In the context of residential and commercial leases, "joint and several liability" means that each tenant is responsible for both their share of the lease obligation and the entire lease obligation, at the same time.
The term guarantees that the lease obligations (the most important of which is paying rent each month) will be met no matter what. If two tenants suddenly leave and two tenants remain, the remaining tenants are obligated to pay the entire rent instead of just their share of the rent. If one tenant has a party, violates local noise laws, and gets fined, then all the tenants who reside at that address are responsible for paying off the fine. This increases the chances that the fine gets paid.
The clause also allows a landlord to satisfy rules for landlord-tenant relations without having to speak with each person living in the unit. For example, most states require a certain amount of notice before a landlord enters your space to make a repair. If you are under joint and several liability, then your landlord only needs to give notice to one of the tenants.
Does joint and several liability automatically apply?
Depending on your state laws, a lease contract might hold each party joint and severally liable by default, or it might need to be added into the lease. As you can probably guess, most landlords want this term included in the lease—so if you're signing a lease where you're not the only tenant, you should expect to find it.
Is there any way to get out of this sort of clause?
Your landlord might render the clause null if they do certain things that contradict it. For example, if they allow one tenant in a shared unit to move out and refund that tenant's share of the security deposit—or even if they accept separate rent checks from each of the tenants—then they may be rendering the term unenforceable in the future. That's why landlords prefer to get paid rent via one check for the total rent amount.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.
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