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 1 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, it may be necessary to add a new occupant to the lease.
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 blog, 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 tenant 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 rental 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 suddenly care for a family member.
Lease agreements are legally binding, which makes everyone listed in the lease responsible for rent and utility payments to some degree. Bringing an additional person onto 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’s always best to submit a written request before moving forward 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, make sure the requested number of tenants doesn’t exceed the legal limit. In most regions, the limit is two people per bedroom.
Some places such as 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 mid-lease.
There’s also no reason to make it unreasonably difficult for a new tenant to be approved. Rejecting a new occupant 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 so you can 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 tenant to the lease?
Before requesting to add a new occupant 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 go through 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 financial obligations are divided. 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 would 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 rental 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 temporarily rent out their space.
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. Keep in mind, 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.
Final thoughts on adding a new tenant to a lease
Adding an occupant to a lease after signing should be carefully considered by both landlords and tenants. Landlords should follow the same verification process with a new tenant mid-lease as they did with the original tenant when they first applied. This helps protect the landlord’s interests and establishes consistency in the rental application process.
Tenants should understand the rental criteria their prospective roommates need to meet to be added to their lease. It’s also important to consider how the new tenant’s non-payment could affect their credit score, living situation, and relationship with their landlord.