Q: My son and his roommate, both college students, applied for a rental that required a guarantor. I signed the lease application but never signed the guarantee. Am I responsible for rent and damage if the boys can’t cover the rent or trash the place? –Lori S.
A: Being a lease guarantor for a college-age son or daughter is very common. Landlords need to make sure that there’s a solid source of funds if the students, most of whom have little to no income, fall behind on the rent or cause damage beyond normal wear and tear.
But landlords need to follow standard legal rules when setting up lease guarantors. The landlord probably had you sign a lease application in order to obtain information about you — your income, place of employment, place of residence — that the landlord could use to make sure you’d be a suitable guarantor (someone with scant income won’t be too useful if the time comes to call upon the guarantor).
In addition, that signature probably signaled your consent to pull a credit report. Legally, landlords don’t need written consent as long as they have a permissible reason for pulling the report, but most landlords ask for written consent anyway because most people think it’s required.
But the next step is crucial: The proposed guarantor, if accepted, must sign either the lease itself or a guarantee agreement that references the lease. Because you apparently did neither, you have not become a guarantor. It seems that the landlord simply forgot to have you sign one of these two documents.
Not to impute sinister motives to the landlord … but take another look at that application. Make sure there’s nothing in it indicating your agreement to become a guarantor if the landlord finds you suitable. That would be a sneaky move, and I doubt that a court would uphold it: It would bind you to stand behind a lease that you haven’t seen yet.
That’s not an enforceable promise — people need to know what they’re guaranteeing before a court will insist that they step up.
Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of “Every Landlord’s Legal Guide” and “Every Tenant’s Legal Guide.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2009 Janet Portman