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posted: 4/15/2012 5:06 AM

Rental forum: Illegal rental occupant faces tough decision

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Q. Last year I moved into my friend's apartment after receiving verbal approval from the landlord. My friend is on a one-year lease that prohibits subletting without written consent.

Now the landlord is demanding I fill out a rental application, provide references and sign the lease. The weird thing is that the lease the landlord presented to me is for the full amount of the rent -- not just my half -- and it prohibits me from having a new roommate!

The landlord says she will make a verbal exception and allow us to stay, but she still wants me to agree to her "no subletting" policy in writing. Her rationale is that if my roommate leaves, I may still remain, and she doesn't want to deal with new roommates in the future.

Every month there seems to be a new crisis with this landlord (the latest issue is regarding utilities and the method of payment) so I don't want to sign the lease. I also don't want to give her $30 to run a credit check or provide any of my information to her. I truly think the landlord is "not all there" based on her constant mood swings and reneging on verbal agreements.

My roommate on the original lease is begging me to sign and to not rock the boat. Knowing the landlord's personality, I want to stay as uninvolved with the landlord as possible, and I want her to know as little about me as possible. Do I have to fill out these forms after living here nearly a year?

A. You have some strange circumstances that I will pursue in greater detail, but the basic answer to your question is that the landlord can require you to fill out an application and provide references even though you have already been living in the rental unit.

The landlord has every right to know who is occupying the premises. I actually think that you are the one who has the most to lose here by not having a written lease with your name on it.

The landlord seems to be very loose with the formalities and that can be a problem if she suddenly remembers things differently and wants you to leave or pay more, etc.

No landlord is going to allow you to sign a lease for "half the rent," as there would be concern if your roommate leaves and you try to pay your half of the total rent and claim you have paid the rent in full. That may be why this landlord seems so concerned about roommates.

I can certainly understand why you don't want to sign a separate lease for the entire amount if it has a clause that prohibits you from having a new roommate because if your current roommate bails, you are stuck paying the full amount of the lease. Of course, that is a clause you could also delete and see if the landlord will allow it, as she has already agreed to make an exception.

I would advise that if you want to stay and you feel comfortable being business partners with your roommate, then you should fill out the application, pay the application fee and sign a new lease. But, I wouldn't sign a separate lease or allow your roommate to continue to live there under her original lease.

I would suggest you start from scratch and ask the landlord to prepare a new lease that both you and your roommate sign under which you would then be joint and severally responsible with your roommate for the entire rent.

Remember that being a roommate is indeed analogous to being in business, because you are (and the roommate is) responsible for everything that happens at the property.

For example, there is no such thing as "I paid my share of the rent" or "Don't expect me to pay, as the damage to the rental unit was caused by my roommate and her friends."

The fact that you have lived there for nearly a year and faithfully paid your rent, been an excellent tenant, etc., does not preclude a landlord's reasonable request to require a written application and the tenant screening fee. Of course, if you don't accommodate the landlord's reasonable requests, she can still initiate an eviction.

Weigh all of the pros and cons and decide how badly you want to stay. If you stay, then you must cooperate with the landlord who seems to have trouble clearly determining and then sticking to her own policies. But protect yourself and your roommate by getting a new joint lease, which will also minimize the potential for future verbal modifications by the "not all there" landlord.

• Property manager Robert Griswold is author of "Property Management for Dummies." Email

2012, Inman News Service

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