When a Roommate Fails to Pay His Share

Q.  At some point my roommate, who is on our apartment lease, intends to move out. When she does, I will have to replace her. Is there anything I can do to prevent myself from incurring financial liability and having my credit score damaged if a new roommate fails to pay his or her share of the rent and utility bills?

A.  “Unfortunately, no,” said David A. Kaminsky, a Manhattan lawyer who specializes in landlord-tenant matters. “Landlords will not accept partial rent payments from a tenant as a full satisfaction of the tenant’s obligation, just because a roommate fails to pay his or her share.”

Even if the writer was able to add the new roommate to the lease – making him or her legally responsible for the rent – both tenants would be liable for the rent, he said. The landlord, therefore, could sue either or both tenants for any amounts due under the lease.

If the landlord obtained a judgment, Mr. Kaminsky said, this would indeed hurt the writer’s credit score and still leave him liable for any amount due. In fact, he said, the landlord could probably take the same action against the first roommate who left. “The best protection in selecting a roommate is extreme vigilance,” Mr. Kaminsky said.

That can be done by checking a prospective roommate’s credit history, talking to references provided by the roommate and having a written agreement clarifying the obligations of each party. Even then, Mr. Kaminsky said, there is no guarantee that a roommate will fulfill his or her obligations under such an agreement. In the event of such a failure, the original tenant would have no option but to sue the roommate and hope to collect any money he lost.

The New York Times Q & A orignally published in The New York Times on February 8, 2013.

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