Can You Add an Occupant to a Lease After Signing?

Discover the legal and practical steps for adding an occupant to an existing lease, helping tenants and landlords navigate the process smoothly and ensuring compliance with housing regulations.

By
Vivian Tejada
|
Last Updated
April 12, 2024
Can You Add an Occupant to a Lease After Signing?

Signing a lease binds a landlord and tenant to a rental agreement for a certain amount of time, whether that be one month or 36 or something in between. While a rental agreement is a long-term commitment, life is unpredictable, and a tenant’s living situation can change during the lease term. 

When this happens, adding a new occupant to the lease may be necessary. 

In most cases, tenants will come to you with a request to add someone to their lease. However, there's nothing preventing landlords from suggesting a new, additional occupant if the circumstances call for it. 

Whether you’re allowing a roommate, significant other, or family member to move in, it’s important to understand the process of adding a third party to your lease. 

In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about adding a new occupant to a lease after signing, including when it’s necessary, steps to follow, legal considerations, and alternatives. 

Why would you need to add a new renter to the lease?

There are several reasons why a tenant or landlord would want to add a third party to their original lease agreement.

For landlords, adding a third party can offer financial assurance if they suspect their current tenant will move out before their tenancy agreement ends or if the tenant has expressed an inability to keep up with monthly rent payments. 

Instead of terminating a lease early, a landlord may agree to add a third person to the lease. This allows them to hold someone else equally as responsible for rent payments, unless stated otherwise in the rental lease agreement. 

Tenants often introduce a third person to their lease when they're planning on transferring the lease or expect to have difficulty keeping up with rent payments in the future. This might be the case if a tenant recently lost their job, received an out-of-state job offer, or has to care for a family member suddenly.

Lease agreements are legally binding, which means everyone listed in the lease is responsible for rent and utility payments to some degree. Adding an additional person to the lease helps struggling tenants alleviate their cost of living. 

How to add a new tenant to an existing lease

Regardless of who wants to add a new tenant to the lease or why, there are five steps to take before bringing on a co-tenant:

1. Get it in writing

Changes to existing lease agreements should be documented in writing. It’s tempting to agree to a lease change over the phone or in person, especially if you've built up a solid landlord-tenant relationship.

However, it is always best to submit a written request before proceeding with any changes. If there’s ever an issue in the future, all parties involved can easily reference the most recent version of the lease agreement. 

2. Verify the property’s occupancy limit

Local ordinances mandate certain occupancy limits in residential buildings. Before adding one or more people to a lease, ensure the requested number of tenants doesn’t exceed the legal limit. In most regions, the limit is two people per bedroom.

Some places like New York City have higher occupancy limits due to limited housing. However, this isn’t the case in every jurisdiction.

3. Ask for a completed rental application

If introducing a new occupant into the rental unit doesn't test the limits of the property’s occupancy limit, you can move forward with requesting a completed rental application from the new tenant.

4. Approve or deny the rental application based on established criteria

Landlords should stick to their established rental criteria when evaluating whether or not to accept a new tenant’s application. New tenants should meet the same expectations as your current tenants — there’s no need to lower your standards because someone is moving in in the middle of a lease. 

There’s also no reason to make it unreasonably difficult for a new tenant to be approved. Rejecting a new renter based on new rental criteria could result in a discrimination complaint. Do your best to be as consistent as possible with the tenant screening process.

If you deny an application based on your existing rental criteria, send the current tenant and the rental applicant a written notice explaining why. If you approve the application, invite the current and new tenants to sign either a brand new lease agreement or a lease amendment to the current lease. 

5. Review lease details with all tenants

Lastly, you should review the details of the new lease terms with all tenants on the lease. It’s best to do this in person or via video call to clearly explain the rent payment process, security deposit requirements, property rules, and other important information. Be sure to sign and date the new lease and make copies for everyone involved.

What should current tenants consider when adding a new renter to the lease? 

Before requesting to add a potential new renter to their lease, tenants should, first and foremost, keep in mind that their request can be denied, accepted, or delayed. Here are a few additional things worth considering:

Landlords often require a background check before adding a new tenant to the lease

Your prospective roommate will have to undergo the same screening process you did when you first applied for your rental property. This usually includes a criminal background check, credit check, and income verification.

To increase their chances of getting approved, choose a tenant who can meet your landlord’s rental criteria. If you plan to add a loved one to your lease, do what you can to help boost their credentials before submitting a rental application.

Adding someone to the lease after signing often involves lease amendments

When you add someone to your lease, you can either create a new rental agreement or simply add an amendment to your existing lease.

In most cases, tenants and landlords decide to add an amendment, which presents an opportunity to reassign roles and responsibilities. Carefully read over the lease amendment drafted by your landlord to make sure your new lease terms are still favorable. 

It’s important to clearly outline financial obligations 

While you’re reviewing your new lease terms, pay close attention to how responsibilities for costs are allocated. In most lease agreements, you and the new tenant are jointly responsible for making timely rent payments. 

This means that if your prospective roommate is unable to pay rent at some point, the responsibility will fall back on you.

Landlords can accept or deny your request

Ultimately, whether or not a new tenant can be added to the lease depends on the landlord's approval. Establishing a reliable line of communication between the landlord and tenant can help minimize confusion and frustration down the line.

What to do if adding a new tenant to the lease isn’t an option

Certain lease agreements and local laws don’t allow adding a new person to a tenancy agreement while the lease is still active. However, they may allow subletting or adding roommates without changing the lease, which may be a better option for tenants who are only looking to rent out their space temporarily.

Don't be afraid to simply ask the landlord if someone can stay with you for a limited period of time, whether this be a friend in a transitory period or a loved one in need of a place to stay while they look for a place of their own. 

Remember, though, that roommates not included in the lease share a rental space with a tenant, but they don’t necessarily have the same legal rights on the lease. 

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Adding a new tenant to a lease the right way

Adding an occupant to a lease after signing requires careful consideration and adherence to legal protocols to ensure the rights and responsibilities of all parties are maintained. 

For tenants, it offers a way to manage changes in life circumstances or financial stability by legally integrating another individual into the lease agreement. For landlords, it provides an opportunity to assess and approve additional occupants while ensuring the property does not exceed occupancy limits, thus preserving property integrity and compliance with local laws. 

Both tenants and landlords should approach this process with clear communication and thorough documentation to prevent potential disputes and ensure that the new living arrangement benefits all involved. 

This guide serves as a valuable resource to navigate the complexities of modifying a lease, ensuring that each step is handled precisely and in accordance with legal requirements.

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Vivian Tejada

Vivian is a freelance real estate writer based in Brooklyn, NYC providing SEO blogging services to real estate companies. Her work focuses on educating first-time real estate investors on investment strategy and explaining proptech tools to new customers.

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