Group Houses in DC: The Pros and Perils for Landlords
Property owners with a larger home may find high demand among groups of roommates, as the Washington, D.C. area’s large student and young professional population look for ways to afford nicer places or better neighborhoods.
But anyone who has lived with roommates knows that squabbles can push friendly housemates apart, and new jobs or budding relationships can lure others away. And the last thing any landlord wants is a revolving door of residents.
Tenants of group houses should not have the ability to replace departing residents on their own, and landlords should sign a new lease with all tenants whenever someone new joins the group, said Emilie Fairbanks, a landlord-tenant attorney practicing in the district.
“At some point you’ll get a problem resident, and if they aren’t on the lease but are paying you rent, you’ll have a difficult time getting them out,” Fairbanks said.
If some or all of the current residents aren’t the tenants on the lease, it can make it difficult to resolve problems, such as late rent or damage to the property. Leases make all of the tenants on the lease liable for abiding by all of the terms of the lease, even if they are no longer living there, but finding them may be difficult or impractical.
Landlords need to be aware of who is living in the house, how it is being kept and where the rent is coming from, Fairbanks said. When they don’t, she said it is a challenging process to sort out who they have the landlord-tenant relationship with, who has been paying the rent and who is causing the problems.
“It can be sorted out, but it’s time and money you can avoid spending by always having a lease with the people living in the property and keeping an eye on what’s going on,” she said.
Fairbanks recommends that leases require one monthly lease payment, so that tenants all feel responsible for the entire amount, not just their portion. But she cautions landlords not to become a “dorm parent.” Stay out of roommate squabbles and discussions about how rooms or household chores are divided.
Tenants also face risks in group housing, as most leases hold all tenants legally responsible for paying the rent, even if one roommate skips out, and for any rule breaking or damage to the house, even if only one tenant caused the problems. Many resources are available to help tenants navigate group living, including Arlington’s Landlord-Tenant Handbook, which recommends that group tenants create a written agreement detailing division of rent, utility bills, and deposits, as well as rules not covered by the lease, such as kitchen use, cleaning guidelines, division of storage, guests and quiet hours.
If dealing with a group housing situation and the extra legwork and paperwork required to screen new tenants and update leases sounds like a hassle, an experienced property management company can handle the work, monitor the house and ensure that the rental income and property are secure.
–By Jill S. Gross
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