A carousel of roommates is typically a situation best avoided, but sometimes turnover among a rental unit’s tenants is unavoidable.
When considering bringing in or switching out roommates, the first place a tenant should look is the lease agreement.
Generally, any quality lease agreement will prohibit the swapping of roommates without the landlord’s consent. Without such a clause in the lease, however, roommate changes can usually be done without first needing permission from the landlord.
Landlords are typically amenable to roommate situations if they are kept in the loop by the tenant, and don’t learn of it by finding someone new sleeping in the unit when they stop by for maintenance or some other routine visit.
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Seeking permission is the first step in the process, but it’s not carte blanche for a tenant to bring in a new roommate. The same screening and application process that the original tenant went through should be expected for any new person who is looking to be added as a roommate.
Roommates may consider the rent to be a shared obligation. It’s not a shared risk to the landlord, however, when considering applicants’ financial qualifications. Many landlords will require that each applicant is qualified to pay the full rent amount individually. This will safeguard against a scenario in which one or more roommates leave, and the remaining individual cannot afford to pay the full rent.
An alternate option, which some landlords may prefer, is to permit a tenant to add an “authorized occupant” to a lease. Such a policy is akin to allowing the original tenant to sublease the unit to the incoming roommate. In that case, the contract remains exclusively with the original tenant.
An authorized occupant is essentially someone permitted to live at the property, but the arrangement requires that the signed tenant on the lease also lives at the property. If that tenant vacates, the authorized occupant would also be required to move out. This is an option often used for minors, or individuals who would not qualify to live at the property as a tenant due to financial risk.
When a new tenant is approved and added to the existing lease, the landlord will likely request that all parties sign a roommate addendum. This document will stipulate the amount and timing of deposits and rent payments. If it doesn’t, tenants should ask for that information to be clarified in writing.
Keep in mind that most lease forms contain language stating that one roommate’s decision to vacate does not amend the lease or release that person from the lease’s financial obligations, unless otherwise agreed to by the landlord and other tenants.
Sean Martin is the director of external affairs of the Rental Housing Association of Washington, a not-for-profit association of more than 5,000 landlord members statewide. Rental Resource is the organization’s biweekly column. For more information for landlords or tenants, visit rhawa.org.