Leasing: understand the risks when guaranteeing your child's lease

student lease

It’s exciting when your children head off to college for the first time. It signals a new era of learning, making new friends and, for most, living on their own.

When they find that first (or subsequent) apartment, however, they — and you — can be in for some surprises. Landlords are looking for someone to guarantee their leases, and they’re looking to the parents of student renters.

More and more, especially in cities with larger campuses, landlords are requesting parents guarantee their college children’s leases. It seems innocent enough, much like co-signing a loan with your child. But the consequences could be more financially significant than you think.

If you agree to guarantee the lease, you not only assume responsibility for your child but for all the other renters in the unit as well. That leaves you liable for any unpaid rent, including that of your child’s roommates, as well as for any damages to the apartment, regardless of whether or not your child had anything to do with causing them.

Depending on the value of the apartment, parents who guarantee such leases could be making themselves liable for significant damages.

The first step to avoiding these expenses is to understand what you’re signing. Landlords may include guarantees as part of the lease or as a separate agreement, so be sure to read all documents carefully before signing anything.

Second, avoid signing any guarantees if you can. If the landlord asks you to sign a guarantee, resist it. He or she may not push the issue. But be prepared for the landlord to say it’s a condition of the lease, meaning your child can’t live there without your guarantee.

Third, if you must sign a guarantee as a condition of the lease, restrict it to your child’s portion of the rent. For many landlords, this will be sufficient. Such a restriction can be handled with a simple amendment to the lease, using wording such as: "I hereby guarantee, only, my child's portion of the monthly rent not to exceed [insert a dollar amount] per month."

Finally, if the landlord will not accept your restricted guarantee, look for another apartment. Unless there’s something truly exceptional about the apartment where the landlord will accept nothing less than a full guarantee, and you can live with the prospect you may have to pay to rebuild it, you may be wise to look elsewhere.

Leases, and the guarantees that come with them, are fully binding legal documents, so as with any contract, it’s essential to understand what you and your child are signing. If you’re like most parents, you’ll probably decide that tuition alone is a big enough financial commitment for now.

la crosse attorneyBy Terry Collins, La Crosse Attorney. To reach a La Crosse attorney, call Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC, at 608-784-5678.

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