by Mark Tarses

Landlords are very reluctant to get involved in disagreements between roommates. This is not just because landlords do not want to get sucked into other people's quarrels. It is because landlords can get into serious legal trouble by getting involved in such disputes. For example, suppose 3 people are renting a 3 bedroom apartment, but they cannot agree on bedroom assignments. There is one bedroom that each of them wants. If a landlord gets involved in this dispute and winds up assigning the bedrooms himself, he may have inadvertently converted his apartment into a rooming house in the eyes of the law, and that could create a lot of legal problems for him.

I encourage co-tenants to draw up a written Roommate Agreement as soon as possible and have everyone sign it. Such an agreement can avoid most quarrels between roommates and can even save personal friendships. A Roommate Agreement is not legally binding on the landlord, but it is binding on the tenants who sign it. You can find many model Roommate Agreements on the internet. It should cover everyone's basic rights and responsibilities.

At a minimum, your Roommate Agreement should cover:

  • Assignment of bedrooms and parking spaces.

  • Money issues: The division of the rent and security deposit, a formula for the division of utility bills and household expenses. Household expenses include things that everybody uses, like toilet paper, light bulbs, dishwasher detergent, etc. It also includes the purchase of furniture that all will share, like the living room couch and TV.

  • Personal rights and responsibilities: Privacy rights, quiet hours, party rules, guest rules, pets, and smoking. Some of these issues may already be covered by the lease, such as pets and smoking.

    Remember, your landlord can and will hold everyone who signed a lease personally responsible for the whole group. That means that if one co-tenant does not pay his share of the rent, the landlord can demand the money from the other co-tenants. Also remember that California law has no provision for a "partial eviction", where a landlord can evict one troublesome co-tenant, but allows the others to stay. If a landlord finds it necessary to terminate a tenancy because of the actions of one person, he must terminate it for everyone in the group. A landlord must evict all or none.

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