what is a co tenant

People from many different walks of life look to rental properties to make their life easier without the need to purchase an apartment or home. From doctors living temporarily in a new city to college students looking to live close to class, there are lots of different situations that lead people into the rental market.

Depending on where you manage properties, you might come across renters that want to rent with roommates or co-tenants.

Renting to these groups doesn’t change much, but there are a few things about co-tenant rights that you need to know. What is a co-tenant compared to a roommate? Today, we’ll help you figure that out!

A Table Of Contents For Co-Tenant Rights

What Is A Co-Tenant?

A co-tenant is a secondary tenant that is part of the rental agreement. A tenant, co-tenant, and landlord will all be in the same rental agreement in most cases, but there are some situations where each tenant has their own individual lease with the landlord.

Everyone on the lease is considered to be a co-tenant, and every adult living at the property (regardless of relationship) should be included on a lease.

The main point is that all co-tenants have some type of rental agreement with the landlord. The exact terms and situations that led to those agreements may differ from property to property, but none of them is there without some type of legally bound responsibility to you and your property. Likewise, all tenants have equal co-tenant rights that you must uphold.

What’s The Difference Between A Tenant And A Co-Tenant?

What’s The Difference Between A Tenant And A Co-Tenant?

A tenant is an individual that rents one of your properties. Co-tenants are two or more people that rent a property together on the same or on separate leases. 

It’s possible that you’ve technically rented to a dating couple before without even realizing that they would be considered to be co-tenants. In most situations, renting to co-tenants is no different than renting to an individual.

Are Co-Tenants And Roommates The Same Thing?

Some people hear the word “co-tenant” and think, “Isn’t that just another word for a roommate?” In a way, the words roommate and co-tenant are somewhat interchangeable, but there are some important differences between the two. There’s also another word that needs to be thrown into the mix: sublet.

Co-tenants are, as described above, two or more individuals that rent a property together. Each of them has an agreement with the landlord.

A sub-tenant is a tenant that has an agreement with the tenant to pay part or all of the rent for a specific period. The sub-tenant has no relationship with the property landlord. Not all landlords allow subletting, but some will allow it for a fee. The main tenant is still the one ultimately responsible for rent and the property condition.

So, what is a roommate? 

In most cases, a roommate would refer to a sub-tenant, but the word could be used to describe a co-tenant or a sub-tenant depending on the specific arrangement. The word roommate doesn’t specifically describe either one, so if you need to know for sure which the individual will be, you will need to ask for more details.

How Co-Tenancy Works?

How does a co-tenancy situation actually work?

It usually goes something like this:

  1. Both tenants sign an agreement (or a joint agreement) with the landlord.
  2. The co-tenants split the rent at their own discretion and pay the landlord monthly.
  3. All required utility bills are also split according to the co-tenants’ desires.
  4. Terms and lease conditions must be followed in the same way that they would be followed in any other situation.

As you can see, renting to co-tenants doesn’t need to be any more difficult than renting to a single individual.

What To Do When A Co-Tenant Is Not Paying Rent?

What To Do When A Co-Tenant Is Not Paying Rent?

When one co-tenant stops paying rent, it can become a big burden on the other tenant because they are then going to be held liable for the full rent amount. If rent is not paid on time or in full, the responsibility may fall on the other tenant to cover it unless the tenants signed separate lease agreements.

Co-tenants typically sign both of their names to a single lease. In a way, one co-tenant is acting like a guarantor for the other one. If one of them stops paying rent, you can seek rent fulfillment from any of the co-tenants. The terms of the lease must be kept, even if the other co-tenant is dropping the ball.

The remaining co-tenant may also be able to collect back pay for some of the lost money from the other tenant, but that will require legal action. In the meantime, the remaining co-tenant is still responsible for paying in full.

Separate Leases

There are some situations where you may have signed separate leases with each of the tenants. If this is the case, things will be a little bit different if one of the co-tenants breaks the rules of the lease and stops paying rent.

If this happens, you can evict that individual co-tenant and seek retribution for the lost rent payments.

Separate leases can be difficult for landlords to manage for that reason. It is unlikely that your other co-tenant will agree to a random new co-tenant living in the same space as them, and you won’t be able to charge them the full rent of the property until a new lease period begins.

For that reason, most landlords find that it is better to keep co-tenants on the same lease in most cases. While it can be hard for the co-tenants if one of them stops paying rent, your position will be more financially secure.

Co-Tenants: Part Of The Process

Now that you know a bit more about what a co-tenant is as well as co-tenant rights, you have probably realized that you’ve managed your fair share of co-tenant situations before without even realizing that they could be considered to be a unique situation.

It is up to you to decide if you want to rent to co-tenants or allow subletting at your properties, but remember that some local or state laws may set rules about these contracts as well. Colorado, for example, does not allow landlords to forbid subletting. 

Understanding when and how you are renting to co-tenants is important so that you can help the lease to be fair, equal, and binding for both parties involved. A well thought-out lease can protect the interests of you and the co-tenants, and that is the type of lease that you want to create for your tenants!