If you are sharing a property with other people you may each have your own separate tenancy agreements with the landlord or you may have all signed up to one single joint tenancy agreement.
You may think that your agreement is separate to everyone else’s and you don’t need to worry about the actions of the other tenants.
You could be the perfect tenant who keeps the property in a more than satisfactory state and always pays their rent on time. But what if one of the other tenants does not mirror your conduct. What if one of the other tenants damages the property in some way?
Suppose they break a window or tarnish some of the furniture. Will this affect you as the ideal tenant? Is your deposit safe from the behavior of others or will you be paying out for the actions of your fellow tenants?
Where you and your housemates all sign up to one tenancy agreement (all sign one document with all your names on) for the property this is called a joint tenancy and means you are jointly and severally (individually) responsible for paying the rent.
So if four out of five of you have paid the rent but one member of the property hasn’t, the four of you are just as liable as the one who hasn’t paid.
You are responsible to cover the one who doesn’t pay. The landlord will either take money from all of your deposits to cover the rent or will come after one or more of you individually to get the payment, as you are jointly liable to cover the rent. He could sue the four of you even though you each paid your share, to recover the money he is owed by the fifth. This is part of the principle that you are jointly liable. He could also sue just one of you if he thinks he has a better chance of getting the money owed to him as you say, may be in a ‘healthier’ financial position than the others. This means it is vitally important that you make sure that your housemates are reliable and you can trust them financially to pay their share before moving in with them.
But what if one of your housemates damages the property. Will this affect your deposit? Will you lose money for other people’s actions even if you have done nothing wrong?
The way your landlord deals with this may surprise you. A landlord takes a deposit for a property as a whole. (One single deposit). So all the individual deposits in a joint tenancy are formed into one to cover the whole building. Therefore, in the situation where one of your housemates damages the house (e.g. breaks a window) the money needed to repair the damage will be taken out of the single deposit for the property by the landlord. This is an example of the principle that you are all jointly liable for damage to the property. This means you may not receive your full deposit back as a proportion of it may have been used to cover the cost of the act of one of your housemates.
This is why it is vitally important that you can trust the behavior and character of your co-tenants. At the end of the tenancy, what is left of the deposit is returned to you as a group and it is up to you to divide up the remaining amount.
If you and your fellow housemates each have your own tenancy agreement with the landlord then this is not a joint tenancy. In this situation you are just a group of individual tenants living in the same property.
Your responsibilities as a tenant are set out in your individual agreement with the landlord. The document will contain the full terms of your agreement. It will mainly be about your duties as a tenant for the specific room you rent and damage you may cause to the communal areas.
You will not be jointly and severally liable for damage caused to the property by others as the agreement is only concerned with your actions as a separate tenant. However you must read the terms of your agreement carefully as it may actually say you are jointly liable for damage to the communal areas of the house caused by others. The landlord may decide to make you jointly and severally liable to damage of the property so you must check the wording of your agreement carefully.
With regards to rent you do not have to worry about covering for others if they fail to pay their rent for the month as again you are not jointly and severally liable to pay the rent. But remember, just as before, check the terms of your individual agreement as in some cases the landlord will make it a term of your contract that you are to be jointly and severally liable for rent. However it’s very unlikely the landlord will do this.
This blog was written by Rory Jutton, a Law undergraduate at the University of the West of England