A few years ago, I was in a pretty serious car accident. During the aftermath, I became really familiar with a lot of different types of lawyers. I worked with personal injury lawyers, insurance lawyers, and many others. Perhaps the most important, though, was the estate planning lawyer. I was really young, and neither my wife or I had thought about starting a will. But the accident kind of scared us into it. What would happen if one of us were to die? Even when still in the hospital, I was working with the lawyer to draw up a will. Now, I have some peace and security about what the future will be like if something should happen to me. And I have a lot of experience working with various types of lawyers! The accident was kind of a blessing in disguise in that way.
If you're heading to college this fall and you plan on sharing expenses off campus with several housemates for the first time, be realistic about the potential legal pitfalls. Here are four things to keep in mind:
1. Joint And Several Liability
When you sign a lease along with your friends as co-tenants, each of you becomes legally responsible for the other's behavior in certain ways. This is called joint and several liability, and it essentially means that all of you are financially responsible if one of your housemates skips out on the rent or kicks a hole in the drywall after a bad day.
However, it also applies to any other violations of your lease. For example, if you're required to keep the place clean, maintain trash service, and clear the walks of snow in the winter, everyone on the lease bears equal responsibility - and can end up equally evicted for violations.
2. Criminal Charges
It pays to be picky about who you choose to share a lease with, because the wrong housemate can land you in legal trouble. Drug use, in particular, can be a potential pitfall.
For example, if your roommate uses (or sells) drugs, you could find yourself in the middle of a police investigation. Your personal property could be searched. If drugs are found in a common area of the house, you and your housemates could all be charged with constructive possession. That means that you would have to prove, in court, that the drugs weren't yours and you didn't know about them.
That could turn out to be a difficult process, especially if the roommate responsible doesn't opt to own up to his or her responsibility for the stash.
3. Written Agreements
It may seem unnecessarily formal, but a written agreement between you and your housemates gives you the only legal backup that you can really count on should an issue wind up in court.
If a housemate fails to meet his or her financial responsibilities, your written agreement can be used in court to enforce payment for rent, utilities, and security deposits. If a housemate becomes a "problem" tenant, you may be able to use it to force him or her out of the house.
Any written agreement between you and your housemates should detail several key issues:
4. Rental Insurance
The majority of leases don't require you to have renter's insurance, but you want it.
Your landlord's insurance typically won't cover your possessions in the event of a theft, fire, or other damage. Renters insurance can also provide the necessary funds for you to move if the property becomes uninhabitable, through a fire or flood, for example.
Just like any other household expense, you need to discuss with the other renters how the insurance bill is to be split. If the other renters aren't interested, talk to an insurance agent about getting a policy that covers just your own belongings instead.
If your first foray into the adult world of rental agreements turns into a problem, don't hesitate to contact an attorney before a situation gets out of hand. An attorney can help you with problems that arise between you and other tenants or between tenants and landlords. Contact a firm like Vandeventer Black LLP for more information.Share
31 July 2015