Are you co-signing a lease or rental agreement, or thinking about it? If so, there are many legal considerations that you should think about first.
When you co-sign a lease, you are essentially signing the lease as if it were your own. This means that you are exposing yourself to full liability on the lease. You won't be the back-up person, but the main person.
Co-signing a lease for someone is definitely not a decision to make lightly, even though you won't be a tenant. Here are five legal considerations to keep in mind:
Your credit score. Co-signing a lease means that you're agreeing to assume the financial liability of the lease. So for example, if the tenant is unable to pay rent, then that responsibility falls on you. If you can't make those payments, or are facing some kind of financial crunch, you could default. This, in turn, could adversely affect your credit score.
Damages. As a co-signer, you could also possibly be held liable for paying for any damages to the apartment. Depending on what the lease specifically says about security deposits and damages, you should be prepared to cover a whole host of payments if the tenant can't.
Subleases. Depending on what the lease says about subleases, you as a co-signer may also be responsible for any sublessees who move in. That means when a tenant assigns or sublets their rented unit to someone else, you could still be liable if the sublessee fails to make payments.
Other roommates. If the person you're co-signing with has a roommate or multiple roommates, you may want to reconsider signing the lease, or at least taking a good look at the terms in the lease. While you may trust the family member or friend who's asked you to co-sign, you just never know how other roommates will act and whether or not they'll be a huge liability.
Legal claims. Lastly, don't forget: When you co-sign a lease, you're assuming not only financial responsibility, but opening yourself up to legal liability as well. If a landlord wants to, he can exercise the option of going after a co-signer, as opposed to the actual tenant, regardless of whether or not all other alternatives have been exercised first.