Having a Co-signer on Your Lease: What to Know

By Kaitlin Hurtado on June 16, 2020

Imagine this: You spend weeks hunting down your perfect apartment, taking multiple factors into account. Price, location, floor plan, amenities, lease terms. Your mind (and heart) is completely set on this one apartment so you submit a rental application. Except, it hits a major block after you submit your rent application. Your potential landlord finds an issue within your application and requires you to have a co-signer on your lease.

If you have never had a co-signer, you may have plenty of questions — what is a co-signer, how do you pick one, what do they get out of it, and so on. Finding the right apartment was hard enough, now you have to find the “right” person to be a co-signer for your lease agreement. Don’t give up on your dream apartment and move on to your next-best option in fear of finding the right co-signer. We’ve got a guide to give you the run-down on everything you need to know about having a co-signer on your lease.

co-signer

Photo: Pexels

What is a co-signer? 

A co-signer is someone who legally accepts the responsibility of paying your rent in the event that you are unable to make the payment. Landlords will require a co-signer on your lease if they take issue with your rental application, from a poor rental history to a poor credit score.

A co-signer will sign your lease agreement just like you will sign it. In the eyes of your landlord, the presence of a co-signer adds accountability and reassurance that rent for your apartment will be paid every month.

You may also see the term “guarantor” used interchangeably when researching co-signers and how they factor into your lease agreement. . Essentially, they are the same thing as guarantors are to “guarantee” that your rent is paid every month, on time and in full.

When does someone need a co-signer for a lease agreement? 

The need for a co-signer usually is based on issues with money or rental history. U.S. News reported that in a survey of more than 1,000 property managers, Rent.com found that an applicant’s credit score ranked as the least important of five factors in choosing a tenant. The other factors they considered were gross-income-to-rent ratio, credit profile and payment history, rental history verification, and a solid employment record. Your need for a co-signer may not be on just one of these factors, but multiple, in some cases

When you apply for a lease, it is standard practice for the property’s landlord to run a credit check on you. If you have a poor credit score or history, they will be more likely to require a co-signer for your lease agreement. This is because you do not have the proven record of on-time, reliable payments that landlords want when it comes to renting.

If you have a lack of rental history, especially if the apartment you are applying for is your first apartment, co-signers are also common. For landlords, they look at applicants’ previous rental history to see if there were any issues in the applicants’ past: damages to the property, late rent payments, complaints against the tenant, and so on. This is especially the case for new college students or fresh graduates as they are moving out for the first time and may lack rental history or high credit scores that the landlord’s ideal applicants have.

If applicants have a history of eviction or criminal behavior, the landlord may ask for a co-signer just to ensure that things don’t go completely south.

Jobs, specifically a job’s ties to an income, also may factor into your need for a co-signer. If you are a college student and unemployed or working part-time, you may be asked to add a co-signer to your lease. This is because you likely do not have a steady source of income, or high enough income, that landlords will look for in typical applicants.

Likewise, applicants that are self-employed, gig workers (Uber, Postmates), and freelance workers may also be asked to add a co-signer as it is usually harder to estimate their income with no established/steady income.

So, if a landlord requires you to have a co-signer on your lease, you likely have:

  • A low credit score
  • A lack of rental history, or red flags in your rental history (eviction, late payments)
  • Criminal behavior
  • A lack of steady income
co-signer

Infographic by Kaitlin Hurtado

What makes a “good” co-signer? 

Your co-signer should be the piece to cover what is missing in your lease application — they should be the thing that rounds out your application and makes you the ideal applicant. Regardless of your landlord’s reason for requiring a co-signer on your lease agreement, you want the person you choose to be your co-signer to have a good credit score. Their credit score should be higher than yours and preferably is in the 700-range.

A co-signer should be someone you should rely on, and somebody you would trust to back you in the event that you’re unable to pay rent. If you are unable to pay rent, and there’s a late rent payment, it’s on your co-signer to make sure that payment is in on time and the right amount. Your co-signer’s credit will also suffer if they don’t make sure that payment is in by the day it is due.

Your co-signer is someone you should have steady communication with, someone that you know you can reach out to and get a timely response from in case of an emergency. Let’s say you lose your job in the middle of the month, or have an emergency that takes an unexpected hit to your budget. Ideally, you would reach out to your co-signer to let them know you may not be able to pay rent and work something out so that when rent is due, you can both make sure that rent is paid accordingly. You definitely do not want your co-signer to be hit with a message or claim from your landlord that you didn’t pay rent on time and catch them by surprise. If you do know ahead of time you are going to have trouble paying rent, let your co-signer know as soon as possible so that they can be prepared to have the responsibility and make sure that payment is made when it is due.

So, to shorten it, a good co-signer should have:

  • A good credit score
  • Financial responsibility with their own finances
  • Trust between you and them
  • Steady communication between you and them
Who should you pick to be your co-signer? 

There is not much benefit to being a co-signer, so people who agree to co-sign a lease are usually close to the person they are co-signing for. Yes, being a co-signer has the potential to make a positive impact on their credit score, but it still is risky for the co-signer. People typically pick those in their family to be their co-signer. College students, for example, usually ask one of their parents to co-sign for their first apartments as they have an established relationship with them and their parents usually have a good credit score and established income.

You can still pick a close friend for a co-sign, but be very aware that it is not just a personal relationship that you are relying on, but someone who is financially responsible themselves.

If you are picking someone close to you, you may also want to consider how asking them to be a co-signer might affect your personal relationship with them. In the event that you are unable to pay rent, how will they react and will it change how they treat you? In the case that something happens that you lose your source of income for months, would your co-signer be willing (and financially able) to cover your rent for you those months? Asking someone to be your co-signer on your lease is a serious thing, do not hesitate to talk to these scenarios with them, even if it makes you uncomfortable. In fact, you probably should bring up these scenarios so you are both aware of your place in this new relationship.

However, not everyone is comfortable with asking someone close to them to co-sign on their apartment lease, and they prefer to get someone unrelated to them.

If you can’t find anyone in your life to co-sign for your lease agreement, there are still co-sign services available for you. However, be aware that these are expensive, especially if you are already struggling with finances.

How do you ask someone to be your co-signer? 

Asking someone to be your co-signer is not a casual favor. You are not asking someone to spot you for lunch — you are essentially asking someone to pay your rent in unexpected circumstances. It is not something to be taken lightly, by you or by your co-signer.

Approach the person you are asking to be your co-signer and explain your situation. Try to be as detailed as possible and explain to them why you need a co-signer in the first place. Is it because of a lack of previous rental history or poor rental history? Or because you have a low credit score? Telling your potential co-signer this can help them understand the agreement they are getting into and what they can expect from you.

For example, if you do have a history of not paying your rent on time or a low credit score, your co-signer should absolutely know this so they know the likeliness of them actually having to pay your rent in the event that you are unable to make the payment. Your co-signer may agree off the bat, no questions asked, because they’re close to you. But if they have no idea of your financial situation, they may also be under the impression that they are never actually going to have to contribute to your rent if you are unable to.

Be ready to answer their questions, especially questions about your finances. While this may be uncomfortable, you will want to be transparent about your income — showing that you have a steady income to cover your monthly rent payments may very well be the thing that convinces them to be your co-signer. If your landlord just has strict guidelines for renting and requires a co-signer for good measure and you know that you are more than capable of paying rent every month, relay that to the person you are asking to be your co-signer.

Asking them to be your co-signer is them trusting you as much as you trust them. No one wants to spot someone else for rent that is not theirs, but they will do so knowing they are the co-signer and that they are just as financially responsible to cover that payment every month — it also affects their credit score.

co-signer

Photo: Pexels

Does your co-signer get access to your apartment as they are on the lease? 

While your co-signer is financially responsible for your apartment in the event that you can’t make a rent payment, they don’t have the tenant rights that you do. They won’t be living with you on the property, nor do they get access to your home without your knowledge or consent.

When a property’s landlord tells you that a co-signer is required for your lease agreement, do not let it steer you away from getting your dream apartment. Instead, keep these tips in mind when you navigate picking the right co-signer for you.

Want to read more helpful articles to help you navigate lease agreements and renting? Check out these Uloop articles: 

Common Rental Lease Terms to Understand by Danielle Wirsansky: It’s no secret that lease agreements are long and wordy. As much as you want to skim and sign the agreement right away, it’s important to read it in full. This article helps break down essential, common terms in leases.

How to Read a Lease: What to Know Before You Sign by Brittany Loeffler: Struggling to read your lease agreement in full?  This article helps breaks down lease agreements and what elements you should be looking out for before signing.

By Kaitlin Hurtado

Uloop Writer
Hello! I'm Kaitlin, a fourth year Literary Journalism major at UC Irvine. I'm a writer on Uloop's national team and a campus editor for UCI.

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