With Roommate Leases,
Landlord Can't Have It Both Ways
Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
This column on issues confronting renters and
landlords is written by Counselor of Real Estate and
Certified Property Manager Robert Griswold, host of Real
Estate Today! with Robert Griswold (10 a.m.
Saturdays on AM1130 - KSDO radio, or on the Internet
and by attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the
Tenants' Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a law
firm representing landlords.
Q: About a year ago, a buddy and I rented a house
together. The landlord wanted us to have separate rental
agreements. He said that he didn't want one roommate to
be responsible for another's rent should one of us move
out. My roommate moved out about a month ago, and the
landlord is verbally demanding that I pay the full rent.
I paid only my share at the beginning
of the month, and have now received a notice to pay or
quit. We have a month-to-month rental agreement, and it
states the amount of my rent only. Can he legally evict
me for not paying the full rent?
A: Smith: This landlord is going about things the wrong
way. There's a simple rule to follow: one rental contract
per apartment. Everyone signs one lease. Do not split it
up. By doing it this way -- separate agreements for each
roommate -- the landlord is limiting his rights. If this
court, the judge will say that the landlord can only
collect the rent stated on the individual roommate's
agreement, not the other half. By having everyone sign
one lease, all are jointly and severally responsible. All
can be collected from and everyone is potentially
responsible for 100
percent of the rent.
Kellman: The landlord can't have it both ways. On the one
hand, he wants the power to treat each tenant separately
but at the same time he wants the power to treat the two
of you as if you were a partnership. Each type of
contract arrangement has advantages and disadvantages.
With separate agreements, the landlord can begin and end
tenancies for one tenant without affecting the other.
Deposits can be handled separately and each tenant
remains responsible for his or her separate rent. There's
no need to get in the middle of roommate disagreements.
With a joint
agreement, the landlord may hold each tenant responsible
for the entire month's rent. The deposit remains until
all the tenants of the lease have moved out. In a joint
lease, it is very difficult to terminate the tenancy of a
problem tenant without forcing the "good"
tenant to move as well.
With a separate lease agreement, as you have with this
landlord, you should only be responsible for your
individual agreed-upon rent. I think that even Ted would
agree that an eviction case based on the nonpayment of
rent, which you do not even owe, is improper and would
Q: For the past three months we have rented a home with a
small but beautifully landscaped back yard. It is mostly
bushes, mature pine trees, and bark ground cover with a
little grass and river-rock borders. A very nice wooden
deck took up approximately one-third (about 300 square
the back yard. The deck had fairly extensive termite
damage, so the property manager and owner decided to
I am not happy about the choice for replacement -- grass.
Because of the cost of replacing the deck -- $500 for
lumber plus labor -- the decision was been made to
replace it with a lawn.
The deck was one of the things that attracted us to this
house and a large part of the backyard design. Is there
any way we can force the landlord to spend some
additional money on landscaping above and beyond the
Also, some of the in-ground lawn sprinklers will now be
in the middle of the lawn instead of at the edge of the
raised deck. They need to be moved to less damage-prone
spots. The property manager has not shown much
interesting discussing this. We are month-to-month
tenants. Do we have any legal backing here?
A: Griswold: You do not have a very strong legal position
since the deck is really an amenity, not a health and
safety issue. Unless there were specific verbal or
written agreements about the potential deck removal
combined with an agreement to either require replacement
or adjust your
rent, you are unfortunately out of luck on any legal
Clearly, you do have the right to move since you are on a
month-to-month, yet I am sure that is not your first
choice. The other option is to offer a compromise by
which you will pay some additional rent toward the deck.
For example, maybe you could offer $50 a month for the
next eight to 10 months so that you are actually paying
for approximately 50 percent of the deck
The only argument you could make is "loss of
use," in which case your loss would be limited to
the fair market value of the deck (most likely only $25
to $50) for 30 days since you are on a month-to-month
I think your best bet is to offer to pay some or even all
of the cost of the deck replacement or learn to live
Q: I am a long-term renter. When my apartment was
repainted about 5 1/2 years ago, the painter made a
complete mess of my unit and failed to properly prepare
the walls for painting. So the paint chips or peels every
time a wall, door, etc. is bumped. Also, he didn't paint
the toilet, just where it was convenient to reach. Since
the new paint is white and the old paint was off-yellow,
it shows a lot. Can they charge me for repainting?
Smith: The landlord can charge you for any damages,
cleaning and refurbishing above ordinary wear and tear.
If the painter botched the paint job when you first moved
in, then you are not responsible. You'd better take a
closer look at all of the walls. Make sure there are no
nail holes, smudging, stains, and deep scratches. If
there are, then the landlord would be within his legal
rights to charge you for a pro-rated portion of the
spackling and painting. Despite your long tenancy, these
charges would be deductible from your deposit.
YOU'RE A TENANT OR LANDLORD, the authors stand ready to
answer your questions in this column, although letters
cannot be answered individually. Write them at: Rental
Roundtable, Homes Section, San Diego Union-Tribune, P.O.
Box 120191, San Diego, CA, 92112-0191. Or you may e-mail
them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Back to 1999 Rental Roundtable
Robert Griswold and the Real Estate
Today! radio show strongly support the intent and the letter of all federal and
state fair housing laws. As a reminder to all owners and managers of real
estate, note that all real estate advertised is subject to the Federal Fair
Housing Act, which makes it illegal to advertise "any preference,
limitation, discrimination because of race, color, national origin or ancestry, religion, sex,
physical disability, or familial status, or intention to make any such
preference, limitation or discrimination." Additional state and/or local
fair housing laws may also apply. Be sure to inform all persons that all
dwellings offered or advertised are on an equal opportunity basis.
Revised and Updated -
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Robert S. Griswold, CRE, CPM, CCIM,
PCAM, GRI, ARM
Griswold Corporate Center
Griswold Real Estate Management, Inc.
5703 Oberlin Drive, Suite 300
San Diego, CA 92121-1743
Phone: (858) 597-6100
Fax: (858) 597-6161
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