Legal Rights of Roommates with No Lease (What You Need To Know)

There are a variety of reasons why people choose to live with a roommate, but the most common cause is financial stability. The cost of living compared to the minimum wage in certain states is steep for many individuals, so they have to rely on sharing financial responsibilities with others.

This is where taking on a roommate comes in handy...

College students are a group of individuals who consistently look to find cheaper alternatives, especially for a student’s car insurance living away from home. So it is no surprise they thrive off the idea of sharing their financial responsibilities by finding roommates.

But, you may not realize there are few legal rights if you are a roommate without a lease

What makes someone a tenant?

Generally, when a person pays rent or agrees to live somewhere, they are considered a tenant. However, the term “pay” can be interpreted differently. One can pay in the form of money, labor, or by giving other things. Without an agreement, if the supposed tenant has never paid or given something of value in return for a place to live, then they are not considered a tenant. All of which applies even if a person is only using a part of a home or sleeping on a couch.

Alternatively, despite it being simple to be considered a tenant, an individual may have limited protection under specific state housing laws if the primary tenant lives in a privately-owned building, and only one person has signed the lease. Situations as such can make it difficult to resolve conflicts with a roommate on your own. 

Different states have variations to their housing laws, so a potential tenant must research their specific state’s conditions before agreeing to move in with a roommate. In most cases, tenants do not have a right to a roommate if they live in public housing or if the lease does not give the tenant permission to live with someone else.

Though, it can be challenging to evict a roommate in many states if a tenant has lived in the home for at least 30 days (even if the tenant has never paid rent),  have a valid lease (or a roommate agreement) signed by both parties, or the primary tenant of the home has accepted rent from you.

Difference Between a Subtenant, Co-Tenant, and Master Tenant

When deciphering your rights as a roommate without a lease, it is essential to understand what a subtenant, co-tenant, and a master tenant are. As stated above, someone may have limited protection when considering a specific state’s housing laws, and when comprehending your role within the interpretation of those laws, it is crucial to understand these three titles fully. 

  1. A master tenant is a person who entered a written or oral contract with a landlord, and this individual is responsible for collecting rent from subtenants and paying it to the landlord. 
  2. The co-tenant serves a similar function as the master tenant since they too have a direct relationship with the landlord as they pay rent directly to the landlord and have signed a lease agreement. 
  3. In contrast, the subtenant has no association with the landlord and instead pays money to either the master tenant or co-tenant.

What are the rent limitations?

So you are not taken advantage of when renting with a roommate, it helps to know what the rent limitations are within your area of residence. You can find this information with a quick search online, but as a rule of thumb, if you live in an area that has minimal market-rate regulations, then a roommate could be charged with no limit. 

On the other hand, within a regulated market-rate area, master tenants cannot legally charge more than a proportionate share of the rent. The most they could charge is up to half of the total rent for the home. Areas that are not regulated (which is rare) or have minimal regulation can charge a disproportionate amount of rent without it being illegal, even though it may be unfair.

The Process of Evicting Someone with No Lease

Based on whether someone is considered a tenant, the person attempting to evict the other may have to go through the courts to do so. If someone is viewed as a tenant based on one of the reasons listed above, they cannot merely kick someone out of the property. 

In many cases, even without a lease, a person could be given a judgment for wrongful eviction and have to pay out a large sum of money to the roommate if they attempt to remove them from the property without going through the court. 

The roommate could even go as far as suing for living costs while they were out of the property, lost or stolen personal property, pain and suffering, or even for acting maliciously and recklessly.

The process of evicting a roommate varies depending on how the lease expressively explains the rules and regulations of having a roommate. If the lease gives a tenant permission to act as a “master tenant,” they can go through the courts directly to start the eviction process. 

Alternatively, if the lease does not grant permission for subtenants or the roommate is a tenant who has a direct relationship with the landlord, they would have to go through the landlord and request they start the eviction process. 

However, if the landlord is unaware of the roommate because it was not permitted within the lease, then both parties living within the home could face eviction because it is a breach of contract, which is one of many legal risks of renting with a roommate

In Conclusion: Always Read the Original Lease

Beyond the definitions given above for a tenant, you can always figure out if your presence within a property is legally abiding based on the wording within the original lease with the landlord. This is why you should request access to the lease before entering a roommate agreement with an individual.

If possible, you should even request to have direct access to the landlord to avoid conflicts with the roommate in the future. Most importantly, though, you should know the federal government protects all tenants from discrimination due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability under the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act extends beyond leasing to include advertising, preventing landlords from marketing their properties to specific groups of people.

So if you find yourself facing a conflict with a roommate about one of the reasons associated with the Fair Housing Act, you are legally protected and can pursue legal remedies.