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What is a Room Rental Agreement?
A room rental agreement is a legal contract that defines the rights and expectations of all people that reside in a rental unit, including individuals not listed on the original residential lease between the landlord and master tenant.
As a Texas landlord, you may sometimes find yourself needing to come up with a room rental agreement. A common situation that could require this would be when a current tenant asks you to allow another person to move in and share expenses. You might also find yourself a landlord in your own home if you decide to rent out a particular room or section.
Many property owners underestimate the need for a roommate agreement. They may think that since the original tenant has already signed a lease that coming up with a roommate agreement isn’t necessary. Some also feel awkward about the idea of having someone sign an agreement before moving in to their own home. However, a roommate agreement is indeed important as it provides essential legal protections and spells out the rights and responsibilities of each party. Without it, you could find yourself with no legal recourse when it comes to collecting back rent or trying to reclaim your property.
Having a roommate agreement between two individual occupants of a property can also prevent conflicts in the future. It will also provide you with clear guidance on resolving them should you later need to become involved. Personal conflicts between roommates are something that frequently occur, yet many landlords are unprepared to deal with them. Having the right roommate agreement in place will ensure that you are ready and able to handle whatever situations may arise.
Not a Lease or Sublease Agreement
A roommate agreement is different from a lease or sublease agreement. As such, it contains unique information that is not normally spelled out in these other documents. At the same time, it is an official contract that is legally binding upon all parties.
While a roommate agreement differs from a lease, it is not designed to take the place of one. Rather, its purpose is to specify the rights and responsibilities of each person. In other words, it is a supplement to rather than a substitute for your lease. It doesn’t have to be quite as long or nearly as formal; however, there are a few things you absolutely must include. Those items are listed below for your convenience.
Writing a Room Rental Agreement in Texas
How will you determine who you will allow to be a roommate and who will be turned away? The answer to this question is very important because you need to avoid any discrimination complaints under the Texas Fair Housing Act. For this reason, we recommend you put each roommate through the same formal application process as your original tenant. Do not rely on roommate matching services, but instead perform your own due diligence.
When having roommates fill out a rental application, keep the requirements of Section 92.3515 in mind. This section of the Texas Property Code requires landlords to inform applicants as to their selection criteria. Specifically, Section 92.3515 (c) requires you to include a statement that is exactly like or similar to the following:
“Signing this acknowledgment indicates that you have had the opportunity to review the landlord’s tenant selection criteria. The tenant selection criteria may include factors such as criminal history, credit history, current income, and rental history. If you do not meet the selection criteria, or if you provide inaccurate or incomplete information, your application may be rejected and your application fee will not be refunded.”
The above statement (or one similar to it) should be listed in bold or underlined font. Have the applicant sign stating that he or she is aware of your selection criteria. Ensure the individual knows that by filling out an application, you are not guaranteeing housing. Provide a date on which the application will be either approved or denied and then specify how you will make the roommate aware of your decision.
In the introduction, you will need to clearly identify the property by listing its physical address as well as the unit number if applicable. In a roommate agreement, you need to go a step further and identify who has access to what areas. For example, you may differentiate between sleeping and common areas.
Section 92.201 of the Texas Property Code makes it mandatory for you to disclose ownership of any property you are renting. Accordingly, you should list the name and address of the title holder of record at your county clerk’s office. In the event someone else manages your property, you must also provide your renters with the name and address of this company. Add this information in your lease just under the physical location and description.
Personal Information and Lease Terms
Next you will need to list the names and contact information of any and all roommates. Have each one verify that he or she is above the age of 18, which is the legal age of majority in Texas. Give a date on which the roommate agreement will commence and list the final date of your lease as the ending date.
Consider what will happen when the lease ends and a roommate continues to occupy the property. Will the tenancy then defer to a “month to month” lease? Be sure each roommate knows what will happen at the end of the contract so that you can avoid having holdover tenants whenever possible.
In Section 92.017 of the Texas Property Code, it states that tenants are sometimes authorized to end a lease early in cases regarding family violence. Since this is something that may come up with roommates, you might want to include a sentence or two to this effect. At the same time, you should let each tenant know that misconduct for domestic violence or any other crime could be grounds for an eviction.
Tenant Financial Responsibilities
List each financial responsibility associated with the property separately, leaving a block where each person can initial indicating agreement. Some things you should list in the financial responsibilities section include:
- Security deposit amount
- Rent or portion of rent
- Utility hookup fees
- Pet deposit or fees
- Household expenses (cleaning supplies, light bulbs, etc.)
- Other fees
Whenever possible, list the exact amounts each person is required to pay along with the due date. Give specific instructions as to where and when each item is to be paid along with the possible late fees and penalties.
Ensure each roommate knows that if one party fails to pay, the remaining tenants could be responsible for covering that person’s share of the rent, utilities, or other expenses. Let them know that you may even take legal action, up to and including eviction.
No Sublease Authorized
Roommates often live together on a very temporary basis. What happens when one roommate leaves and the remaining tenants are left accountable for the lease? Some tenants may try to find a replacement roommate without consulting with you first. This is a situation you definitely want to avoid if possible.
Section 91.005 of the Texas Property Code requires tenants to obtain permission from their landlords before subleasing any property. You should ensure all parties are aware of this fact so that no one attempts to fill a future vacancy on their own. Include a sentence or two stating that subleasing is not authorized without obtaining written permission from you first.
Property and Household Rules
You may have listed certain rules in your original lease or sublease. In addition, the roommates themselves may have come up with certain rules that they want to hold each other accountable for. List these in your roommate agreement as well, ensuring you cover topics such as:
- Household responsibilities and cleaning chores
- Overnight guests
- Quiet hours
- Respecting one another’s privacy
- Guest conduct
- Parties and entertaining
- Pets or pet behavior
In addition to listing the rules in your roommate agreement, you may want to give each person a physical copy. When doing this, provide a space for each roommate to initial acknowledging that you provided a copy.
Smoke Detector Information
In Section 92.258 of the Texas Property Code, it states that landlords are required to test all smoke alarms at the beginning of a lease. Since you are now adding a roommate, that means in essence that you are beginning a new lease with that person and therefore need to perform testing. Remember that the right to a working smoke detector cannot be waived by any tenant.
Section 92.255 also requires smoke alarms to be placed in every bedroom and on every floor of a dwelling. In Section 92.254, it mandates you use smoke detectors that are tested and approved by certain entities such as the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL), United States Testing Company, or Factory Mutual Research Corporation.
Since the roommate will likely be occupying only one bedroom or floor, it’s important to spell out where the smoke detector is located and what type it is. You should also list the date on which the smoke detector was tested and the method used. You may even want to personally show the roommate the smoke detector and have him or her initial that you have done so.
Ensure your roommate knows that replacing the batteries in a smoke alarm is a tenant responsibility. That individual should also be aware of the potential for civil penalties, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees for intentionally damaging or disabling a smoke detector. This includes removing the batteries from a smoke detector without immediately replacing them with new ones. For this to be enforceable in court, the clause should be included in bold or underlined font.
A new roommate often means an additional vehicle and more parking woes. Accordingly, it is imperative that each new tenant understands and adheres to the existing parking rules.
Texas law requires you to provide parking rules in writing before you can enforce them. For example, if you plan to assign parking spaces or have unauthorized vehicles towed, you will need to state this in your roommate agreement. Follow these steps when including parking rules:
- Title the section “Parking” or “Parking Rules”. Ensure that the heading is in all caps, underlined, or in bold font.
- Specify which vehicles may be parked by identifying their make, model, color, year, tag or registration number, etc.
- List each parking rule. For example, state where, when, and for how long a roommate may park.
- Address other issues such as non-working vehicles, motorhomes, trailers, boats, etc. in a separate section.
- Leave a line for each roommate to sign acknowledging that he or she has read and agrees to the parking rules. You may also wish to provide a separate copy for each person, in which case you should have the roommate initial to acknowledge receipt.
Lead-based Paint Acknowledgement
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires property owners to provide a lead-based paint disclosure form when renting dwellings constructed prior to 1978. You must use the official form that is provided on the EPA’s website. Do not alter this form or recreate it in any way.
You should have had your original tenant sign a copy of this form when securing the lease. If not, then have that person do so now along with the new roommate. Provide two copies of each individual form, one for your own records and the other for the person signing.
Structures built prior to 1981 may potentially contain asbestos. Although not required, you may wish to include a section about this if you are renting an older home. This is especially important if you included an asbestos addendum in your original lease or sublease agreement.
Unlike a lead-based paint disclosure, the EPA does not publish an official form for asbestos. This means you can simply write a paragraph that states your home was built prior to 1981 and may potentially contain asbestos.
Of course, if you are aware of asbestos you should list its location as well as the date tested. In cases of known asbestos, make tenants aware of the fact that asbestos is only harmful when disturbed. Reiterate the policy concerning unauthorized renovations in order to drive this point home.