When a relationship starts getting serious, people think about living together. For some couples, this happens after just a few months. Others might wait a year or more before deciding to move in together.
Often, especially for younger couples, this means moving into one person’s apartment or other rented home. Here are 4 legal issues you should consider:
1. Telling Your Landlord
Your lease may say that you have to tell your landlord if you want to add a roommate. It may even limit how many people can live in your unit. Even if it doesn’t specify any of these things, you should still tell them so that everyone is on the same page. You don’t want to give your landlord any reason to evict you or charge you some penalty for not revealing a change in occupancy.
You certainly don’t have to tell your landlord your relationship status with your partner. You can just call yourselves “roommates” and be done with it.
Most couples probably don’t bother telling their landlord, and think that the landlord probably won’t notice or find out anyway. They will. Go ahead and tell them so that you avoid problems later.
2. Will You Have to Pay More?
Probably. The landlord can increase the rent and usually the security deposit based on an additional person living in the apartment. Go ahead and pay it—it’s not worth it to hide the fact that you and your partner are now living together there.
3. Rights and Responsibilities of the New Person
If you move into your partner’s apartment, can the landlord make you pay rent or charge you for damaging property? Can you live there if your partner moves out?
No, unless you decide to become a cotenant. Let’s say Amy moves into Jannelle’s apartment, and Janelle tells that to her landlord. This could develop in four ways:
They don’t do anything else. The lease will still only be a contract between the landlord and Janelle, so the landlord can’t make Amy pay rent, and the landlord doesn’t owe Amy anything.
Amy and Janelle sign a new lease that makes them both cotenants. Now, they each have obligations to pay rent and other things and each have a right to live in the apartment.
Without signing a new lease, they tell the landlord that Amy is going to be a cotenant. Depending on state laws, this might create an oral contract that has the same effect as #2
Without signing a new lease or telling the landlord that she’s now a cotenant, Amy starts acting like one. She pays rent directly to the landlord. Also depending on state laws, this might create an implied contract, again having the same effect as #2.
Sometimes the person moving in will contribute to the rent, but will pay the money directly to his partner, not to the landlord. This is a subtenant relationship.
The key difference between being cotenants and one person being a subtenant is in who can legally kick someone out:
Cotenants: The landlord, but not the original tenant, can end the lease for either person.
Subtenant: The original tenant can legally tell the new person to move out.
A lot of couples like this relationship better at first. If the couple breaks up, the original tenant can legally tell his ex to move out. But watch out—your landlord may not let you do a sub-tenancy. If they don’t—and it’s what you want—it’s much better to find an apartment complex that will than to hide it from your landlord.
[Cross-posted at the Gay Law Report, where I discuss LGBT laws and related news.]