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Legal liability if we cosign lease

timelytimely Posts: 1,613Registered User Senior Member
edited August 2010 in Parents Forum
S2 and 4 of his fraternity brothers have found a 5 bedroom house in California that they want to lease. We are fine with the house, but the realtor has said that parents have to co-sign on the lease. I've read some other threads about this, so I know that we need to try to negotiate it such that we won't have to do that, and we'll work on that. In case we can't get out of cosigning, here's the thing..... It's a large house, the monthly rent is $3,000 and the security deposit is $4,000 (!). We understand that we'd be responsible for making up the rent of any of the roommates who dropped out of school or whatever, but that isn't our biggest concern. Our biggest concern is liability.

This house is furnished. At first I thought that was great. Then I thought about 5 frat guys living in this house (and it so happens that their fraternity does not have a frat house). You know exactly what will happen there. This will become the defacto frat house. Those kids could easily do more than $4,000 damage to that house and to the furnishings. Even if our son is a perfect angel, he won't be able to control the other 4 roommates and all of their guests. What if they totally trash this place? Are we liable for that? Can we be sued?
Post edited by timely on
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Replies to: Legal liability if we cosign lease

  • MomofWildChildMomofWildChild Posts: 16,784Registered User Senior Member
    Depends on the terms of the lease, but my guess would be yes. I would kiss that $4K goodbye.
  • timelytimely Posts: 1,613Registered User Senior Member
    Actually, I AM kissing the $4K goodbye (at least S2's 1/5 share of it). He has scholarship money that this is coming out of, so it's his money that he would be losing, not ours, but if the damage is more than $4K, can we be sued for the additional amount?
  • susgeeksusgeek Posts: 1,603Registered User Senior Member
    Yep you can be sued. That is why they want a parent to cosign. Getting damages out of a college student would be like getting blood from a turnip.
  • oldfortoldfort Posts: 16,600Registered User Senior Member
    D1 is renting an apartment with her best friend. The landlord did not ask us to co-sign, but he wanted the girls to be jointly responsible for the lease. I would not agree to that because I didn't D1 to be responsible for the other girl's rent or be responsible in looking for another renter if her friend should leave.

    I offered a compromise (negotiated) with the landlord - I would co-sign if they didn't have to be jointly responsible for the lease. I also put in the lease to make it the landlord reponsibility to look for another roommate if necessary, but my daughter had the right to find another roommate if she wanted to, and the new roommate had to be a student from her school and a female. Everyone told me that landlords at her school were all very tough and most leases weren't negotiable. I spoke with the landlord and tried to give him something he wanted (guarantee payment from parents) in return he gave me something I wanted.

    In your case, I would either have an independent lease or not co-sign for it. With 5 frat boys, I don't think 4000 deposit would be enough...
  • ChunkyPastaSauceChunkyPastaSauce Posts: 59Registered User Junior Member
    This house is furnished. At first I thought that was great. Then I thought about 5 frat guys living in this house (and it so happens that their fraternity does not have a frat house). You know exactly what will happen there. This will become the defacto frat house. Those kids could easily do more than $4,000 damage to that house and to the furnishings. Even if our son is a perfect angel, he won't be able to control the other 4 roommates and all of their guests.
    Well that doesn't sound good.
    What if they totally trash this place? Are we liable for that? Can we be sued?
    Yes... you usually shall nearly all legal responsibility.
  • anothermom2anothermom2 Posts: 1,593Registered User Senior Member
    Not a california lawyer, but damage for a lease in usually not limited to security deposit, especially if there are deep pockets. How about a contract among the parents and students that each will be responsible for ratable share of damage. This could be enforced after a judgement against one.
  • ChunkyPastaSauceChunkyPastaSauce Posts: 59Registered User Junior Member
    Not a california lawyer, but damage for a lease in usually not limited to security deposit, especially if there are deep pockets. How about a contract among the parents and students that each will be responsible for ratable share of damage. This could be enforced after a judgement against one.
    That might work if they are all in the same state (parents).. I bet things would get really difficult to enforce if not.
  • pugmadkatepugmadkate Posts: 5,807Registered User Senior Member
    You know exactly what will happen there. This will become the defacto frat house. Those kids could easily do more than $4,000 damage to that house and to the furnishings...

    Unless you are prepared to either pick up the entire bill or spend the time/money trying to get the money out of the other four families, don't co-sign.
  • RedwingRedwing Posts: 76Registered User Junior Member
    Not a lawyer, but I think total shared worst case liability would be bounded by the value of the house. Left CA a decade ago, so I'm not familiar with market values of a 5 bedroom single family dwelling in close proximity to CA universities.

    Speaking entirely from a financial risk management perspective, this deal seams a tad bit shaky.

    Had a similar discussion with D1 just 30 minutes ago. Had he proposed something even remotely similar to this, I would have declined to cosign.
  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse Posts: 24,103Registered User Senior Member
    I would not sign any of my son's leases. I did not know any of his roommates, and I didn't trust my son to control himself, much less the situation. I felt really badly last year about the Manhattan apartment, but the fact of the matter was that we could not afford the risk. If things turned out badly and we were hit up for sizable amounts, it would hurt everyone else in the family. We had paid for S's college, offered him room and board at home, and we just could not spend any more on him,

    I thought that would be the end of the apartment thing. Well, he found a very nice two bedroom, big apartment, got two roommates to come in with him on it--they turned the living room into a third bedroom because the place has a nice sized entry foyer and eat in kitchen. Their parents took one look at the place and could not wait to sign. It was that nice and priced that reasonably. So he lives in Manhattan for $600 a month including utilities. He has the smallest room but pays equal rent, but no utilities, especially since he is gone half the time, on tour, out of town, at home.

    Still it's barely affordable for him. However, he did manage to make it work. Found out later that he actually had a number of possibilities but this one fell into his lap and was the best one by far.

    If you can afford the worst possible scenario, then go ahead and sign. But if you cannot, then don't. Are the other parents signing? That might be a way to mitigate the risk. That way each parent is responsible for a proportionate share and if a kid bails during the school year, the parent is on the hook for the rent until another roommate is found.
  • PAO2008PAO2008 Posts: 269Registered User Junior Member
    For the amount of potential liability at stake, it is probably worth it for you to spend a couple of hundred dollars to have a local attorney review the lease and advise you. You would not need to have the attorney negotiate the lease, but advise you of all the risks under local law and in what is contained in this particular lease. Once you have that information, you can decide whether to co-sign and what aspects to negotiate.
  • calmomcalmom Posts: 16,316Registered User Senior Member
    Well, I am a California lawyer and I say, don't sign. You can protect against potential liability with insurance ... but I just don't like the 5-frat-guys set up.

    I did cosign for my son once -- no sad story -- he had been living on his own for awhile, was self supporting, but was moving into a 2 bedroom apartment, shared with a college senior, when he went back to school and the landlord, who typically rented to students, wanted a cosigner for son's half of the rent. (One of those situations where the landlord was willing to write separate leases for each tenant). I trusted my son and never had a problem -- my son was working half time as well as attending school, around age 23 a the time, the roommie was quiet guy, also working, same age -- so it really was a low risk situation.

    But from your post, I think that this is one time that the kid and his frat brothers need to bump up against reality -- and the reality is that it isn't all that easy for 5 college students to rent a house together. Every thing you are imagining as a possible risk factor is real.

    It would be a different situation entirely if your son wants to rent an apartment with one or two roommates -- different dynamic. Depending on your son that may or may not be a good idea --but a 2-bedroom apartment is not likely to become Animal House.
  • MomLiveMomLive Posts: 2,370Registered User Senior Member
    Had a similar discussion with D1 just 30 minutes ago. Had he proposed something even remotely similar to this, I would have declined to cosign.

    I agree. I wouldn't do it, mainly because it is likely to become the defacto frat house. Even if it wasn't, 5 guys can do a lot of damage to a house.

    I would definitely invest in an attorney to review the contract. A lot of times these things are written so if the other parents don't have any assets, they can collect 100% from just one party. I'm not sure where you are in relation to California but I would have an understanding with the boys that you or one of the other parents has the right to inspect the house on a regular basis (perhaps monthly or quarterly) to make sure they are, indeed, taking care of the house and not causing damage. Houses in California are expensive, you could find yourself in huge financial hot water if the guys damage it.
  • FauxNomFauxNom Posts: 1,220Registered User Senior Member
    My son was trying last year to lease a house in LA with around 12-15 other students. The landlord insisted on each student having a parental guaranty, and refused to allow individual leases when we proposed that (as done by oldfort - post 5). There was language in the contract that would make the kids and guarantors responsible for fire, and arguably even earthquake damage; yet the landlord refused my request to limit liability if the damage was caused by an act of nature/God. I'm not a California lawyer either, but I'm fairly certain our liability was not going to be limited by the amount of our damage deposit.

    I was the first parent to express any hesitation to sign on a million-dollar+ house to be occupied by a bunch of kids I didn't know. The house organizer and the landlord both were pretty hostile about our bad behavior :) Son took his smaller group and found a less expensive house with a far more reasonable landlord, who first agreed to individual leases, and then said she really didn't need a parental guaranty after all. Big sigh of relief! Our son clearly understood our desire not to blow the family fortune on his rental.

    I see similar problems with OP's situation: being on the hook for the conduct/damage caused by any of the housemates and guests, and being looked to for any default in rent by any of the housemates. If anyone defaults or causes damage, the landlord probably is not obligated to go after that person's guarantor first, so it might not help that other parents are willing to sign. We spoke with a California insurance agent who said no sane agent would insure a bunch of renters in this situation. So you are wise to be cautious! There are other options, in all likelihood.
  • sryrstresssryrstress Posts: 1,753Registered User Senior Member
    My S lives with 7 other guys in one of those defacto frat houses. The house is a huge 100 year old house that cost the landlord no more than $80,000 and has 50 year old linoleum in it. Their rent is $4000 per month ($500/kid) and $4000 security deposit.

    Good kids with professional parents, but lots of partying going on. They did not make parents co-sign and the kids do sign individually, but the kids are responsible in total for the $4000, so if one moves out, they either pay more or find another renter. I told my S to kiss his security deposit good-bye. I was very nervous, but it has worked out and he has much more room than in the dorm. 8 of the 16 parents are lawyers, so hoping it all works out in the end. Kids rented it last year and are doing so again.
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