The California roommate agreement (“room rental agreement”) is a binding contract that co-tenants in a shared residential situation must sign. This document details the financial responsibilities of each tenant, as well as informing them about the terms, conditions, and rules associated with shared space.
It is necessary to complete a room rental agreement when more than one person lives in a rental unit but may not be stated on the lease, as in when a master tenant seeks a roommate. This document is considered to be a signed contract and is vital in the event of legal action.
The state of California has laws that outline the rights of the landlord, master tenant and roommates in a room rental agreement. In addition, local regulations that govern potential roommate situations exist and vary widely between counties. It is critical for landlords, master tenants and roommates to thoroughly research the laws that apply in their county of residence prior to creating and signing a room rental agreement.
Some sections of a room rental agreement resemble a residential lease agreement. A room rental agreement will address rent and security deposit amounts owed by the master tenant and roommates of the unit. It will also contain the signatures of all parties affected by the room rental agreement, including the landlord. In addition, the room rental agreement will address potential areas of roommate conflict, such as reimbursement of food and household supplies, cleaning and maintenance of the unit, division of utility costs, a smoking policy, an overnight guest policy and other possible sources of disagreement. These sections may vary depending on the situation and it is recommended that they are written in detail to eliminate confusion about the expectations of any party involved in the room rental agreement.
In the state of California, a roommate may either be considered a co-tenant or a subtenant. In simple terms, a co-tenant situation occurs when everyone who resides in a rental unit has signed a residential lease agreement with the landlord. In this instance, each co-tenant is responsible for submitting rent directly to the landlord. A subtenant situation occurs when one tenant has signed a residential lease agreement with the landlord and creates separate room rental agreements with additional roommates who occupy the premises. The roommates, or subtenants, typically submit rent to the master tenant who is then responsible for paying rent in its entirety to the landlord.
While a landlord’s signature is required on a room rental agreement, the purpose of this document is to define the expected living situation between roommates within a rental unit. It does not give the roommates, or subtenants, the ability to hold the landlord responsible for the terms listed on the room rental agreement or the original lease agreement held by the master tenant. Since a room rental agreement is considered to be a legal contract, it is important that the master tenant, roommates and landlord read the document thoroughly and demonstrate complete understanding of the terms of the agreement prior to signing.
Writing a Room Rental Agreement in California
The task of creating a room rental agreement usually falls to the landlord of the property. Landlords possess experience with rentals that make them uniquely able to anticipate conflict between roommates and address these in the agreement. This guide contains step-by-step instructions for creating a room rental agreement in the state of California.
The first paragraph of the room rental agreement outlines the who, what, where and when of the contract. It includes the following basic components:
- Start date: State the month, day and year that the room rental agreement is signed.
- Names: List the full legal name of the master tenant, co-tenants and subtenants, as applicable.
- Address: Record the street address, city, state, zip code and county of the property in question.
- Termination date: State the full term of the room rental agreement, from start date to end date.
This section of the room rental agreement is a modification of the original residential lease agreement, updating the persons who have contributed to security deposit funds. It must include the following information:
- The total amount of security deposit funds paid to the landlord.
- The name of the person that accepted the full security deposit. This is either the landlord or the master tenant who is ultimately responsible for submitting a security deposit to the landlord.
- The date that the security deposit was paid to the landlord or master tenant.
- The names of each person who contributed to the security deposit.
- The amount of money each person contributed to the security deposit.
This section of the room rental agreement is another modification of the original lease. It should list the following important points regarding rent:
- The total rent amount due to the landlord.
- The due date of rent to the landlord. This is generally a monthly payment, but other arrangements may be made if warranted.
- The names of each person who must contribute to rent.
- The amount of money each resident is expected to contribute to rent.
- The forms of payment accepted for rent.
- The name of the person responsible for collecting rent. This is generally the landlord or master tenant.
Reimbursement for Food and Household Supplies
This section defines responsibility for payment of food and household supplies intended to be consumed or used by all persons at the residence. Here are a few considerations that may be included in this section:
- Whether food expenses will be shared equally or each roommate will be responsible for purchasing their own food.
- A method of tracking household supply purchases and ensuring reimbursement for supplies used by all roommates. Examples of household supplies used by all roommates may include trash bags, paper products or cleaning supplies.
Cleaning responsibility is a common source of argument among roommates, making it an ideal item to address in a room rental agreement. Some considerations to include in a room rental agreement include:
- Assigning each roommate with specific cleaning tasks and a scheduled day/time to complete these items.
- Assigning a specific day and time for all roommates to meet to perform cleaning tasks together.
This section contains complete information about the division of utilities among roommates. The utilities addressed in this section may include, but are not limited to:
- Natural gas.
- Trash pickup.
- Cable television.
For each utility, the following information should be stated:
- Name of the person who holds the account.
- Amount of deposit, if applicable.
- Name of the person who paid the deposit, if applicable.
- How the cost of the utility will be shared among roommates.
- Name of the person responsible for paying the utility.
Countless situations could cause conflict between roommates. While it is impossible to predict every negative situation that could arise, here are some examples of additional items to be considered on a room rental agreement:
- Smoking policy.
- Overnight guest policy.
- Noise level.
- Social gatherings.
- Parking for roommates and their guests.
- Distributing keys to people who don’t reside in the unit.
The signatures of each roommate and the landlord of the property make the room rental agreement a legal contract. There should be a specific space for each roommate’s printed name, signature and the date signed. These spaces should also be available for the property landlord.
Possible Roommate Conflicts
Accepting a roommate can be a positive solution to save money, share in household chores and make friends in an unfamiliar area. Unfortunately, having a roommate can also bring many possible sources of conflict. The room rental agreement template provided identifies the most common issues between roommates. Other issues that may be addressed in the room rental agreement may include:
- Respect of sleep schedules.
- Borrowing personal items.
- Set boundaries to maintain privacy.
- Procedure to address minor issues between residents in peaceful and non-confrontational way.
- Inappropriate guest behavior.
A Roommate’s Rights
Although they may have signed a room rental agreement with the master tenant rather than a residential lease agreement with the property’s landlord, a roommate may still be entitled to certain rights of a tenant in the state of California. Depending on the local laws in effect, a roommate may be considered a co-tenant rather than a subtenant even if they have not signed a residential lease agreement. In this situation, the roommate is entitled to similar rights as a tenant who has a residential lease agreement with a landlord. These specific rights may include:
- The right to eviction proceedings in accordance with California law.
- The right to reasonable repairs and maintenance of their residence.
- The right to habitable living quarters.
- The right to live on the premises without physical or emotional harassment.
- The right to pay a fair portion of rent, not exceeding the amount that the master tenant pays.
- The right to see the residential lease agreement, even if the roommate is not required to sign the document.
- The right to take legal action against a landlord providing that the original residential lease agreement allows tenants to sublet the property.
- The landlord and master tenant must abide by applicable laws prohibiting discrimination when renting to a roommate.
California-Specific Considerations for Room Rental Agreements
Many master tenants ask, “Do I have legal grounds to evict my roommate?” The answer to this question varies widely by state and in the state of California, it even varies widely by local government. Generally, whether or not a master tenant can evict a roommate depends on the roommate’s status as either a co-tenant or a subtenant. Here are a few common roommate situations and how evictions are legally handled in the state of California:
- The master tenant and roommate have both signed a residential lease agreement. In this situation, the master tenant is not typically legally able to evict a roommate. Only the property’s landlord may evict those that are listed on the residential lease agreement. A master tenant may be able to discuss an unsavory situation with the landlord, but ultimately, it is the landlord’s responsibility to proceed with eviction. In any case, eviction must occur for a valid reason.
- The master tenant is the only person listed on the residential lease agreement. If the master tenant is the only person listed on the lease, they can likely evict the tenant as long as the eviction follows the process outlined by California law. However, if the roommate pays rent directly to the landlord, they are considered a co-tenant by California law and eviction would likely need to be carried out by the landlord.
- No written agreement exists between the roommate and the master tenant and/or landlord of the property. If the roommate has lived with the master tenant for more than 30 days or has paid rent to the landlord of the property, California law states that they have entered into a month-to-month lease arrangement. In this situation, a master tenant may evict a roommate with either 30 or 60 days notice, depending on how long the roommate has lived on the premises.
- The roommate is subletting from the master tenant. In the state of California, a roommate is considered a subtenant if they have signed a sublease agreement, if they are not listed on the residential lease agreement and have lived with the master tenant for less than 30 days or if they are not listed on the residential lease agreement and pay rent directly to the master tenant. In any of these situations, the master tenant is considered to act as the roommate’s landlord and may proceed with eviction in accordance with California law.
California law states that a landlord or master tenant is required to provide only three days notice to evict a roommate for the following reasons:
- Nonpayment of rent.
- Violent behavior.
- Significant property damage.
- Violating the basic rights of other tenants.
- Using the unit for illegal purposes, including weapon-related crime, dealing illegal drugs or dogfighting.
- Other violations of a legally-binding lease or room rental agreement.
While a reason for eviction generally does not need to be provided for 30 or 60 days notice in a month-to-month tenancy, in larger California cities where rent control applies, a reason for eviction must be given in all situations. Landlords and tenants must remember that discrimination or retaliation against a tenant or roommate are never lawful reasons for eviction.