About Real Estate: Co-tenants can be held liable to pay each other’s rent

DEAR MR. MYERS: My friend and I just got out of college, and we decided to rent an apartment together in order to save money. Most of the lease applications we have seen say that if we get one of the apartments we have applied for, we would be “joint and several liable” for the monthly rent. What does this mean?

ANSWER: A “joint and several” liability clause is found in many rental contracts today, whether it’s for an apartment or a single-family home. It basically means that each co-tenant is both jointly and separately responsible for paying the entire monthly rent, even if another co-tenant can’t do it.

To illustrate, let’s say that you and your buddy lease an apartment that is $1,000 a month and each agree to pay $500. Everything goes fine for the first several months until your roommate loses his job and can’t come up with his 50 percent share of the rent.

The landlord could then exercise the joint and several clause in the lease to make you pay the full $1,000 monthly rent, even though your co-tenant had agreed to pay half of it. And if you personally don’t pay up, both you and your roommate could be evicted and sued for the unpaid amount.

DEAR MR. MYERS: The cost of our current homeowners insurance policy has skyrocketed, so we have been shopping around for a new insurer. Each one asked if we had a pet, and then automatically rejected us after we said that we have a dog that’s a pit bull. Our dog, Daisy, is the sweetest in the world and has never bitten anyone. Can an insurer refuse to issue a policy based solely on a dog’s breed?

ANSWER: Yes. Insurers can reject an application for a new policy for any number of reasons, and the type of dog that the applicant has can be the deciding factor.

Though Daisy has never bitten anyone, some insurers shy away from issuing a new policy because pit bulls have a reputation for being dangerous and unpredictable — a rep that the pet-loving Humane Society of America disputes if the dog belongs to a responsible owner like you.

Einhorn Insurance, a San Diego-based company that specializes in dog-liability insurance, recently compiled a list of the 10 breeds considered “most dangerous” by insurers, who often won’t insure them. After pit bulls come Doberman pinschers, Rottweilers, Chows, Great Danes and the rare Presa Canario. Surprisingly, perhaps, Akitas are No. 7 on the list. Then comes the sleigh-pulling Alaskan Malamutes, the popular German Shepherds and Siberian Huskies.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: About 68 percent of all U.S. households own a pet, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association. Roughly 57 percent favor dogs, 45 percent like cats, 14 percent prefer freshwater fish in an aquarium, and 7 percent own a canary or other bird.

DEAR MR. MYERS: I make a lot of money and have excellent credit, but the last three applications that I filed to rent a new apartment were rejected because I smoke cigarettes. Isn’t this considered discrimination under fair-housing laws, considering that doctors say that smoking is an addiction?

ANSWER: No. Landlords have the right to reject an applicant based solely on the fact that he or she smokes.

The federal Fair Housing Act bans discrimination based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin. But a tenant’s personal activities, such as smoking or drinking, aren’t protected, and therefore aren’t covered by the law.

Some drug users have filed suit under the law, claiming that their addiction constitutes a handicap that should keep them from being evicted or denied a new apartment. However, a provision of the act specifically states that people who use illegal drugs are not handicapped or disabled and therefore have no grounds to sue.

DEAR MR. MYERS: In the past few months, we’ve seen several real estate ads that say the home for sale includes a “She Shed.” What is this?

ANSWER: It’s the female equivalent of the proverbially “Man Cave,” an overused (and perhaps sexist) term to describe part of a home that a guy often uses to watch television or entertain guests without interference from his wife or children.

Some She Sheds are in the converted guest room of a home, or in a finished basement or attic. But others are actually an easy-to-build small shed in the homeowners’ backyard, or even a custom-built small cottage.

Many owners of She Sheds use their space, just like their husbands, to set up a nice television so they can watch it uninterrupted by their kids. Others use it to pursue hobbies or simply to work on their computer.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.