Room for Improvement

by Jason Busboom, Busboom Group, AATC's Government Affairs Committee Chair

 

AATC staff receives numerous calls and emails each month from members with questions about landlord-tenant and operational issues. In general, AATC staff will help our members find the answer in the REDBOOK. In the vast majority of cases, the REDBOOK has the information required. Oftentimes, the solution lies within the TAA Lease.

Some inquiries are simple and require a quick reference to a form or legal commentary in the REDBOOK. Sometimes, a member just wants the assurance that they are following common residential rental property practice and procedures. Oftentimes, however, the questions are legal in nature and beyond the scope of staff’s expertise. In these instances, members are referred to one of AATC’s Legal Service attorneys.

Over the years, roommates and how to handle them has been a frequent topic of inquiry. April is prime roommate dispute season. The initial excitement of having an apartment with a friend has worn-off and reality sets-in. Like all partnerships, roommates as co-leaseholders, are fine. When these arrangements work, they work well; when they don’t work, it is bad, real bad.

Since many roommate problems occur between college-age renters, it may surprise you to learn that cities within AATC’s jurisdiction have more than 150,000 college students (UTA, 50,000; TCU, 12,000; Texas Wesleyan, 1,900; Tarleton, 10,500; SWBTS, 2,500; and TCC, 53,000).

Whether it is college students, boyfriend-girlfriend, are single-parents sharing living expenses, having unrelated individuals as parties to a lease contract has both rewards and challenges for the rental housing owner/operator.

First, if you have prospective roommates or even current roommates, make sure you are using the TAA Lease forms that pertain to roommates. The TAA Roommate Agreement to the lease is a great place to start. Also, if guarantors are required (i.e. college students, UTA, TCU, Tarleton, TWU, etc.), be sure to use the TAA Guarantorform. Using these forms, roommates could save themselves (and their guarantors) a lot of headaches if they put in writing what they assumed or intended when entering into a lease.

The comprehensive Roommate Agreementenables each co-resident and guarantor to collect monies from a co-resident who defaulted in lease obligations or in obligations to the other co-residents.

Like pre-marital counseling, the best part of the Roommate Agreementis that it forces, as a practical matter, the roommates to think about and discuss problems that might arise and what the resolution of those problems should be. The form is not required to be signed by any law, but, perhaps, the form’s most important benefit is to help prevent problems from ever arising in the first place. Making the form available to your residents might be doing them a real favor. From a practical standpoint, it might be best to provide this form to them after they have all signed the lease.

Second, take the extra time to fully explain to all parties their joint obligation to the landlord. Paragraph 29 (Multiple Residents) of the TAA Lease is extremely important. Highlight it, mark it with a star, go over it, go over it again, and again. Make sure each roommate understands this paragraph. A simple head-nod may not be enough. You may want to get each roommate to initial this paragraph, and ask them by name if they fully understand.

Third, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, ALL roommates will be leaseholders. In this case, ALL are subject to meeting rental criteria (credit and criminal history, income, length of employment, etc.). Rent is due the first. As a landlord, you don’t care whopays, but you do care how, and most importantly, when rent is paid. You can require one check or one electronic payment. If rent is not paid, then they ALL can be evicted. If damage occurs to the rental unit, ALL are responsible. If one roommate violates the lease, ALL roommates get a lease violation.

Fourth, if there is a gguarantor(s), state law covers this relationship. The REDBOOK has an outstanding article on the role and responsibilities of a guarantor(s). Basically, Texas law ensures that rental agreements specify the term (length of time), the amount of rent, and other financial obligations of the guarantor. As a practical matter, good communications between the landlord and the guarantor(s) is critical. They need to know what their responsibility is if the leaseholder(s) fail to meet their obligations under the lease.

Finally, believe it or not, renters fall in and out of love, college students get home sick, and roommates have conflicts— relationships change when folks start keeping house together. Landlords make lousy relationship counselors. Don’t even try to go there. It is not your job – you and your staff are not a matchmaking service.

Frankly, from your perspective, you should not care about the roommate drama, so long as, you are being paid everything you are owed on the first of the month and there are no other lease violations.

If a roommate moves outs, unless ALL parties agree (most importantly you, the landlord) to release them from their responsibilities, then they are still obligated under the lease. If you and ALL roommates agree to a change, TAA recommends you use the TAA lease addendum to add to remove roommate. This form is a great way to ensure that each leaseholder understands their obligations during the remainder of the lease.

Bottom line, roommates make great residents, especially if you take the time to communicate their obligations to you and each other.

Jason Busboom, Busboom Group, is the AATC Government Affairs Committee Chair. For more information on any of AATC’s Government Affairs strategies, contact Perry Pillow at ppillow@aatcnet.org