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What Should Landlords Do When a Tenant’s Child Turns 18?

/ Blog, Leasing Questions

When renting out a property, the smart approach is for landlords to run a background report and income verification on everyone over the age of 18 who will be living in the rental property. This includes partners, spouses, parents and adult children of the main applicant. With a proper background check completed, the landlord can then list every adult on the lease agreement. By listing every adult, the landlord is holding everyone legally accountable for responsibility of the property, such as rent or damages.

But what happens when a tenant’s child turns 18 while already living in the rental property? Having a tenant who is going from minor occupant to adult is a lot different than a bunch of adults applying for a rental property. So what is a landlord to do?

What To Do With a Adult Child?

Many landlords don’t consider what to do when their tenant’s child turns 18 and is legally an adult. They know the rules for new applicants, but perhaps haven’t considered what it means for a minor child turning 18. Understandably, a number of questions may arise:

  • How can a landlord know when a child turns 18?
  • Is it even legal to ask about how old an applicant is?
  • Is the landlord allowed to run a background check on the new adult?
  • What’s the best way to notify tenants about any changes?
  • Can a landlord evict or “kick out” the adult child but not the parents?
  • What if the adult child isn’t paying any rent and doesn’t plan to?
  • What about if the adult child breaks the rules of the rental property?

All these questions and more are worth examining so that landlords can protect their rental property and ensure that everyone on the lease agreement is properly accounted for.

Children, Their Ages and Discrimination

Landlords are not allowed to discriminate based on a number of different factors. Most landlords know about race, religion and disability, but the Federal Fair Housing Act also includes familial status and age. Many landlords make the mistake of interpreting this to mean that they cannot ask anything about an applicant’s children, such as their birthdays.

The truth is that landlords are definitely allowed to ask questions that relate to whether or not an applicant and all other adults in the household will good tenants and meet the landlord’s rental criteria. It’s completely legal for landlords to confirm how many adults and how many minors will be living in the rental. The key is to always ask every single applicant the same questions, especially as they relate to total occupants.

Whenever someone fills out an application for a rental property, it is perfectly acceptable for the landlord to ask them to list the names of all adult residents. As part of the application process, landlords should verify each adult applicant’s identification via their photo identification, and they should make copies of this and their social security card for their files. It is not appropriate to ask for identifying documents for any occupants under the age of 18.

It’s certainly legal, and highly recommended, to include a place within the paperwork for the applicant to list all adults and children, as well as their birth dates. Listing everyone that will occupy the property is not only legal, but a good business move. This way, the landlord has all the vital age information on record, and can quickly tell when a child is about to turn 18.

Adult Child Living in a Rental Property

When a tenant’s child turns 18, they become an adult living in the rental property, and of course, they won’t be listed on the lease agreement. The landlord won’t have copies of identifying documents, nor will they have a background check done. Under other circumstances, if an adult moved into the rental property, landlords would insist on a full check. Most landlords would refuse to allow any other adult to be there without the proper paperwork. However, an adult child is going to be treated a little differently.

In some instances, the new adult may have lived in the rental unit for part or most of their lives. Just because a person ceases to become a minor when they turn 18, they are still the child of the tenant. Many 18-year-olds are still in high school, and generally won’t be in a position to really be included as a financially responsible adult in a lease agreement. It’s also not uncommon in this day and age for young adults, ages 18 to their early 20s, to live “at home” while attending college or working to earn enough so they can get out on their own.

A new adult will also not have much of a credit history or even work experience as an older adult will. Finally, many parents won’t require their adult children to pay them “rent” to live at home, either to themselves or to a landlord. Essentially, these adult children are still living as dependents, even though they have reached their adult age.

The confusion over adding an adult child to the lease agreement versus adding a full adult who has not lived there before is real, but landlords can navigate the tricky path by keeping a few things in mind.

Co-Tenant Lease Addendum for an Adult Child

While kind-hearted landlords may just want to let adult children live and let live, there’s only one smart way to handle this issue–a co-tenant addendum. A co-tenant lease addendum is the best way to handle when a tenant’s child turns 18. The addendum should cover the time period from the child’s birthday to when the existing lease agreement is renewed.

When landlords see that the minor child is about to turn 18, it’s appropriate to send the tenant a written notice that they and their child will need to complete some new paperwork for a co-tenant lease addendum within two to three weeks after that child’s birthday. Setting up the lease addendum with the tenant and their adult child is a good way to make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to responsibility for rent, security deposits, damage and following the rules.

A co-tenant addendum is simply a form adding the child as an adult tenant, like a roommate. It essentially requires a full background check for the new addition, copies of identifying documents, and says in writing that the new adult will abide by all terms of the lease agreement, including financial. What this means is that if the original tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord can seek compensation from any other adults named in the lease agreement. It also means that if the landlord is trying to seek out the costs to repair damages to the rental property that the new adult can be collected from.

It should also be clear in the addendum that the co-tenant didn’t contribute to the original security deposit, and therefore they have no rights to any deposit refunds—only the original tenant can receive funds back. There should be no language about whether or not the new adult should pay rent–that’s between the tenants, as long as the landlord gets the full amount on time and every month. Also, once a young adult is added as a co-tenant, they cannot be forced out of the rental property by any other means except a legal eviction process. A young adult tenant cannot be evicted for just any old reason, either. It must only be done based on a breach of the lease agreement, like every other tenant. Remember, a landlord cannot just evict one tenant and not the others on a lease agreement–it’s all adults or none of them.

The addendum should last until the lease agreement expires and the current tenants want to renew. When the lease is ready to renew, the landlord can decide whether to just allow the parents to reapply, or include the young adult as well in the renewal process. Landlords will have to make the personal decision on what standards to set for adult children. In other words, if the parents are good tenants and continue to meet the criteria, but the adult child has no credit history and a weak job history, the landlord may well allow things to continue as they are and lower their application standards for the adult child, given the special circumstances.

Of course, landlords can go the other way and stick strictly to their criteria, which an adult child won’t meet. In that event, the parents would have to decide whether to sign the lease without the adult child, or go elsewhere. As with most cases requiring landlord decisions, it often just depends on the parents, the adult child themselves, and many other factors.

Landlords should beware, however, because in some municipalities, such as San Francisco, there are laws protecting tenants who lived in a rental property as a minor and then chooses to stay after they come of age. As an original lawful occupant, the new adult may have some rights, so landlords should get to know whether this condition applies in their city.

Paper vs. Reality for an Adult Child

Of course, landlords need to treat adult children of existing tenants as adults legally, but adjust their expectations accordingly to reflect the reality of the situation. While these new adults should indeed be listed on the lease agreement, most new adults won’t know much about leases, rental agreements and more, and they will just trust their parents and sign where they are told. After all, a high school student simply won’t have the resources or the knowledge to override their parents when it comes to the lease agreement. Having the adult child sign the agreement or addendum, however, can help both landlords and parents to keep adult children in line and responsible for their behavior as well as their guests.

Landlords need to keep in mind that although the new adult is technically legally as responsible as the original tenant, it will be nearly impossible to collect rent from the tenant’s child in most cases. Many landlords are fine with adding the new adult to the lease agreement, but don’t hold out hope of collecting from them if anything goes wrong because they realize the improbability of the tenant’s child to be able to provide any sort of financial contribution to the situation. However, landlords are well within their rights to try.

All in all, landlords should handle the adult child of a current tenant to create the best legal coverage for themselves and their property, but understand that the realities of enforcing or collecting will be somewhat different. While grown children should be treated on paper as the adults they now are, they are in many ways still children. Of course, what is done on paper protects the landlord and the rental property. What the landlord actually does if and when it comes to collections is something that each landlord will have to decide for themselves.

Legally, the landlord can require all the same things of the adult child as any other adult on the lease, but as a realistic landlord, it is usually the right thing to do by taking a specialized approach to a special situation.

The post What Should Landlords Do When a Tenant’s Child Turns 18? appeared first on RentPrep.


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