Joint and Several Liability
Often several students will rent a house or apartment together. If everyone in the house signs a lease together you should be aware of a concept known as "joint and several liability." Most rental agreements have a joint and several liability clause.
A "joint and several liability" clause makes every signer of the rental agreement responsible for the entire amounts due and owing.
Each tenant is individually responsible for all of the rent and all of any damages that occur regardless of the means the tenants use to divide the rent among themselves and regardless of which tenant actually causes the damage. If one person does not pay the rent, the other roommates are liable to the landlord for payment of that person's share or they are all subject to eviction for non-payment of rent. It is up to the other tenants, not the landlord, to collect from the non-paying tenant.
This means that if your roommates desert you, or damage their rooms beyond repair, your landlord can sue all of you, or perhaps just you and you may be liable for the entire amount.
This can become a bigger problem in "group home" situations. Initially, a number of people sign a lease, but then people sequence through the house. Some move out, new people move in -- and then some of the people who originally signed the lease are no longer there. Under the joint and several liability clause, if legal disputes arise or back rent is owed, the house's landlord can pursue all the original signers of the lease for remedy, or the landlord may choose to concentrate on the one or two left in the house.
It is important to protect yourself by choosing roommates you can trust and keeping your landlord informed when you vacate your rental property and following the requirements in your lease when moving out.
Remember: the most important step in protecting your rights as a tenant is to read your lease and understand what your responsibilities are when you sign it.
A note regarding security deposits:
The security deposit can be a special problem in shared housing. Landlords are seldom willing to inspect whenever one person leaves a group lodging. They often hold the total security deposit until all original lease signers have vacated. Therefore, tenants need to reach their own agreement about how they will handle the return of individual shares of the deposit.