What Renters Should Know About Apartment Guarantors

Lease guarantor

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For would-be apartment renters who do not yet have a financial history or who are otherwise unable to obtain a rental lease, having a guarantor on the lease can spell the difference between having your own home or continuing to live with friends or relatives. But before you approach someone about serving as a guarantor, consider these important questions.

What Is a Guarantor?

A guarantor is someone who signs the lease with you and takes on your financial obligations under the lease should you be unable to meet the payments. Typically, the guarantor does not actually occupy the apartment with you, but he or she is subject to the same legal requirements to pay the rent and any damages that occur in the apartment. If you don't make the rental payment on time, the landlord has legal recourse to force your guarantor to pay the money.

Who Usually Signs a Lease as a Guarantor?

Very often, the renter's parents act as guarantor, assuming the parents are in a sound financial position and agree to serve this role. It is very common for young adults to be lacking the credit rating and financial history that landlords require for a rental lease, and a parent or other relative often steps in to sign a guarantor clause, with the young adult as the principle lease signer. As the young adult gains a financial history of making payments on time, future rental agreements are usually not a problem.

Less commonly, a guarantor might be an unrelated friend, a work colleague, or even a business. For example, a corporation seeking a highly-trained young worker might agree to serve as guarantor for the worker's apartment, especially in highly competitive markets.

It is also possible that some government agency might serve as guarantor for low-income families who are unable to qualify for a rental lease in any other way. Churches or other non-profit organizations also sometimes serve as guarantors for immigrant or low-income families.

Is a Co-Signer the Same Thing as a Guarantor?

These terms are somewhat synonymous when used by most landlords and apartment brokers, but there are important legal distinctions. Co-signers have equal responsibility for payment of monthly rental costs, while a guarantor is generally sought for payment only when the primary signer is unable to make the rental payment. Co-signers are both listed on rental agreements as having equal responsibility for making the rental payments, while the guarantor is listed as a secondary source.

A co-signer is at slightly higher risk than a guarantor since the landlord is allowed to immediately seek payment from a co-signer. The guarantor, on the other hand, is normally not responsible until the landlord exhausts legal methods for obtaining payment from the principal leaseholder. Nor does the guarantor have rights to access the apartment in the same that a co-signer does.

Some landlords blend the two descriptions into the role of "co-signer/guarantor." Such agreement clauses clearly define the rights and responsibilities, which are usually closer to the classic definition of a guarantor rather than that of a co-signer. For example, signing as a "co-signer/guarantor" does not allow the secondary individual rights to occupy the apartment.

How Should I Ask Someone to Serve as Guarantor?

It is best to be direct and precise about why you need a guarantor: that you cannot qualify for an apartment lease unless you have someone to sign on as a guarantor. Your prospective guarantor also should be informed of what might be involved, including:

  • Providing pay stubs or other financial verification that they are able to make rental payments should you be unable to
  • A credit check performed by the landlord to verify their financial status
  • A legal commitment to pay the rent should you be unable to, including a signature on the lease verifying this commitment
  • A background check seeking information on any past legal or financial difficulties

Be aware that serving as a guarantor for a rental agreement is no small thing, and that it comes with significant legal responsibility. You should be understanding if someone has hesitation about assuming this risk. If you meet with rejection, don't take it personally; move on to another relative or friend who knows and trusts you.

Will My Guarantor Get a Copy of My Credit Report?

This is normally not a requirement, but it is not unreasonable for a potential guarantor to ask to see your credit report before they agree to serve in this role. Landlords, however, have every right to review both your credit report and that of your guarantor in order to verify that you both have a history of on-time payments and responsible handling of debt.

Can a Landlord Restrict Where Guarantors Can Live?

Many landlords will accept guarantors only if they live within the state, or even within a particular metropolitan area. This is done in order to make it easier to seek secondary payment should the principal leaseholder be unable to pay. Remember that landlords are under no obligation to accept guarantors at all, and are free to have whatever restrictions they want in order to protect themselves financially.

What Will My Lease Say About the Guarantor?

Some landlords include a simple added clause in the lease agreement, with a signature line for the guarantor. In other situations, it may be a short amendment or secondary contract. The guarantor usually receives a full copy of the entire lease agreement, since he or she will be responsible for its conditions, just as you are as the primary leaseholder.

How Do I Know if I Need a Guarantor?

Your landlord typically will first see if you qualify for the lease based on your own financial status and background. If you do not meet his or her standards for qualification, they usually inform you that a guarantor is required. Some landlords are quick to require guarantors, while others may be somewhat reluctant. If you are turned down, ask the landlord if a guarantor will help you secure the lease.

What If I Can't Find a Guarantor?

Most young adults turn first to parents to serve as guarantors, but there may be other relatives, good friends, or organizations that can serve this role. But if you simply cannot find any qualified person to serve as a guarantor, you will probably need to look elsewhere for your apartment, from a landlord with different financial requirements.

What if My Guarantor Changes His/Her Mind After the Lease Begins?

Once you sign your lease, you are responsible for its conditions and payment requirements for the remainder of the term of the lease. Likewise, anyone who signed on as a guarantor or co-signer/guarantor is also committed to the fulfilling that duty for the same period of time. A landlord may agree to an amendment shifting the named guarantor to another person, but he or she is not required to do so.

Can I Serve as a Guarantee to Another Tenant Even If Have a Lease of My Own?

The fact that you've signed a lease as a tenant of your own apartment does not preclude you from serving as the guarantor for another person, whether it be relative or friend. This is true even if the relative or friend wants to rent an apartment in the same building where you reside. You can expect, however, that the landlord will take into account the extra financial burden when evaluating your qualifications to serve as guarantor. He or she will need to be convinced from your credit history and financial status that you can handle the payments of both rents should the need arise.