Should I Co-Sign My Students Lease?
This is the time of year where many students start looking for off-campus housing for the next school year. Two to three months prior to moving in often provides the best rate, so for students looking for a new home as of June 1, the time to pick your spot is growing closer.
Many parents and family members are asked to co-sign a lease, but what does that mean? Wisconsin law states that everyone who signs the lease is “joint and severally liable.” This means that each tenant can be held individually responsible for the mistakes of any tenant. Tenants can be sued or evicted individually or as a group for the mistakes that one person or all of them have made, at the discretion of the landlord. What this means for cosigners: you can be held responsible for any financial problem that any tenant (or group of tenants) on the lease has incurred.
- Get to know your student’s future roommates. It may sound like overkill, but doing a background check, talking with other roommate’s families and discussing how other roommates plan to pay their bills may save a lot of headache in the future.
- Encourage your student and their roommates to complete a roommate agreement so they talk through what may happen if someone can’t pay bills, who will clean what, will they share food, whose names will the bills be in, who will shovel snow or mow the lawn, etc. Students can obtain a roommate agreement from the Neighborhood Housing Office or by participating in the Preferred Tenant Program.
- Teach your student how to research the average cost of utilities, parking, internet, etc. so they can plan ahead and make sure they can actually afford the property. For many first-time renters, the total costs can overwhelm them as they navigate their new living situation.
- The Milwaukee Code of Ordinances also has several rules related to how many people can live in a property. If your student plans to live with three or more people, have them talk with the University Legal Clinic to ensure their lease is valid.
- Make sure you’re only cosigning for this one lease, this one time. Some leases, in the spot where the cosigner puts his/her signature, explains that the cosigner is the guarantor for “this lease and all subsequent” leases or terms. You don’t want to be on the hook for the indefinite future, especially if your student leaves the contract before the roommates. Clarify that your willingness to cosign is only for this one term and no future terms.
With all of that in mind, co-signing a lease is a decision best left to each family. It’s a personal decision. Do your research and make sure you revisit the “how to finance college” discussion at least once a year.
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Updated Feb. 2, 2021