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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85 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Kate

    Hi There,

    I have tried to unlock the lease clause with no luck. I have tried to like on fb and google and nothing happens. I also signed up for email updates and still cant get it to unlock. Could you email it to me?

    Thank you,

    Kate

  • Peter

    I’m in same boat as Kate….followed on Twitter and it did not unlock. Please email the clause.

  • Kathy

    I have 2 tenants whose lease will expire in August, I have the clause jointly and severally; when I renew the lease I just want to renew to one of them get rid of the other – can I do that? or do I have to terminate with both tenants and then tell the tenant I want to keep that I will do a new lease with him.

    One of the tenants ask me to evict the other but since the lease is up in 6 months, I figure I wait it out for 6 months instead of going the eviction route.

    Your thoughts please, thanks

    Kathy

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Kathy,

      Since there is no expectation of renewal at the end of a fixed-term lease, you’ll have to write a brand new lease with just the individual that you want to rent to.

      As long as there is no illegal discrimination or official retaliation, a landlord is allowed to offer (or not offer) a renewal to whoever they want.

      If I were in your shoes, I would check with the good tenant and see if he/she was interested in renewing, and let them know that I will not be renewing the same lease. If he/she says “yes”, then I would make it clear that I would gladly renew with him/her, but not with the other tenant. Put the ball in their court, and let them make up their own mind.

      Worst case scenario is that you lose both tenants, and have to find a new group. It’s not the end of the world. If you plan early enough, you’ll be able to perform a smooth turnover with zero vacancy.

  • Shay

    Hi Lucas,

    I currently live in an apartment where I signed a joint lease. my roommate left the apartment while I was out of town now they are refusing to pay their share of the rent. Essentially I have been left high and dry. I do not want to go through an eviction. I need guidance that leads to justice.

    Thank you!

    Sincerely,

    Shay

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Shay,

      That’s the problem with signing a lease with joint and several liability – you have to pay for your roommates decision. You’re still responsible for the full rent amount.

      Perhaps you can get approval to find a replacement roommate to help with the payments?

      Otherwise, you’d have to take your former roommate to small claims court to pay back any money that you pay to cover his/her portion.

      If you abandon the lease completely, the apartment company will likely file a lawsuit against both of you.

      Sorry, there’s really no easy way out of this, which is why its so important that you trust the people you sign a contract with.

      Feel free to talk to an attorney. I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

  • Karen

    We won a ND judgment in Small Claims Court. One defendant wants to pay 1/4 of the total and release his name from the judgment. We would like the full sum paid before filing satisfaction papers or at least 1/3 of the total judgment from the defendant mentioned.

    The judgment states: ” There were four people listed as tenants on the lease agreement. Mr. X lawfully substituted for tenant (name). Therefore, there are four people jointly responsible for the total damage amount of $(amount). Those four are (name1, name2, name3,) and Mr. X. Defendant Mr. X was not listed as a defendant in this action. Since the listed Defendants were all properly served, and since they did not timely file an Answer or other responsive pleadings, including a request for joinder of the fourth tenant, Mr. X, judgment may be entered against the three Defendants, (name1, name2, name3). ”

    What are your thoughts — Thank You. Karen

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Karen,

      If I understand you correctly, the final judgement was against only 3 people, not the 4th, who was a subletter.

      If the 4th person (the subletter) doesn’t have a judgement against him/her, I don’t see how you could ask for any money from that person. I sounds like the full judgement must be paid by a mix of the 3 tenants who actually received the judgement.

      Personally, I wouldn’t file any satisfaction papers until the judgement was paid in full. I wouldn’t let one of the three pay 1/3 of the debt unless he/she also simultaniously made payment with the other 2 in the amount of 1/3 each.

      If you file satisfaction papers after only receiving 1/3 of the judgement, then that is all you should expect, ever. Don’t expect to see another dime. The judgement is your only leverage, so don’t give it up so easily. If they were my former tenants, I would tell them that they will all be affected by the judgement until I receive the full amount (or whatever amount you are willing to accept as settlement in full). I wouldn’t care if it was evenly split, or if it all came from a single tenant. I would put it back on the 3 tenants to file their own case against the 4th subletter if there was any damage that he caused.

      Anyway, that’s just how I would view the situation. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor am I legally trained, nor is this legal advice. Good luck, and please do let me know how it goes.

      • Karen

        Hi Lucas,

        Thank you for your insight, that was my feeling but his lawyer says that it is not joint and several and that if he pays his portion his name should be released. I’m going to the Clerk of Court this morning and ask if I can only release one name on the judgment if he pays his portion, which I believe is also 1/3 of sum, which is fine with me in the remaining balance stays intact for the other two defendants. I’ll let you know.

        I’m so glad that we found this site and can’t wait to explore all the options you have to offer. Thank you. Karen.

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi Karen,

          Does your lease have a clause about joint and several liability? Further, did your lease only list one lump sum due as rent, or did it separate out the individual responsibilities?

          Depending on how your lease is written, I could see it going either way.

          But honestly, I would suggest getting a second opinion from a different lawyer. If you have a single lease, with a single rent amount, with a single judgment for a single amount, I don’t see how it could be separated. The judge didn’t divide the amounts by person, so why should you?

          • Karen

            Hi Lucas, No we don’t have a clause in this lease but it will be in our next.
            But, I am confused because we won a judgment years ago with same lease agreement and that Judge viewed it as joint and several. Our lease also states that we will only accept one check for the full amount of rent due. The issue of joint and several wasn’t brought up until the Judge got up to leave the room and his lawyer asked to say more and allowed him. I stated that a previous Judge saw our lease as joint and several and his response was” that doesn’t make it right”.
            So, now in his judgment which states: “Therefore, there are four people jointly responsible for the total damage amount of $(amount). What does he mean by “jointly responsible”. Equal parts or joint and several. I do believe that Mr.X was excluded from the equation so– three people jointly responsible. If the Judge intended joint and several wouldn’t he have stated it like that. Lawyers to look at that one line $250 hr. Worth it?

          • Lucas Hall

            Hi Karen,

            I’m not a lawyer, but your lease certainly sounds like joint and several to me – which means that all tenants are jointly responsible for the full amount. If one person doesn’t chip in, the others have to make up for it.

            It might be better to find a $100/hour lawyer, who charges by every 15 minutes. Depending on your judgement amount, and your ability to collect, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth it.

  • Karen

    I got long winded and ran out of room. Hope you can make heads or tails out of my statement. Thank you. Karen

    The Clerk of Court did say that we could remove one name from the judgment but you have to word it just right. That is scary!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi again,

      Yes, it is scary. I just don’t get why you would remove anyone’s name until the whole debt/judgement is satisfied. There is no incentive for you, and a lot of risk.

  • Erin

    Hi Lucas,

    I am a landlord and am in a situation where the couple we were renting to broke up, one moved out. Although we do not have the statement that they are jointly and severally responsible, the lease does say, ” ____ ___(hereinafter referred to as “Tenant.” For and in consideration of the covenants and obligations contained herein and other good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which is hereby acknowledged, the parties hereto hereby agree as follows:”

    Can this be considered equal to the joiny and several law as both names are on the lease?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Erin,

      Please don’t take this as legal advice, but what I can tell you is that generally speaking, if both tenant names are on the lease, then both tenants are responsible for all the responsibilities listed in the lease. With that said, a judge may rule otherwise because you don’t specifically state J&SL, but I think it would be difficult for the tenant to say he/she is not responsible for the lease they signed.

  • Novella

    I am renting out rooms to individuals. I do not want to hold each tenant responsible if the other does not pay for the room rent; however, I do want to hold all tenants accountable for damage to the common areas and appliances. Should I still use this clause or modify it?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Novella,

      It really depends on the way you structured the leases. If you have a different lease for each room, with rights to the common areas, then you’ll have to figure out who damaged the appliances before you can assign it. Remember, you can only charge for excessive damages, not normal wear and tear.

      I suppose since they all share the space, you could assign an equal portion of the repair cost to each lease – since they equally share the common space.

      I hope that helps. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

  • Melissa

    I have a lease agreement with two tenants (let’s call them Bill and Kelly) who were a couple and have broken up so they are looking to get out of their lease. The lease specifies “joint and several liabilities”. Both tenants have requested and verbally agreed to end the lease early if we find new tenants. Kelly has essentially moved out but still has some items left on the premises. She is not very communicative and there has been some tension with her lack of cooperativeness while showing the place. BIll is still living on the premises and is very cooperative. Now that I have found new tenants I am looking for them to commit to an official end date of the lease, Kelly will not respond to my communications. Can Bill officially agree to end the lease on behalf of them both? If I wait too much longer I may lose out on my new tenants.

  • trina

    my 20 year old daughter signed a lease that seems to state Liability is Joint and Several with Tenants and Guarantors. Her situation has her living with 3 other roommates of which do not get along . My daughter agreed to remain in the apartment but the others do not want her there anymore. who is responsible if my duaghter does not move in this apartement nor pay her portion of the rent? Please advise I would appreciate it. We have already paid deposits of first and last months rent.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Trina

      Once the lease is signed, a tenant in considered as one entity with the other tenants, and all tenants can be held responsible for the entire rent. It doesn’t really matter if one of them doesn’t move in.

      If the landlord wanted too, he/she could sue each of the tenants separately for the full amount due until the debt is satisfied. Does that make sense?

      If your daughter wants out, she could negotiate a replacement, and help try to find a new roommate.

      I hope that helps. Please know that I’m not a lawyer nor is this legal advice.

  • Desiree J

    Hello,
    I had a 6 month fixed term lease. My roommate (R) and I, put in the proper written notice to vacate the apartment on the date our lease ended. Sometime throughout the month R called and said he can’t find a place, so he would be staying month to month after the lease ended. Now the apartment complex is saying I am still liable for the apartment since R did not vacate. No contract was drawn stating I would be staying or him, it was strictly a verbal affair between R and the apartment management. What can I do? I tried to reason with the apartment management but to no avail. Am I still liable?

  • Gail Mcfauley

    My girlfriend moved out two months into a 12 month joint lease that we both signed. I’m trying to pay the entire amount but it’s rough. She took her clothes but left her furniture and still has the key. The apartment mgr says I’m responsible no matter what. They could care less as long as they get their money. I am really in a bind. Can I sue her prior to the lease being up?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Gail

      If you both signed a lease together than both of you would be responsible for the full rent amount. The manager doesn’t care who pays what as long as the full amount is paid. If they have to sue someone, they will sue whoever is easiest to get to.

      Now-a-days, anyone can sue anyone for anything. You could file a suit against her for the money that she owes you – since you two had an agreement. I have no idea if you’d win. A local attorney would be able to guide you better than I. I’m not a lawyer nor is this legal advice.

  • Jesse D

    I was in a duplex with 2 other roommates and the damages exceeded the deposit. In the damages report it shows the damages were from all three rooms, but I was the only roommate charged. The other roommates didn’t skip town or anything I was just the only one property management billed. IS the property management allowed to do that?

    • Jesse D

      Sorry, also I forgot to mention at the time I couldn’t pay it since it was so expensive (being for all the damages in the house), and it the property management sold the debt to collections. Its on my credit, and once again, when I talked to my roommates they were never contacted and no charges are on their credit.

      • Lucas Hall

        Hi Jesse,

        If your lease had joint and several liability, then sending the bill to one is like sending it to all tenants. It would be up up to the roommates to figure out the responsibility and exchange money between you. If the PM was smarter, he would have send a bill to everyone, to increase the chances of it getting paid.

        Why didn’t you guys just get together and split the bill among yourselves, and then send the manager multiple checks in one envelope?

  • Scott B.

    Hi, I have a question. I moved into a room in a house in California but I never signed a lease to live there. My roommate who was the only one left on the original release got into some heavy drugs, caused a lot of damage, and left owing a lot of rent. I have since moved out and did so hastily since I felt it was unsafe. If I was never on the lease and never signed any documents or agreements to live there, can I be held responsible for rent/damages?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Scott,

      Generally speaking, a tenant has to be on a lease in order to be held responsible for it. I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice, but I very much doubt the landlord could hold you to it – even if they did take you to small claims court. I suppose you could be held responsible for physical property damages if they can prove you lived there. However, if you had an oral agreement, you should try to honor it. But if your roommate is on drugs, I doubt he is going to care about much of anything. Good luck to you.

  • Becky

    Without informing me of their decision of letting a stranger into my apartment, my building manager gave their keys and accepted rent from a potential new roomate who I asked to submit to them a credit check. She just walked in on me one day. A month later we both signed a M2M lease where we are both listed as “renter” and one full amount is set for “rent per month” I’ve always paid by 2 separate checks even with my old roommate. Now 3 mo later I really want her out because of her always using my personal things and calling them “ours.” I lived there 18 mo longer then her. She told me I should be the one to move out since I have the problem. If I leave without giving 30 days written notice, can the landlord come after me?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Becky,

      If your lease requires 30 days notice, then that’s the amount of notice you have to give, even if you don’t like your roommate.

      Although, you should check your state laws, because depending on your state, the month-to-month notice requirement might be less: https://www.landlordology.com/state-laws

      Good luck, please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

  • Debbie

    My son who is in college, signed a 1-year lease with 5 other students to each rent a bedroom in a 6 bedroom house. Sounded like a great idea to him and his 3 friends. Unfortunately 2 of the guys have decided that they are in control of how things are going to go (as we were afraid of). Anyway, the 2 guys decided they wanted to move in 2 weeks earlier than they had agreed in the original signed contract; they apparently changed the contract over the summer unbeknownst to my son, and now want to collect more rent from everyone. Is this legal if my son did not agree or sign any updated contract? The 2 have already moved in by the way.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Debbie,

      How could they change the contract with the landlord without your son’s signature (assuming he signed the original lease)??? I would argue the modified lease is invalid without all signatures. I suggest calling the management company and pressing them on this issue. They might squirm a bit and back down. If not, you might need to hire a lawyer (which I am not). Good luck to you.

  • Park

    i have a jointly and severally liable lease with 3 tenants. Although I’m receiving the full rent amount, 2 of the tenants informed me that the 3rd tenant is not paying their share of the rent and would like the 3rd tenant evicted. with a jointly and severally liable lease am i able to evict an individual tenant?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Park

      Generally speaking, no. They are considered one entity and it’s their problem that the 3rd tenant is having trouble with rent. It only becomes your problem when they fail to pay rent in full. I would suggest that you tell them to work it out among themselves and that you would approve a lease modification if they ever convinced the bad roommate to move out and a new one to move in. But don’t get involved until they violate the lease somehow.

      I hope that helps. Please know that in not a lawyer nor is this legal advice.

  • Richard

    I was wondering how a landlord can sue a person that was invited to stay with the tenant who was on a lease and the guest was not a party to any lease or bills for rent and eviction costs

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Richard

      Just because anyone can sue anyone, it doesn’t mean they will win the judgement.

      If the guest cause serious damage, he should pay for it, lease or not lease. That’s just the right thing to do.

      However, I have no idea what your situation is like. If you are being sued, you really should consult an attorney.

  • Josh

    Hi Lucas. Thanks so much for posting this article. If you don’t mind, may i have your opinion on the following situation.

    There are 3 of us in an apt. 2 of us just found out that 1 was behind 3 months on the rent. The total rent is 1500.00 (500/person). Neither the landlord or the roommate made us aware of the situation, until a few days ago, at which point the landlord has threatened to start the eviction process in less than two weeks if the 3rd roommate has not caught up.

    According to the Illinois law you mentioned in your article, are the two roommates who has paid rent still liable? If our Landlord did not put a clause, would the joint and several liability still be applicable. Please let me know your thoughts. Thanks so much!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Josh,

      Sorry to hear about the roommate situation. If all 3 of you are on the lease together, then everyone would be responsible for the full rent amount. The Illinois law mentioned in the article above was pulled from wikipedia – which is not a legal source. But even so, it says that “Illinois has abolished joint and several liability of defendants less than 25% at fault.” If there are 3 lessees, then each of you would have 33% fault – so I would suppose that that law (if true) does not apply.

      The only exception would be that if each of you had a separate and independent lease with the landlord, for $500 each. In that case, you would be responsible for your roommate.

      I hope that helps. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

  • Tammy

    My daughter signed a lease with 3 other people and the rent is divided up into 4 equal parts. I understand that all tenants are responsible for the full rent regardless of how they decide to split it. My problem is that my daughter just found out that the landlord let 2 of the tennants out of the lease today without consulting with my daughter and the other tennants. Now my daughter can’t afford to stay there. How can they change or modify the lease without everyone’s approval?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Tammy,

      Your daughter could certainly argue that no changes can be made to the lease without approval from everyone on it. Any changes done without all signatures would probably not be legitimate.

      Your daughter is still responsible for the full amount (hence joint and several liability), so I don’t know if this changes anything. It’s the same as if those two roommate just decided to abandon the lease without permission. Your daughter would still be on the hook. The only real difference is that it’s unlikely the landlord will go after them.

      If your daughter gets in trouble here, it would be wise to consult an attorney and have the lawyer write a strong-worded letter to the landlord.

      I hope that helps. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

  • Griselda

    Hello,

    My boyfriend signed a 1 year lease with roommate and gave his 30 day notice once the lease was up. We are now living in a new place and the previous landlord refuses to rid his name of lease until new roommate finds a suitable to replace the person leaving. Can this happen? I don’t think my bf would be responsible once the lease is up and a notice was given to vacate.

  • Jeff

    Hello from Arizona
    ,
    I have three tenants, a married couple, and the wife’s sister, who in the lease is actually listed as an occupant, not a tenant. The husband just decided to up and leave 4 months ago, and they are now basically 3 months behind on rent. The lease does not specifically have any wording in regards to ‘joint and several liability’. They are in the middle of a messy divorce, and I am in the process of evicting them, which the wife and sister are actually fine with. Can i still sue them independently for the amounts I feel each should be responsible for, or must I sue them as a whole. Also, if the limit in small claims is, say, $2500, is that for all parties, or can i sue them each for $2500. Thanks you.

  • priti

    Does this clause mean that the landlord can give notice to one of the two tenants in a property. And it is assumed both have been given notice? Or is notice required to be given to both tenants

    • Lucas Hall

      Yes – because both tenants are considered one entity. Notice would only have to be given to one person on the lease, and then it’s that tenant’s responsibility to tell the others.

      But a good landlord would just CC everyone.

      • Priti

        Lucas, what I’d the tenant receiving the notice does not inform the others, (assuming the landlord has informed them)

        • Lucas Hall

          That’s their issue, not the landlords if the lease states they are under joint and several liability. But again, a good landlord would send proper notice and then email all of the tenants too.

  • Ernie Potter

    When a parent is co-signer on a lease for a son or daughter, would you still use the “Joint and Several Liability ” clause in the lease? Thanks for any imput!!

  • Ernie Potter

    Lucas, your clause that you recommend using mentions tenants, but not “co-signer”s such as the mother who will not live in my unit. You mention tenants or occupants. Could I just say tenants and co-signers as technically the mother is not a tenant but she is a co-signer on the lease. This property is in South Carolina and I just want to get the wording right in the clause I use in the lease agreement. Is a co-signer considered a tenant?? Any suggestions on the re-wording ?

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