What Are Your Responsibilities as a Co-signer on a Rental Apartment?

Lilly Milman

By Lilly Milman

Apr 26, 2024

If you’re a parent to a college student or young adult, co-signing on their dream apartment is likely in your near future. Because first-time renters typically tend to have lower incomes and have either low credit scores or nonexistent credit history, a landlord will typically require that they find someone (like a parent, family member, or close family friend) to co-sign a lease with them.

In this guide, we cover what it means to co-sign a lease, what makes a qualified co-signer, what you’ll be expected to provide as a co-signer, and what exactly you’re signing up for.

What does it mean to be a co-signer on a lease?

When you co-sign on an apartment lease, you are essentially saying that if the tenant you are co-signing for fails to pay rent, that you will cover the rent payments on their behalf. It’s a landlord’s way of guaranteeing they’ll get paid, even if the tenant they have approved for their rental property doesn’t quite meet their typical screening qualifications. It’s common for students, young adults, and people with gaps in their employment, past eviction history, lower incomes, or poor credit scores to need a co-signer.

You may see the terms “co-signer” and “guarantor” used interchangeably, but they are slightly different. While both sign a lease guaranteeing they’ll cover any fees the tenant is unable to pay, a co-signer is technically allowed to occupy the unit as well while a guarantor is not. 

Who is a qualified co-signer?

As we mentioned previously, a potential co-signer or guarantor is often a parent, family member, or close friend. They need to be a legal adult, have good credit, and an income that can cover both their own housing expenses plus the expenses of the tenant they are co-signing for. Many landlords and property management companies have a blanket rule that states co-signers must earn five times the rent, though this will vary from property to property.

If you are told you need a co-signer but cannot find a family member or friend willing to guarantee you, then you can look into co-signer services as well.

What documents are you expected to provide as a co-signer?

Many landlords will require that co-signers go through the same screening process that they would use for a prospective renter. As someone who is guaranteeing that they can cover up to the entire lease term’s rent if necessary, a co-signer needs to prove that they have high credit and stable income. Many landlords may also require that a co-signer is based in the U.S. 

As a lease co-signer, you can expect to submit copies of:

  • Valid government-issued identification, like a driver’s license or a passport
  • Proof of income, in the form of recent pay stubs, W2 forms, tax returns, a bank statement — or a combination of these documents
  • Proof of residency in the US, which can come in the form of a utility bill, bank statement, or similar document
  • A credit report that shows a good credit score

You may also be asked to fill out your own co-signer or guarantor application, which will look very similar to the rental application the person you are co-signing for filled out. It will likely ask you to include:

  • Your full name
  • Social security number, which can be used to validate a credit check or background check
  • Address
  • Employment history
  • Rental history

What are you signing up for as a co-signer?

If your tenant is accepted for the apartment, you will be expected to sign a co-signer agreement that outlines your responsibilities for the duration of their lease agreement. So, what does this agreement look like?

Most often, it’s a short document that explains that you will guarantee all financial and legal obligations of the tenants on the lease. If there are multiple tenants that are all students cohabitating, then the landlord will often ask each to get their own co-signer — so in that case, you will most likely only have the financial responsibility for your co-signee. 

The financial obligations that you are guaranteeing will include, but may not be limited to:

  • Payment of monthly rent
  • Damages to the property by the tenant(s) and/or their pets (service animals included)
  • Cleaning fees

The apartment co-signing agreement lasts for the duration of the rental agreement, so once you sign it, you are in a binding agreement until the lease is over. If the tenant is evicted during the lease or breaks the lease, the co-signer may also be on the hook until the property owner finds a new tenant for the apartment. If you are uncertain about a portion of the co-signing agreement, consider seeking legal advice before signing.

In an ideal world, the tenant will pay for all of their housing needs at their new apartment and the co-signer will be unaffected. However, one drawback to co-signing is that a relationship may become strained by a financial situation if the co-signer needs to start covering rental payments — so make sure you are very comfortable with the co-signee and the arrangement before signing on the dotted line.

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