by Ben Luxon October 16, 2019 4 min read

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Joint and several liability (for residential leases) means that each tenant is jointly and separately responsible for the entire rent amount and for any damages.

  • What this means for tenants is that the entire rent can be collected from just one tenant, if for some reason the other tenants were to disappear. Each tenant in this way is liable to pay the full rent even if the other tenants flake out.
  • Secondly, it means that even innocent tenants are liable to pay for the damages of one. For example, one roommate decides to get a dog that proceeds to systematically destroy the property - all tenants have shared responsibility and liability for damages.

What does this mean Legally?

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

Joint and several liability means a claimant may pursue an obligation against just one party for full recompense. It then becomes the defendant’s responsibility to sort out their respective proportions of liability and payment.

This means that the claimant only has to pursue one tenant instead of bringing separate cases to court against individuals and it becomes the defendant's responsibility to ensure the other tenants share responsibility.

joint and several liability

Why is this Important?

Forcing joint and several liability with your tenants will allow you to view them as a single entity. 

This makes life easier, as you can imagine if you have multiple tenants in a single house. It is worth stipulating joint and several liability in a clause in your lease.

There are many real-world situations where this stipulation could come in handy:

Scenario 1: Full Rent Responsibility

Let us say you are renting a property with four bedrooms with four different tenants. At some point during their lease, for whatever reason, two of the tenants move out without telling you. The joint and several liability clause means that the remaining two tenants remain responsible for the whole of the rent not just their portions. It then becomes their responsibility to find two new tenants for those rooms, or pay the full rent between them.

Scenario 2: Pursuing One Instead of All

The second scenario involves all your tenants deciding to up and leave. In this scenario, you only need to find and track down one of the four tenants. This clause allows you to pursue that one tenant for the full amount owed. 

The alternative would be tracking down all four of them and pursuing individual cases against each to get rent owed. The time and expense could be astronomical. 

You are also allowed to use the security deposit to make repairs, even if the main culprit for damages didn’t contribute any money to the original deposit.

Scenario 3: Communication

When giving out notices (like a notice that you will be coming over to make repairs) you only have to give it to one of the tenants as supposed to all tenants individually. This counts as 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.

Joint and Several Liability Lease Clause Example

In order to protect yourself, you should have a clause in your lease that forces “joint and several liability” from your tenants. Here is an example of what that clause looks like:

MULTIPLE TENANTS OR OCCUPANTS. Each Tenant(s) is jointly and severally liable for all Lease Agreement obligations. If any Tenant(s), guests, or occupant violates the Lease Agreement, all Tenant(s) are considered to have violated the Lease Agreement. Landlord’s requests and notices to any one Tenant(s) constitute notice to all Tenant(s) and occupants. Notices and requests from any one Tenant(s) or occupant (including repair requests and entry permissions) constitute notice from all Tenant(s). In eviction suits, each Tenant(s) is considered the agent of all other Tenants in the Premise for service of process. A notice to vacate must be signed by all Tenant(s) or it will not be considered valid.

Exceptions

joint and several liability

There are exceptions to the above-stated rules which are dependent on state laws. You will want to research your own state laws thoroughly before including a joint and several liability clause in your lease so you understand fully the legal implications. If you have any uncertainties you should talk with a licensed legal professional.

Some examples of exceptions to this rule. According to Wikipedia:

Many states have limited the applicability of the rule of joint and several liability. California and Ohio have retained joint and several liability only for economic damages, such as medical expenses and lost wages. Illinois has abolished joint and severaliability of defendants less than 25% at fault. Iowa and New York have abolished joint and several liability for parties less than 50% at fault. Louisiana and Mississippi allow joint and several liability only to the extent necessary to cover 50% of the plaintiffs damages.

The potential legal reform of this clause could include abolition of the rule of joint and several liability and adoption of a rule of pure several (“proportionate”) liability. A party would be liable for damages only in an amount proportionate to his or her responsibility for the plaintiffs harm. A defendant found 10% responsible for plaintiff’s harm would be liable for 10% of plaintiff’s damages.

Thanks for reading and we hope you found this blog interesting! However, do note that the purposes of this article is for general information. We are not licensed financial or legal professionals and as such nothing in this article should be understood to be financial or legal advice. If you are in need of financial or legal assistance please seek the help of a competent professional.

Ben Luxon

"Ben is a co-founder, author and real estate enthusiast. His interest in all things entrepreneurial has led him to work with real estate professionals all over the world, distilling their knowledge into articles and Ebooks. His love of travelling has taken him to over 10 countries in the last year, where he has sampled the craft beer of them all."



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