Renting a house off campus is a great way for college students to learn budgeting and financial responsibility. However, getting your son a place to stay may require you to step in and sign the lease. Often, landlords require potential tenants to have a stable income and a strong credit history. Many college students have neither. But be careful -- by signing a lease, you are agreeing to step up and pay rent or for damage to the property.
Age and Credit
In some cases, your son's age or credit score may require you to sign a lease in his place. Children under 18 cannot legally enter into a contract. Many landlords also require potential tenants to submit to a credit check. In some cases, a college student may not have enough experience with credit to have earned a good credit score. In this case, a landlord may require a parent to cosign or sign an apartment lease.
Many landlords require tenants to have an annual income that's a certain percent above the monthly rent charged. For example, in New York City, landlords require tenants to prove that they earn 40 times more a year than their monthly rent. Under this scenario, if your monthly rent is $1,000, then you must earn $40,000 per year. Given income requirements such as this, even if your son is not a minor child, a landlord may still require a parent or guardian to sign the lease.
Cosigning: What You'll Need to Provide
In general, if you sign or cosign a lease, you will need to submit pay stubs, tax returns and proof of employment to the landlord. If you are self-employed, you will need a letter from an accountant vouching for your income level, along with proof of taxable income. You may also need to submit to a background check.
If your son is living with roommates, things can get complicated. Some landlords require all roommates to share one lease. In that case, if you cosign the lease you are taking on additional risks. You will be responsible for making sure the rent gets paid, even if a roommate flakes out. Additionally, you are on the hook for any damage done during the year. Before you cosign, sit down with your son, his roommates and their parents or guardians. Draft an agreement about who will pay what and how any damages will be covered. Have all roommates sign if they are over 18 or their guardians if they are under 18. Additionally, some landlords are willing to sign individual leases with each tenant or let multiple tenants sign the lease. This protects you as a cosigner -- you are only on the hook for the rent your son has agreed to pay and the final state of your son's room.
Many landlords require tenants to sign a year-long lease, which means you or your son must cover rent during the summer, even if your son returns to your home. However, other landlords are willing to sign nine- or 10-month leases, particularly in college towns. Many landlords are willing to negotiate on this point.
Will Your Son Need a Cosigner?
Not every apartment will require you to cosign a lease with your son. Check with your son's university -- some schools have websites or other resources to find off-campus housing. Landlords in college towns may be more willing to rent to students without cosigners. When applying to apartments, your son should prepared with pay stubs or other documents outlining how he'll pay the rent.
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John Louis is an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C. He attended Columbia University, where he was editor-in-chief of the "Columbia Spectator." He is currently studying law at Georgetown University.