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Sharing a lease can save money, cause headaches


Sharing an apartment with a friend or acquaintance can be fun -- and save you money. But it also can create problems.

* One tenant moves out, leaving the other tenant to pay the full rent until the end of the lease term.

* One tenant stays, but refuses to pay his share of the rent.

* Two women rent an apartment, and one woman's boyfriend makes himself at home. Three's a crowd.

* One tenant is disruptive. The other tenant and the landlord want to take the disruptive tenant's name off the lease and to have him leave.

* Two tenants agree to split up -- with one tenant willing to take over the lease -- but the landlord won't agree.

With a lease, all parties must agree to a change in the terms of the tenancy so that one tenant and the landlord cannot agree to remove the other tenant's name from the lease.

Similarly, even if the tenants agree that one tenant can leave and ask that the tenant's name be taken off the lease, the landlord doesn't have to agree.

Both tenants are responsible for the lease to the end of the tenancy.

If one tenant refuses to pay rent -- whether or not that tenant continues to live there -- and the other tenant cannot or will not pay the full rent, and both tenants are evicted as a result, the landlord can sue one tenant or both tenants for lost rent.

If the remaining tenant pays the full rent until the end of the lease, or is evicted, that tenant can hold the other tenant responsible for damages -- that is, for the other half of the rent that he paid or for the rent owed to the landlord because both tenants were evicted.

Should the landlord sue only one tenant, that tenant can sue the other tenant for his share of the damages, and join that suit to the landlord's suit so that both tenants have to appear before the judge.

What to do

Have a clear understanding of each other's lifestyle, how the apartment is to be managed and what is expected of each other, especially as to guests, parties, noise and cleanliness.

If possible, each tenant should share with the other a current credit report, references and job history and income history.

(Most apartment complex companies will require that both tenants be qualified and have good credit and sufficient income -- so a credit report usually wouldn't be necessary).

George B. Laurent is executive director of BNI, or Baltimor Neighborhoods Inc., a private non-profit group that works to resolve tenant-landlord problems and to eliminate housing discrimination.

QUESTIONS? Send questions to BNI, 2217 St. Paul St., Baltimore 21218. Or comment on Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800 (268-7736 in Anne Arundel County, 836-5028 in Harford County, 848-0338 in Carroll County). Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6171 after you hear the greeting.For questions about specific tenant-landlord problems, call the BNI staff at (410) 243-6007.

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