Lease Lingo Explained: What Does “Joint and Several Liability Lease” Mean

As a tenant, you must understand the fine print and legal jargon scattered throughout your lease. You’ll want to have a grasp of every clause or stipulation you agree to as a renter, which includes joint and several liability. But if you’re not already familiar with this phrase, don’t worry! This guide can help you navigate the meaning of this term so you have clear expectations before you sign any official paperwork.

Joint and several liability tenancy explained

A joint and several liability tenancy applies to different kinds of residential leases, so you’ll need to know what this entails before you move into your new space. Read on to learn:

  • Whether a lease can be both joint and several
  • What a joint and several liability lease is
  • Who a joint and several liability lease applies to
  • How to protect yourself from delinquent roommates

Before diving in, please note these insights are intended for educational purposes, not as legal advice. You should always consult resources like student legal services or local tenant resources for more details about your renter’s rights or tenant obligations.

What is a joint and several liability lease?

A joint and several liability lease implies that each tenant is ‘jointly’ responsible for the entire rent amount and any property damages. When all tenants sign the same lease (not separate leases), each person can be held individually responsible for the money owed to the landlord or property manager. So if one person decides to leave (and is no longer contactable), the landlord can collect gross rent from the remaining tenant(s).

Can a lease be both joint and several?

In short, a lease can be both joint and several. Many leases contain a clause stating that the incoming tenants are joint and severally liable for debts arising from said lease — meaning the landlord can collect the debt from all the tenants (joint) or one tenant alone (several). If you and a friend agree to joint and several liability, each of you is responsible for the total amount of the rent, fulfilling all lease conditions, and any damages to the rental.

Who does a joint and several liability lease apply to?

As outlined above, a joint and several liability lease applies to every individual who has agreed to the collective lease — whether that’s two roommates or ten. More succinctly, each renter is held jointly accountable for the rental payment and any damages to the space. 

For example, say Tenant A creates several holes in their bedroom walls, but they leave town for a new job halfway through the year-long lease. Meanwhile, if Tenant B stays put for the entire year, they’ll be the one on the hook for those damages (even though Tenant A was the true culprit). But keep in mind, Tenant B does have the power to follow up with Tenant A to try and get them to pay for the damages they caused. This will likely be easier with photographic evidence or paper trail to indicate what the damages are and who caused them.

How can you protect yourself from delinquent roommates?

The best way to protect yourself from delinquent roommates and less-than-ideal living situations? Only sign a lease with someone who you know you can trust! That means if one of your closest friends is flaky or accident-prone, it’s probably in the best interest of that relationship to avoid rooming together. Choose someone you can count on to honor the lease (for its total duration), pay rent on time, and keep your space as tidy as possible. 

You can even take things a step further by drawing up a roommate agreement in addition to your shared lease. The contract could outline things like who will pay for what, who tackles which chores, and all the other particulars of your unique roommate bond.

Find an apartment that suits you with ApartmentSearch

Here’s the thing: depending on how much confidence you have in your potential roommates, you may want to think twice about signing a joint and several liability lease with them. Instead, you can hunt for apartments that offer individual leases, or find a one-bedroom that allows you to be the one in control. In fact, you can start looking with ApartmentSearch today! Explore our database of apartment communities across the country and find the right fit for you today.