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I live in a rental property in Pasadena CA, with two other roommates.

When moving into the premise we signed a "residential lease or month-to- month agreement" (C.A.R. form LR, Revisited 12/15) in which our names all appear into one line at the end of which we are identified as ("Tenant") for the rest of the contract. Also, at the end of every page in the "Tenant's Initials" section we all put our initials separately.

Does this mean that we are considered as a single person in terms of the contract? Do we share responsibilities of respecting the lease as one or three separate entities?

I'm asking this because one of us wants to move out before the natural expiration of the lease agreement and I'd like to know if he has the right to find a replacement without our consent, since the Landlord seems to be ok with it.

NOTE: The lease states a few things about subletting:

  1. subletting is not allowed without Landlord's prior written consent.

  2. If approved, the assignee shall sign a separate written agreement with Landlord and Tenant.

But does this tenant refer to all three of us or just the person leaving?

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As a general rule, legal language is interpreted loosely with respect to singular versus plural, or male versus female (in interpreting pronouns). A clause that uses the word "tenant" can thus be construed as referring to multiple tenants, and "tenants" can also refer to a single tenant. Likewise, "he, him" refers to a third person, regardless of gender. If the intent of an agreement is that only a single person shall reside in a place, then the wording of the contract would have to say that, and you can't derive that from using "tenant" rather than "tenant or tenants".

I don't think the issue comes down to "treating y'all as one person", it comes down to whether the obligation is joint, a series of several obligations, or a joint and several obligation. You would look for expressions like "We and each of us agree...", vs. "Each of us agree...", or "We agree..." to sort that out: I assume that the language just says "Tenant agrees...", that is, there is nothing at all in the wording of the lease that resolves the matter.

Tenant (whoever that is) has an obligation to Landlord to pay rent. It doesn't matter if Tenant is 1 person or 10: you have to pay the rent. If 5 out of 10 of those people mysteriously disappear, the other 5 still have to pay a now-doubled rent per person. Each person is fully responsible for all of the lease obligations, and if you are the only reliable person in a lease with 10 parties, you could get stuck with the entire obligation.

If Tenant needs to go away for some reason, Tenant can normally negotiate with another person to assume their obligations, so Tenant would come up with an arrangement with a new person, and the new person would have an obligation to (old) Tenant – this is basically a private arrangement that doesn't involve the Landlord. However: it is pretty standard that landlords get a say in letting in new tenants, and you have a clause in your agreement that says that.

There are two ways for the old tenant to "go away". One is to completely terminate the old agreement, and the landlord signs a new lease with the new person: the old tenant is completely free of any subsequent obligations, and if the new tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord has to go after the new tenant. The other way is by assigning his obligation (as described above): the agreement is between the old tenant and the new tenant (with the landlord's consent).

The question now is, what is the meaning of the clause "the assignee shall sign a separate written agreement with Landlord and Tenant"? (Earlier, I missed the significance of "Landlord and Tenant"). The core question is whether the new arrangement is a novation, or is it an assignment? A novation requires agreement between all parties, and that is what seems to be implied here. California landlord law then tells you that this "makes the new tenant (rather than the original tenant) solely responsible to the landlord". In contrast, "Like a sublease, an assignment is a contract between the original tenant and the new tenant (not the landlord)". Since this involves the landlord, the conclusion is inescapable that this is not actually an assignment (despite the use of the word "assignee").

All of the parties to the agreement would have to agree to these new terms, if in fact there is an agreement that substitutes D for C in this agreement with the landlord (a notation). If C remains on the hook and this is just a personal arrangement between C and D (with Landlords consent) – which is not what the clause says – then you don't get a vote in the C-D arrangement.

  • Thanks for the great answer, could you please clarify one thing about it? The 3 roommates are A(lice), B(ob) and C(harles). C wants to leave and put D(oug) in the house, what would be the definition of OT, NT, DT? To my understanding OT=(A+B+C), NT=(A+B+D) and DT=C. Is that correct? – Matteo Jan 15 '17 at 22:33
  • In other terms, can C actually leave and put D without A,B being ok with it? If A,B are ok with it then NT=(A+B+D), but otherwise what would happen? – Matteo Jan 15 '17 at 22:36
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You are all the tenant jointly (meaning an act or omission by one of you is an act or omission by all of you) and severally (meaning you are each individually responsible for the obligations under the contract e.g. you are each responsible for ensuring all of the rent is paid, you are not responsible for just one third of it).

This has nothing to do with subletting.

You need to renegotiate your agreement with the landlord if you want to remove one of you as a tenant. If a person just leaves then they are still personally responsible for the obligations of the lease, for example, if the remaining two don't pay the rent or damage the property the landlord can sue any one (or two or three) of the tenants based on who he can find and who has assets worth seizing.

  • This answer was very useful! Thanks! It is also my understanding that we are all jointly tenants and responsible with respect to the landlord, but what about with respect to each other? Can actually one of us renegotiate with landlord without consent of the other two, or should we all be signing the new terms / subletting agreement? – Matteo Jan 15 '17 at 22:39

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