Does everyone living in an apartment have to be on the lease? …
… well, this depends. Is the person over 18, are they a minor, what does the lease say?
This question is asked a fair amount in our Facebook Group and it can get confusing with the different variables including age, state laws, co-signers, etc.
Here’s a good example of a landlord trying to do the right thing but just not knowing what they can and can’t do when it comes to who is on the lease.
In this post, we will answer all the commonly asked questions around who signs a lease.
Table of contents for Who Needs to Sign the Lease?
- Is a child considered a tenant?
- How old to rent an apartment and sign a lease?
- Does everyone living in the apartment need to be on the lease?
- The lease protects landlords and tenants
- What if a minor turns 18 while a family is renting?
- FAQs on who should be on the lease
A child is considered anyone under the age of 18 in the United States. A child is not a tenant and is considered an occupant until they reach the age of 18.
A child occupant may be listed on the lease as an occupant under 18 years old but should not have to sign anything nor be listed as a tenant on the lease.
>How old to rent an apartment and sign a lease?
You can rent an apartment at the age of 18. The only way to rent an apartment at an earlier age would be if the child were to become legally emancipated from their parents. Emancipation of minors is a legal mechanism by which a minor is freed from control by their parents or guardians, and the parents or guardians are freed from any and all responsibility toward the child.
If a child is legally emancipated there are still laws at the state level that determine what they can and cannot do. This resource from Cornell.edu has more information on the state level.
As mentioned earlier minors are not considered tenants and do not have to be on the lease. They can be listed as occupants if state laws allow but cannot sign the lease. If a landlord has a minor sign a lease it won’t hold up in the court as a viable contract since the minor is not considered an adult.
What about adult children?
Adult children (age 18 or older) should be listed on the lease and they should sign the lease as well.
If an adult child does not sign the lease there are risks for the landlord and adult child.
The risks for the landlord is that there is one less responsible party on the lease. The adult child wouldn’t be bound by the rules of the lease and it makes enforcing those rules more difficult.
The risk for the adult child is that they’re considered a guest instead of a tenant. If problems arise it will be much easier to have the adult child removed from the premise.
Do adult roommates need to be on the lease?
Any adult roommate should be a signed party on the lease. A tenant that has a roommate that is not on the lease is creating unnecessary liability for themselves.
For example, if the roommate damages the rental to the tune of $1,000 the landlord will charge the tenant for those damages. The people who sign the lease are the ones responsible for rent, damages, and other items spelled out in the lease.
A renter that sneaks an additional person into the rental that is not a party on the lease is only increasing their liability.
Do co-signers need to sign the lease?
As the name suggests, a co-signer should be signing the lease as an added level of security for the landlord.
A co-signer is typical in situations where the renter doesn’t have a rental history or has no credit history (common amongst college students). The co-signer is legally responsible to pay for any unpaid rent or damages from the tenant.
This added insurance is a way for a younger renter to find housing without the landlord feeling exposed to a risky tenant. It’s imperative that the co-signer signs the lease for this reason.
Children should be listed as occupants
Children living in the rental should simply be listed as occupants and should not be signing a lease if under the age of 18. During the application process, a landlord should not inquire about children in anyway as familial status is a protected class under the Fair Housing Act.
Sometimes a tenant may view a lease only as a landlord protection but that is not the case. The lease protects the tenant as well.
If there are issues that arise the lease is the contract that will determine how those issues are handled.
The lease should address whether or not every occupant needs to be on the lease or not. Every person responsible for paying rent must sign the lease and it’s a good idea to have any occupant consider of adult age sign the lease as well.
If a tenant sneaks someone into the rental they are creating additional liability for themselves and that guest is not afforded the same rights as the tenants responsible for the lease.
It’s a good idea that everyone of legal age signs the lease.
A standard lease tends to be a 12 month lease. If an occupant turns 18 during the lease it’s typical to not address the situation until it is time for a lease renewal.
At lease renewal, you can have the 18 year old sign the lease as an adult tenant. This is important because you’ll want to update and run background checks each year on your tenants as life circumstances may change. A landlord should know if the 18 year old tenant has a record or is considered a high-risk tenant.
A co-tenant addendum can created when the child turns 18.
Rental agreement for child living at home
A co-tenant lease addendum is the best way to handle when a tenant’s child turns 18. The addendum should cover the time period from the child’s birthday to when the existing lease agreement is renewed.
When landlords see that the minor child is about to turn 18, it’s appropriate to send the tenant a written notice that they and their child will need to complete some new paperwork for a co-tenant lease addendum within two to three weeks after that child’s birthday.
Setting up the lease addendum with the tenant and their adult child is a good way to make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to responsibility for rent, security deposits, damage and following the rules.
A co-tenant addendum is simply a form adding the child as an adult tenant, like a roommate. It essentially requires a full background check for the new addition, copies of identifying documents, and says in writing that the new adult will abide by all terms of the lease agreement, including financial.
What this means is that if the original tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord can seek compensation from any other adults named in the lease agreement. It also means that if the landlord is trying to seek out the costs to repair damages to the rental property that the new adult can be collected from.
It should also be clear in the addendum that the co-tenant didn’t contribute to the original security deposit, and therefore they have no rights to any deposit refunds—only the original tenant can receive funds back. There should be no language about whether or not the new adult should pay rent–that’s between the tenants, as long as the landlord gets the full amount on time and every month.
Also, once a young adult is added as a co-tenant, they cannot be forced out of the rental property by any other means except a legal eviction process. A young adult tenant cannot be evicted for just any old reason, either. It must only be done based on a breach of the lease agreement, like every other tenant. Remember, a landlord cannot just evict one tenant and not the others on a lease agreement–it’s all adults or none of them.
The addendum should last until the lease agreement expires and the current tenants want to renew. When the lease is ready to renew, the landlord can decide whether to just allow the parents to reapply, or include the young adult as well in the renewal process. Landlords will have to make the personal decision on what standards to set for adult children. In other words, if the parents are good tenants and continue to meet the criteria, but the adult child has no credit history and a weak job history, the landlord may well allow things to continue as they are and lower their application standards for the adult child, given the special circumstances.
Of course, landlords can go the other way and stick strictly to their criteria, which an adult child won’t meet. In that event, the parents would have to decide whether to sign the lease without the adult child, or go elsewhere. As with most cases requiring landlord decisions, it often just depends on the parents, the adult child themselves, and many other factors.
Landlords should beware, however, because in some municipalities, such as San Francisco, there are laws protecting tenants who lived in a rental property as a minor and then chooses to stay after they come of age. As an original lawful occupant, the new adult may have some rights, so landlords should get to know whether this condition applies in their city.
Paper vs. Reality for an Adult Child
Of course, landlords need to treat adult children of existing tenants as adults legally, but adjust their expectations accordingly to reflect the reality of the situation. While these new adults should indeed be listed on the lease agreement, most new adults won’t know much about leases, rental agreements and more, and they will just trust their parents and sign where they are told.
After all, a high school student simply won’t have the resources or the knowledge to override their parents when it comes to the lease agreement. Having the adult child sign the agreement or addendum, however, can help both landlords and parents to keep adult children in line and responsible for their behavior as well as their guests.
Landlords need to keep in mind that although the new adult is technically legally as responsible as the original tenant, it will be nearly impossible to collect rent from the tenant’s child in most cases. Many landlords are fine with adding the new adult to the lease agreement but don’t hold out hope of collecting from them if anything goes wrong because they realize the improbability of the tenant’s child to be able to provide any sort of financial contribution to the situation. However, landlords are well within their rights to try.
All in all, landlords should handle the adult child of a current tenant to create the best legal coverage for themselves and their property, but understand that the realities of enforcing or collecting will be somewhat different. While grown children should be treated on paper as the adults they now are, they are in many ways still children. Of course, what is done on paper protects the landlord and the rental property. What the landlord actually does if and when it comes to collections is something that each landlord will have to decide for themselves.
Legally, the landlord can require all the same things of the adult child as any other adult on the lease, but as a realistic landlord, it is usually the right thing to do by taking a specialized approach to a special situation.
Do all tenants need to sign the lease?
If they’re considered a tenant the answer is yes they should sign the lease. A tenant is someone who is of legal age whereas an occupant (such as a minor) may be listed on the lease agreement but is not expected to sign the lease.
Can a leaseholder kick out an occupant?
If the occupant is legally considered an adult and is not a signed party to the lease than the leaseholder can kick out (or evict) the authorized occupant.
Can someone live with you without being on the lease?
Yes, someone can live with the tenant without being on the lease. However, it is important to distinguish the difference between a guest and a long-term guest.