Roommates & Group Leases: Understanding the Fine Print


A guest blog article by:

Remember what it was like to work on group projects in school? You always hoped to get paired with your friends; but more often than not, you’d be assigned to a different group and hope for the best. Chances are, at least one person would slack off and spend more time endlessly scrolling and double-tapping on Instagram, instead of working on the project. Needless to say, this left many students with a sour feeling towards group work.

Group leases are in some way a little bit like group work, but hopefully a lot less frustrating. Since living with roommates is a rite of passage in college, it’s likely you’ll end up signing a group lease. But before doing so, there are some important things to consider.


Generally speaking, there are two types of lease agreements: individual and group. We’ll be focusing on the latter.


  1. Individual Lease:

This is where individuals occupying a residence together have their own lease, specifically for their room. There are house rules; but in terms of the lease, tenants are only responsible for their own rent and room.

  1. Group Lease:

In this case, a single lease is signed for the entire rental unit and there are no individual agreements for each tenant. There are two different variations of group leases:

  1. All of the tenants signed the same lease for a fixed term. Every occupant that signed the lease is listed as a tenant.
  1. One tenant signed the lease with the landlord and only his/her name appears on the lease. The other occupants are considered roommates, but are not listed as tenants on the lease. Technically speaking, the one person who signed the agreement has a legal contract with the landlord, not the others. This single tenant is responsible for paying the rent, as well as ensuring that other tenant responsibilities are fulfilled.

These two distinctions are particularly important. In situation A, each tenant is equally responsible for such things as paying rent and cleanliness. In situation B, however, only the tenant who signed the lease is responsible for tenant obligations. Situation B can be a burden for that single tenant, as all responsibilities fall onto him/her. In many cases, the tenant has limited or no legal recourses against roommates who are not part of the lease agreement. For example, if a roommate doesn’t provide notice to move and/or stops paying rent, the tenant who signed the lease cannot take legal action, as that roommate wasn’t registered as an actual tenant on the lease.

In addition, in the case of situation B, a roommate who did not sign the lease but is living on the premises is afforded fewer rights than the legal tenant. For example, if the person who signed the lease gets fed up with one of the roommates and throws him/her out, there is virtually nothing the roommate can do to dispute it. This roommate technically does not have a legal right to live in the unit. All tenant rights do not apply to roommates in this circumstance.

In addition to knowing the type of lease agreements, it’s also important to understand how certain clauses and provisions affect group leases.


Consider some of the following:


  1. Joint and Several Liability Clause:If you’re signing a group lease that has this clause, it’s wise to make sure the roommates are trustworthy! What this clause means is that every person who signs the lease as a renter is responsible for everyone else in the unit. In other words, if a roommate drops out and stops paying rent, the other roommates are responsible to pay for that person’s portion of rent. Even if the students were unaware they agreed to this, they would still be on the hook for paying their ex-roommates portion of the rent.
  2. Subletting Provision:Depending on your state or province’s residential tenancy laws, a landlord may be allowed to refuse subletting. In most cases, subletting is allowed; but there is often specific criteria laid out in this provision section for how to go about it. For example, the landlord may require the original tenant to submit a written request to sublet or even insist an additional sublet lease to be signed.

An important point to be aware of is that the original tenant is almost always responsible for still paying the rent; meaning if the individual subletting does not pay rent to the landlord, the original tenant must pay on their behalf. This can get tricky in group lease situations where the entire unit is subleased. If the entire unit is rented out, but not all sub-tenants pay rent, how would the original tenants divide the rent payment? It’s important to think about matters like these ahead of time.


  1. Guest Limit Provisions: 

    When you live with roommates in college or university, there’s a good chance your couch will routinely be offered up to friends for couch surfing. This in itself is fine, as long as the privilege isn’t being abused. Just because you’re paying rent, doesn’t mean you can have whomever stay at your place, whenever you please.

Guest limit provisions will specify things like how long a guest is allowed to stay or how many guests can stay at once. Landlords often include these provisions to avoid having long-term guests from gaining tenant status, without going through the proper screening and approval process. In addition, if the unit includes utilities, the landlord doesn’t want expenses increased significantly by non-tenants.


  1. Extended Absences Provisions:Chances are, you and your roommates are going to be travelling home for a few weeks over Christmas break, and likely for a few months over the summer. The lease agreement may have a section outlining requirements if tenants leave the rental unit uninhabited for extended durations.

In most cases, this section requires tenants to notify the landlord when they are leaving and grant them access to the rental, in lieu of their absence. It could be a lease violation if the tenants do not comply. In addition, if all students will be away at the same time, it’s important to notify the landlord which tenant to contact, in case of an emergency such as a fire or flood.


Group leases can be confusing and time consuming to read, but if students can spend several hours binge-watching Game of Thrones, they can probably spare an hour to review an important document like their lease!


Another topic to consider is The Importance of Renter’s Insurance for Students.



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