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To Add a Roommate, Write a Precise Contract


QUESTION: I live in a leased three-bedroom townhouse apartment in Redondo Beach with a roommate. Since his business has taken a downturn, we have decided to rent out the third bedroom to a new roommate.

We have told the prospective renter that he will be renting on a month-to-month basis and that if either of us believes it is not working out, we will give him a 30-day notice to move.

Is this legal? What are some of the potential problems with such an arrangement? Also, what happens if the renter refuses to move out after getting a 30-day notice?

ANSWER: It is probably "legal" to move a third renter into your townhouse, but it may violate your lease agreement, which could result in your eviction.

If you haven't yet done so, check the lease to see if it limits the number of renters before renting out the third bedroom. Most do.

Even if the number or names of occupants are not limited by the lease, or if the number of residents already is limited to three, you probably would be wise to inform the owner of your intention to add a roommate.

Owners often will allow added renters even though they are limited or prohibited by written contracts. Sometimes, however, they also will charge more rent.

Also, when they allow extra renters, they usually require that the prospective residents meet their income and credit-worthiness standards, which they ascertain by checking their credit reports, and sign a new lease or rental agreement.

You also should be interested in whether a prospective roommate will pay rent on time and be responsible. After all, while the owner may have a substantial dollar investment in the unit, you will be living with this person.

Also, if the new roommate defaults in rent payment, you are still on the hook for it because under the provisions of most leases, you are "jointly and severally" (together and separately) responsible to pay rent.

You also asked what to do if you give the renter a 30-day notice to leave and he doesn't move out. Since you are the "landlord" of the new renter, you are required to evict him if he doesn't move voluntarily.

That usually requires an attorney (a landlord-tenant specialist is recommended), and the average cost of evictions in L.A. County is about $2,000, which includes legal fees, lost rent, cleanup and damages. In your case the cost should be a little lower because the renter is only responsible for one-third of the rent.

The average time of an eviction, from start to lockout, is about eight weeks.

To make the eviction a little easier, have the renter sign a month-to-month agreement; do not use a fixed-term lease because it will limit your ability to evict.

You should spell out in the agreement that the new resident is a renter and that you and your present roommate are the landlords, so that it is clear to the new renter and a judge, should an eviction be required.

It is also a good idea to get some kind of a security deposit from the new renter. The maximum amount of deposit you can collect is two times the amount of the new tenant's share of the monthly rent, three times if the unit is furnished.

If you pay utilities at the apartment, you can also have the new roommate share in their expense. Again, clearly spell out in advance in the rental agreement who is responsible for what to avoid misunderstandings later.

One of the keys to a successful relationship is a clearly written rental contract, signed by both parties, that specifies the rights and responsibilities of both of you.

Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of AAGLA, an apartment owners' service group. Mail your questions on any aspect of apartment living to AAGLA, 12012 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025.

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