The cost of renting a place to live often exceeds $1,000 a month as of 2011. Because of the expense involved, and because not everyone has the credit history to qualify for leases on their own, many renters have to get a cosigner. Typically, you cannot break your part of a lease as a cosigner, although it may be possible in some situations depending on your landlord or property manager.
What Cosigning on a Lease Means
When you cosign on a lease, you accept financial responsibility for the lease. If the tenants who live in the rental unit don't pay, you must do so. In other words, by cosigning, you take on liability for any rental debt, even though you may not receive any benefit from the property yourself. This acceptance of liability is one reason why many financial advisers are against cosigning.
General Guide to Breaking Cosigning Requirements
In general, most landlords won't allow you to break or be taken off a lease once you've cosigned. You should assume that, once the paperwork is complete, you will have to pay any unpaid portion of rent and, in some cases, legal fees, as well. Because it is so difficult to get out of a lease as a cosigner, if you cosign, you must do everything you can to ensure the tenants pay in full and on time.
The Rare Cases
In some rare cases, landlords and property managers will allow a cosigner to break or get out of a lease. To do this, the tenants have to demonstrate that the need for a cosigner no longer exists. This sometimes is hard if you cosigned because the tenants had financial trouble, as a financial situation for most people doesn't change very fast. It is easier if you cosigned simply because the tenant had no credit or rental history. The landlord or property manager generally will see if the tenants qualify to rent on their own based on their current finances. If they do, the landlord or property manager may draw up a new lease that does not name you as a cosigner.
Why Most Cosigners Can't Quit
Most cosigners can't quit the leases they've signed because landlords and property managers are put in a financially uncomfortable position if they release you from liability. If the landlord or property manager has a cosigner, she legally has at least two people she can pursue for payment. By removing you as a cosigner, even if the tenants have good credit, the landlord or property manager gives up one source of possible payment. From the business perspective, this just adds risk.
If you have cosigned on a lease and the tenants default, the landlord or property manager has the right to try to collect payment from you. If you do not pay, the landlord or property manager may take you to court. They may be able to get a judgment ordering you to pay through your general funds, sale of assets or even wage garnishment. If you do not pay and get a judgment against you, your credit may suffer and the non-payment may show up if you try to rent somewhere else.