Contrary to Monica's place on Friends, real apartments in cities like New York may not come with such a reasonable rent control. With shoestring budgets and ever-increasing rent costs, sharing an apartment with roommates may be your last shot at securing a place. However, that leaves us with the question: who's in charge now? According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), it is *drumroll* the primary tenant!

In this blog, we'll go through the essentials of what you need to know about being a primary tenant, the legal roles and responsibilities, and other important FAQs you should know before signing a lease as the primary tenant!

1. What is a primary tenant?

A primary tenant is a sole leaseholder who sublets the property to others and acts as the "sub-landlord." The new tenants are accountable and have a sublease agreement with the primary tenant instead of paying their rent directly to the landlord.

For instance, you become a primary tenant when you invite someone to move into the apartment that is already leased under your name, and have them pay rent, utilities, and costs of amenities. Since it's just your name on the apartment lease, they will legally become your sub-tenants.

2. What are the roles and responsibilities of a primary tenant?

Based on the rental or lease agreement with the apartment landlord, you, as the primary tenant, become the representative for everyone on the property. This includes:

  • Setting the rent amount and collecting rent from all your subtenants: This must be done within defined limits and must be less than the actual rent of the apartment.

  • Ensuring timely payment for all damages and extra utilities: For example, installing a new radiator (the plight of New York tenants) or air conditioning (LA renters, we hear you!).

  • Thoroughly evaluating background checks: This is necessary for all the subtenants moving in with you or subletting the apartment on its own within the legal bounds of your primary tenant lease.

3. Primary tenant subtenant agreement

Being in a direct relationship with the landlord for the apartment, the primary tenant signs an agreement with every new person moving in. So instead of five roommates signing separate checks (or however you wish to transfer your monthly payments), there remains one point of contact for all subtenants.

Additionally, this primary tenant subtenant agreement will include all the relevant rules in the original apartment lease along with personal requirements. For example, a security deposit mandate towards the primary tenant or a rent due date before the one stated on the apartment lease.

4. Can a primary tenant evict a subtenant?

Yes. According to multiple laws in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City, as the primary tenant, you have the right to evict any subtenant based on a "just cause."

This can include situations like refusal to contribute in timely rent payments, violating lease terms, or any activities that cause damage to the property.

5. What if the primary tenant wants to move out but the subtenants want to stay?

This depends on the relationship between the primary tenant and subtenants; them moving out may feel like losing the leader of the pack. However, this could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the subtenants - a chance to take over the vacancy on the lease! It will require someone else to update and sign a lease agreement directly with the landlord.

6. How to protect yourself as a primary tenant?

Now that you know the duties that come with being a primary tenant, here's a 3-step checklist to follow for protecting yourself before signing the lease agreement:

  • Abide by legal regulations: Carefully read all documents and verify each point according to state laws, including "primary tenant breaking lease" and "subtenant eviction."

  • Run background checks: Screen all subtenant applications for criminal records, background checks, and credit scores.

  • Draft the agreement: Whether you use an online template or hire a real-estate lawyer, make sure your agreement draft is legally accurate and updated.