will only hold him or her responsible for certain terms.

If, for example, your roommate took a job out of state and left you to pay his or her portion of the rent and utilities, a court may order them to pay you back in full if you sue. Not so for failure to put away the dishes or excessive playing of house music during quiet hours.

A fact to note: If the negligent roommate doesn’t have any money – or files for bankruptcy protection – you won’t be able to collect on your judgment.

Even better? Think before you move in. Sharing living space can be challenging in the best of circumstances, so try – above all – to move in with people you know and trust.

Roommate agreements are nice forms of insurance, but even without one, you can still take a roommate to small claims court for failure to pay their share of the rent or bills. But that’s no guarantee that you’ll come out victorious. Living with someone you trust is still your best course of action.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash
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