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Also in During Your Tenancy
Before using this information, please read:
To read the specific laws in the WA State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, click on the RCW (Revised Code of Washington) links throughout the Tenant Services website.
Tenants Union Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. Please read our full Tenant Union Disclaimer.
Resolving Conflicts with Roommates
Navigating issues that arise between roommates sharing housing can be extremely complicated, and unfortunately there is nothing in the Landlord-Tenant Act that addresses the issue. Sometimes roommates enter into a rental agreement without knowing each other well, and new tenants may come and go without being properly placed on or removed from the contract, which can be problematic in some rental situations.
Roommates or housemates on the same rental agreement are jointly responsible for following all conditions of the rental agreement, including payment of rent. Any action the landlord takes to terminate or enforce the rules of tenancy will apply to all tenants on the rental agreement, not just individual tenants. If one tenant is violating the rules of the rental agreement, the other tenants may decide to communicate with the landlord regarding a roommate’s rule violations or any disputes. It is up to the landlord to enforce the rules of tenancy with all renters in the unit, including payment of rent.
For example, three tenants may share a house and all be listed on the rental agreement. Each pays one third of the rent. If one tenant does not pay their rent, the landlord would serve a 3-day pay or vacate notice on all three tenants on the rental agreement, rather than just the delinquent tenant. Likewise, if the entire amount of rent was not paid within the three day time frame, all three tenants would face eviction. However, tenants who have individual leases to rent individual rooms in a house or apartment would be individually responsible for not paying their portion of the rent. For this reason, it may be helpful to have separate rental agreements instead of joint ones. Individual rental agreements mean that each tenant is responsible for their own behavior and decisions separately.
In a household where all roommates are listed on the same lease, one tenant being late or delinquent on their rent can result in the eviction of everyone on the rental agreement. In a situation where one roommate does not pay their rent, the other tenants in the unit may choose to cover the cost of the delinquent tenant’s rent in order to avoid facing eviction. They may send a letter to the landlord documenting that one tenant did not pay their portion, and then they may try to recover rent from the roommate who did not pay, or in small claims court if necessary.
Here are some guidelines protecting yourself when renting with roommates.
- Document everything in writing. A lot of decisions regarding roommates may be up to your landlord, so written documentation is your best way to solve problems that may arise related to disputes with roommates, or disputes with the landlord regarding roommates.
- Ask for a separate rental agreement. You can also ask the landlord for an individual rental agreement or lease when you move into the unit, so you will not be responsible for your roommate’s responsibilities under their lease with the landlord.
- Read the details of your rental agreement carefully. The rental agreement should reflect important details regarding the rules of you tenancy. For instance, bon the lookout for whether the rental agreement accurately reflects a) the current tenants and b) the amount of deposit money, if any, each tenant has given towards any deposits or fees. However, the rental agreement may not contain enough detail to adequately address all the situations that may arise between roommates. Get as much as you can in writing. If the landlord will not agree to make written changes to the rental agreement to reflect a change of tenants in the unit, you can send written documentation signed by the old and new tenant reflecting the date of the change, and asking for the rental agreement to reflect the new composition of the household.
- Protect your deposit. There are several possible options for how deposit money is dealt with in shared living arrangements. Look to the rental agreement first to see how deposits are dealt with, and get as many specific details as you can in writing from the landlord on how roommate changes should happen. Deposit costs may be divided among each tenant moving into a unit, or may be paid individually. If it is not set out in your rental agreement, be sure to get thorough documentation of the amount each tenant pays, and what the landlord requires when one tenant vacates and another moves in. The landlord may have the new person moving in pass their deposit money to the tenant moving out. Tenants who vacate while the rental agreement is still in effect may have the benefit of not having damages or cleaning charges immediately deducted from their deposit, but they may legally still be held responsible for deposit deductions even after move-out.
- Screen roommates well before you move in. It can be helpful to get a good sense of who you will be sharing your living space with before you commit to move in. If you are listed on a rental agreement with people you don’t know well, who turn out to not be responsible renters, you may end up having to pay for their irresponsibility. Ask questions of prospective roommates that tell you about their habits, lifestyle and preferences. If needed, you can communicate with the landlord to try and find out what screening criteria is used to screen new tenants.
- Keep communication lines open. While renting with roommates you may also find it helpful to have monthly or quarterly meetings to check in about house rules, utility bills, chores and responsibilities and address any concerns openly rather than waiting until the situation has escalated or someone is behind on their utility portion of the bill, for example.