How does cosigning a lease work?

Co-signing an apartment lease means taking on equal financial responsibility for payments on a debt someone else holds. While an apartment lease isn't a loan, it does represent debt in the form of monthly payments. Co-signing a lease is a common way to help friends or family get approved for an apartment and comes with important obligations for the cosigner, so you should understand how co-signing a lease works before you agree to it.

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What is a cosigner for an apartment?

The cosigner is a party with an established financial history who agrees to back up one or more tenants on the lease. They function as a safety net for the landlord. If the other people named in the lease can't make rent or cause damages they can't afford to repair, the cosigner has agreed to pay instead. That safety net makes it easier for a hopeful tenant to get approved for an apartment, especially if they don't have a strong rental history or an income that meets the landlord's requirements.

The most common example is a parent co-signing for their child's first apartment since the child has no rental history. Other examples include co-signing an apartment for a significant other who doesn't live with you or for an unemployed family member. Learn more about the questions to ask when renting an apartment.

What is a cosigner responsible for?

When you co-sign for an apartment, you take on all the same responsibilities that a tenant in the apartment would, whether you live there or not. Typically, a cosigner has the same financial responsibilities as a tenant, so the cosigner is responsible for deposits, damages, rent, back rent, and any other expenses detailed in the rental agreement when the lease takes effect.

If you co-sign a lease with more than one tenant, you may be responsible for the whole lease. That means if you co-sign your child's lease for an apartment with their friends, you may be held responsible for the friends’ damage or missed rent payments.

What is the difference between a co-signer and a guarantor?

Though sometimes used interchangeably, the terms "cosigner" and "guarantor" don’t typically have the same meaning. Cosigners may live in the apartment or not (roommates named in the lease are technically cosigners) and share equal responsibility for the lease's requirements for the duration of the lease.

A guarantor usually must live outside the apartment because they aren’t considered a tenant. The guarantor becomes responsible for expenses only if the tenant fails to pay them. It's a slightly more hands-off role that carries the same basic risks as being a cosigner — and the relationship that people usually mean when they talk about co-signing a lease rather than being roommates. Learn more about adding a roommate to renters insurance.

Apartment cosigner requirements

A person must be the proper legal age to sign a contract in their state. In general, a person must be 18 years old or older to be a cosigner. If you can’t sign a contract, you won’t be able to sign a lease.

Should I co-sign an apartment lease?

There's no definitive answer about whether co-signing a lease is right or wrong for you. It depends on your finances, relationship with the tenant, what you could afford to spend if the tenant doesn't pay, and how responsible the tenant is. Remember that co-signing a lease is legally binding and may be difficult to get out of unless the tenant signs a new lease on their own, so you should feel confident about your choice before you sign.

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