You are in your mid-late teenage years, and you are exploring the possibility of moving out of your parents house. It is true that the vast majority of teenagers opt to live with their parents or guardians until after they reach 18, but every once in a while, there are exceptions.
A million reasons could be behind this early relocation, but we’re not here to talk about those. What you may be wondering is whether it is even legal for a person below the age of 18 to rent an apartment on their own.
Can a 16 or 17 year old rent an apartment?
As with many things in the United States, it can vary state by state.
The first thing you need to understand is the ‘Age of Majority’. This is simply the threshold of adulthood as specified by the law. It is the age when minors assume legal responsibility over their actions and decisions.
In most of the US, this age is 18. However, Alabama and Nebraska have theirs at 19, with Mississippi setting theirs at 21.
It then gets a bit confusing, because in more than 10 states, the legal definition of ‘Age of Majority’ does not correspond with reality. For instance, in New York and North Carolina, a 16 year old can be charged as an adult when a crime is committed. In nine other states, a 17 year old can be charged as adults.
So is that the same for renting an apartment?
Unfortunately, criminal offenses are the only exception. All states bar persons falling under the age of majority from entering any binding rental contracts. Technically, nothing is stopping a landlord and a 16 or 17 year old to sign a contract, but legally, the minor is not bound by that agreement.
In short, the landlord is not protected and cannot enforce the contract, and thus most will simply not do it.
So, in practice, only those who have reached a state’s age of majority are allowed to rent an apartment, meaning that a 16 or 17 year old cannot.
Can a 16 or 17 year old rent an apartment with a co-signer?
While persons under the age of majority are technically locked out of renting an apartment on their own, there is a work-around, where they can enjoy this priviledge if they have a co-signer.
This is when the contract is co-signed by an adult, who can be a parent, guardian or frankly any trustworthy person who passes a background test and financial verification test.
It is this adult who will take on the contractual obligations of the lease, and should a dispute arise, what the landlord would not be able to enforce on the minor, can be enforced on the co-signing adult.
This can be anything from destruction of property to late rent payment. If the matter ends up in court, it is the adult who will appear.
This, however, is not to say that the minor does not enjoy the same rights as any tenant.
If upon lease renewal the minor is now of legal age, the landlord may choose to have them sign the new lease in their own capacity, or still co-signed.
In summary: It is possible for a 16 or 17 year old to rent an apartment if they have a co-signer. It all depends on the landlord, and while some may be open to the idea, others may not.
However, compared to an adult doing it, obtaining a lease for a minor is a lot more challenging, and will require more steps.
Can a 16 or 17 year old rent an apartment when legally emancipated?
Legal emancipation is when a 16 or 17 year old is granted independence from their parents or guardians. It is a critical mechanism in certain circumstances, for example if you are an active member of the U.S. Armed Forces, or you are living apart from your parents and managing your own money.
Once you have this legal provision, you should in theory enjoy the rights and freedoms of an American adult, and that includes ability to rent an apartment.
However, the reality may be different, as many landlords will be skeptical and will turn you away. You may be subjected to more stringent proof of income verification and other financial screening before you are allowed to lease an apartment. Some landlords will need more convincing that you are responsible and capable of living away from your caregiver.
So, while emancipation gives you the legal backing to rent your own apartment as a minor, whether you actually get the apartment will all come down to the landlord.
Upon getting your own place to live, you are contractually bound to that lease agreement like an adult, and can thus be prosecuted if it comes to that.
Hopefully that answers your questions on the matter. For your starter apartment, it would be reasonable that you go with a studio apartment. They are just the right size for someone starting out in life, and obviously cost a lot less to lease.
Check out these 30+ studio apartments with Scandinavian decor to find some inspiration.