What is “Joint and Several Liability” and Why You Need It

Written on September 9, 2013 by , updated on January 24, 2016

Joint and Several Liability

What is “Joint and Several Liability”?

In Basic Language:

For a residential lease, joint and several liability means that each tenant is jointly AND separately responsible for the entire rent amount and for any damages.

According to Nolo, here’s what it means for tenants:

  • One for all. You can demand the entire rent from just one cotenant. The rent-sharing understanding the tenants have with one another is immaterial to you. In other words, even if one tenant pays $400 for a tiny room and another roommate pays $800 for a master suite, each tenant is still liable for the full $1,200 rent, even if some of the tenants flake out.
  • All for one. Even innocent cotenants will suffer the consequences of one cotenant’s misdeeds. Unfair as it seems, the crazy party that one roommate threw can result in a termination notice directed to all tenants.

In Legal Terms:

“Joint and several liability” is where two or more persons are liable in respect of the same liability.

Under joint and several liability or all sums, a claimant may pursue an obligation against any one party as if they were jointly liable and it becomes the responsibility of the defendants to sort out their respective proportions of liability and payment.

This means that if the claimant pursues one defendant and receives payment, that defendant must then pursue the other obligors for a contribution to their share of the liability.

This obligation is normally spelled out in a lease clause, in leases which are signed by two or more tenants.

Why is this Important?

Forcing joint and several liability with your tenants will allow you to view them as a single entity. I recommend using a special clause in your lease that creates this type of liability among your tenants.

Feel free to use my lease clause found below. Trust me, it will make your life as a landlord, much easier.

In case you don’t believe me, there are many realistic situations where this stipulation will come in handy:

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Scenario 1: Full Rent Responsibility

Let’s say that you are renting to a group of tenants. Half of the tenants decide to move out randomly (without telling you), and the remaining tenants are then left not sure how they will pay the full rent amount next month without the other missing tenants.

If you use a clause that forces “joint and several liability“, each tenant will still be on the hook for paying the full rent amount, and not just “their” portion of it.

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Scenario 2: Pursuing One Instead of All

All your tenants skip on rent, trash the property, and then disappear. You can only find/track down one of them.

This clause lets you pursue that single tenant for all remaining debt owned, and for the full damage done to the property.

For example: One tenant decides to get a dog who chews up all the trim and moulding, and ruins the hardwood floors. You are allowed to use the security deposit to make repairs, even if the dog’s owner didn’t contribute any money to the original deposit.

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Scenario 3: Communication

When giving an advanced notice (like a notice that you will be coming over to make repairs), you can give it to one of the tenants, and it counts legally sufficient notice to all the tenants.

This clause allows you to assume that it is the tenant’s responsibility to effectively communicate any of your messages to one another.

My Lease Clause

In order to protect yourself, you should have a clause in your lease that forces “joint and several liability” from your tenants.

Personally, I use the following language in my leases.

Feel free to use this clause as well:

Exceptions

Currently, in common law, there is no direct relationship between actual responsibility and potential responsibility – which is great for landlords.

However, some states have modified this rule. According to Wikipedia:

photo credit: MyTudut via cc
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Topics:
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76 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Austin O.

    I’m in year lease w/roommate eff. 2013 a new one never signed-my lease rolled to a month-to-month lease.
    5/31/16 I gave 30-day notice and I haven’t lived there since 4/22/16. Per sec 2B Lease: and shall terminate on 7/31/14 unless landlord accepts rent in which case a month-to-month shall be created which EITHER PARTY may terminate as specified in 2A – It reads, Month-to-Month: and continues as a month-to-month tenancy. Tenant may terminate the tenancy by giving 30-days notice. Landlord refuses to remove me off eff. 7/1/16, Landlord says I will continue to be responsible for any rent past 6/30/16 unless roommate sign a new lease – per sec 22 Joint and individual obligations. Is this accurate? I gave notice. Am I still responsible come 7/1?

  • Elizabeth D.

    I have lived in the same place in Los Angeles for 2 years and I signed a lease that used this expression. Upon every roommate change, including myself and a few others these 2 years, a new lease was signed with the new person and rent increased as per rent control. Recently, one of my roommates gave his 30-day notice and the landlord used this phrase to indicate if one roommate moves out then we all have to move out, which we are not prepared to do. Can this phrase be used this way? He wants us to move out and back in at the market-value of the apartment, rather than the 3% increase he has used in the past. The lease wording has not changed so I’m wondering if he is just trying to find a way to evict us and collect higher rent?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi, while I understand wanting to sign a new lease every time the roommates change, what he’s doing seems odd. Unfortunately, you’d have to talk to a lawyer to find out if what he is doing is illegal or not.

    • Ed I.

      Elizabeth D – did you ever get an answer regarding if the landlord can make everyone sign a new lease and increase your rent to market value, or can they make everyone sign a new lease and they can only increase rent the percentage that is allowed under Los Angeles rent stabilization? I am in the same situation. Please let me know, thanks

  • Sai

    Hot Take: “jointly and severally liable” is inadequate at best. Why? Because it takes a small problem and escalates it into a dumpster fire by handing liability over to the next person. Sure, you might get your former tenant to pay court fees on top of paying for the sins of his cotenants but that doesn’t recoup the opportunity cost. On top of that, this tenant who probably wasn’t causing any issues, won’t want anything to do with you and you’ll have shot their record for no fault of their own. Any business takes on risk, its a fact of life. Passing risk on to the consumer is usually considered bad business practice. So why trust the cotenants to be good judges of character when you’re the one with all the leasing experience?

  • Jani

    great points altogether, you just gained a brand new reader. What would you recommend about your post that you made some days ago? Any positive?

    https://mail.google.com/

  • KS

    Question One: Shouldn’t a sole cotenant be able to terminate a month to month lease with 30 Days’ notice, since it is a Joint and Several Liability contract? The several (individual) applies to terminating a lease not just paying full rent and damages, correct?

    Question Two: If all cotenants have to vacate the property before the contract is severed, and if one cotenant refuses to move, how can they force the other cotenants to pay in perpetuity after a proper 30 days’ notice was given? Can they legally force me to stay/pay there forever if the cotenant never moves?

    The lease was signed Feb. 2014 by three cotenants. It is now a m2m and stipulates 30 days’ notice. Me and another cotenant were added on the lease and signed it 3/12/2016.

    • Jccomfort

      I’m a landlord in Washington, D.C. My lease has the term ‘jointly and severally’. At expiration of lease, one tenant gave 30 day notice to vacate, the other refuses to leave. Does the one giving to 30 day notice to vacate remain liable for the rent and damages ? Does the lease automatically convert to month to month at the existing rent amount? Am I required to renew lease? How do I evict remaining one/s?

      • Lucas Hall

        If you allow the lease to be terminated, and some tenants don’t leave, then you have the option to write a new lease with them, or your are forced to go to eviction court to have them removed by force if you don’t want them to live there.

    • Lucas Hall

      Joint and several means that all tenants are considered one entity. One tenant can’t terminate the lease without it being terminated for all tenants. Any action that happens must happen to all tenants.

  • Mike Bixel

    1. Is J&S liability enforceable if no 2 tenants (of 5) signed the same physical lease document?
    2. Under a lease with J&S liability, is the landlord obligated to inform all renters of the rent non-payment of one renter, at the time of non-payment, or can they simply wait until lease end and claim all security deposit funds for the arrearage?

    Thanks!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi J&S

      It’s my understanding that a lease is only final and complete (ratified) when all people listed in the lease have signed it. If you didn’t get all the signatures, I’m not sure if it would hold up at all as a valid lease. You might need to check with an attorney about that.

      Under J&S liability, communicating with 1 renter is the same as communicating with all renters.

  • Megan

    Question: I am in a lease with my ex boyfriend who ran off on a contracting job to Kosovo… he told me he’d take over the lease so I could move home and take care of my father who had open heart surgery. I have tried to get in contact with the landlord many times because apparently my ex talked with the landlord and got out of the lease due to his deployment. Now the landlord told him I owe the remainder of the lease but he won’t answer my phones calls. The lease uses the wording

  • Karon Gordon

    My roommate just informed me that she is going to give me a 30 day notice. I cant make up her part of the rent. Is there anything i can do?

  • Tess

    I have 2 tenants in my condo rental. I gave them each a rental application and then each a rental agreement. In other words, they are co-tenants but the paperwork does not say Mary and Judy, it is two different sets – each one has her own. Does my rental agreement have to say both names on the agreement together with the word “and” for them to be jointly and severally liable? They are not related.
    Thank you.

  • Heather Paris

    I signed a lease with a roommate who was on disability. I moved out landlord checked the apt and approved me to move. The whole security deposit was mine it stayed with the apt. A year later other person moved leaving $1800 in damages. Landlord​ took my deposit which is ok but is now trying to sue me for the damages due to the fact my name is was still on the lease (due to the deposit) and I work and landlord cant garnish disability. Should I pay or take it to court? (State of Ohio)

  • Ran

    I’m a landlord in the Philly area. I’d like to rent four bedrooms in a home to four different individuals. I would like to make each tenant responsible for their own share of the rent and the eviction process can be initiated for just one of the tenants and not for all four. Is this possible? Please advise. Anyone with suggestions are appreciated. My email is philly.ran@gmail.com and my phone number is 215-444-5925. Thank you.
    Ran

  • Flo

    We had listed a room to rent in july, the tenant came and gave us 400$ that was July 6th, She started to put her stuff in the room, 0n approximatly 16th July came and got her stuff out claiming she had to move because of her job, no warning of any kind the total for the month 793.75 for the month, she gave us 400$ which left a balance owing 393.75$, the deposit was 350$ which 150$ of it was non-refundable now she is wanting the 400$ back, as a landlord what parts are we liable for?? we live in washington state, any reply would be great, no contracts were signed because she would say she was coming over to go over the lease and never did until she came in and said she had to leave state, any help would be great!! thank u

  • Rachelle Harllee

    In 2012 I was married when we moved into a Kansas rental house; divorced in 2016, yet both resided there until I gave 30 days written notice 06/2017 and moved out of state in 07/2017. My ex didn’t attempt to stay in the home. I tried several times (certified letter and texts) to connect with my landlord to set an appointment at his convenience to “hand over the property” and “conduct an exit walk through”, but he ignored my every attempt to coordinate…until a week into Aug, at which point he claimed i never turned over the property. He sent me a bill for $2,000…there is no J&S clause in the lease, no walk thru checklist.

    Can he charge me anything he wants?
    Do I solely have the responsibility to pay?

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