If you want to add a roommate or your significant other to an apartment lease, your landlord probably will require a thorough credit check. However, just because your potential roommate has poor credit does not mean your landlord will automatically refuse the arrangement. In some cases, the landlord may agree not to run a credit check. In other cases, the landlord may allow a roommate with substandard credit.
Leases and Credit Reports
Both leases and month-to-month rental agreements are legal documents that protect landlords and their properties. Generally, leases specify how much rent is due and what tenants cannot do on the property, such as own pets. Landlords check credit reports because they want to ensure their tenants can abide by the terms of the lease. If the credit report shows a long history of unpaid or late bills, the landlord may decide not to add the tenant to the lease for fear that the tenant will be unable to pay rent or cover repairs.
Adding a Roommate
When you ask a landlord to add a roommate to your lease, you are asking that the roommate share legal responsibility for the apartment. For this reason, landlords generally require a review of the roommate's credit. They want to ensure that, like you, your potential roommate has a history of paying bills on time and can afford to pay rent. Your landlord probably also will ask to verify your potential roommate's employment and ensure she does not have a criminal background before agreeing to add her to the lease.
Not all landlords will ask to review your potential roommate's credit before putting his name on the lease. For example, if your proposed roommate is a minor, your landlord may review his parents' credit and put their names on the lease. Further, if you or another person with good credit is willing to be used as a co-signer, your landlord may be willing to add your roommate to the lease. However, if you choose to serve as a co-signer, you must be aware that if your roommate does not pay his bills or causes damage, you are financially and legally responsible.
If your potential roommate does not meet your landlord's credit criteria, there may be other options that will allow you to live together. First, you can ask your landlord if the roommate can live with you but stay off the lease. Many landlords allow this. However, if you choose this option, you must remember that you are responsible for back rent and damage, even if it is your roommate's fault. Second, you can ask your potential roommate to apply for housing assistance, such as the federal Section 8 program. Landlords are more likely to accept tenants with poor credit histories if they know the majority of their rent will be paid by the government.