If you're planning to share a rental with roommates, you can—and should—have some serious conversations with them before you move in. Sharing living quarters with others often leads to disputes and disagreements, but with some discussion and planning, you can (hopefully) prevent minor squabbles from erupting into fights that end your tenancy or result in a lawsuit.
Topics to Discuss With Roommates
Before you move in or bring on a new cotenant, consider discussing the following topics:
- Rent. What is everyone's share? Who is responsible for getting rent to the landlord if the lease or rental agreement requires only one check or payment? By what date (and by what method) should all the roommates get their portion of the rent to the responsible roommate? What happens if someone doesn't make their rent payment to the responsible roommate in time?
- Utilities. How will you split internet, electricity, water, or any other bills for utilities or household services?
- Space. Who will occupy which bedrooms? If there's more than one bathroom, who uses which ones? Does everyone have equal access to the kitchen and other common areas?
- Household chores. Who's responsible for cleaning, and on what schedule? Who takes out the trash and recycling? Who is in charge of telling the landlord about repairs? If there's a yard or outdoor space, who will make sure it's maintained? Who gets mail and deliveries each day?
- Food sharing. Will food, shopping, and cooking responsibilities be shared? How will you split the costs and work? Will each person have separate storage areas for food or other kitchen items?
- Noise. When should music or TVs be turned off or down low? What's the policy about parties or other gatherings?
- Overnight guests. Is it okay to have overnight guests? How often? What are the rules about guests using the bathrooms, kitchen, and other shared spaces?
- Dispute resolution. If a problem arises, how should roommates address it? What happens if a disagreement can't be resolved?
- Security deposits. In the event the landlord doesn't return the entire security deposit, how will you split what's returned? What do you do if one of the cotenants causes damage?
- Moving out. How much notice must a roommate give the others before moving out before the tenancy ends? Must the departing roommate find an acceptable substitute cotenant? When (if at all) does the leaving cotenant receive the returned security deposit?
These subjects are common sources of strife amongst roommates, but it's possible that your particular living situation might lead to unique disputes. For example, if your rental has a garage, you might want to work out who gets to park in the garage or use it as storage space. Or, you might want to address strong personal preferences. For example, if you have a pet peeve about certain things—such as dishes piled up in the sink or laundry left in the dryer too long—don't hesitate to discuss it with your roommates.
Put Your Roommate Agreement in Writing
Even though your landlord won't be bound by any contract you enter with your roommates, consider putting your arrangements in writing. Having a written roommate agreement makes everyone take their responsibilities more seriously, and helps avoid the misinterpretations and memory lapses that come with oral understandings.
Much of your agreement won't be legally binding—for example, a judge likely wouldn't order your roommate to clean the bathroom. Judges will, however, enforce promises regarding financial matters, such as splitting rent and paying utility bills.
It's wise to include a clause requiring cotenants to participate in mediation before one of you breaks the agreement by moving out or running off to court. Mediation is usually a much less expensive and time-consuming process than filing a lawsuit. If you're a student, your university might provide roommate counseling or mediation. For non-students, many community housing organizations provide free or low-cost mediation services—try an Internet search for your city's or county's name and "mediation."
Sample Roommate Agreement
You can customize the sample roommate agreement below to reflect the arrangements you've made with your roommates. Be sure that all roommates are named in and sign the agreement.
Alex Andrews, Bob Beau, and Charlie Choo [list full names of all roommates] are cotenants at [insert rental address].They have all signed the lease dated [insert date of lease] that expires on [insert the last date of the tenancy] with the landlord, [insert name of landlord or property management company that signed the lease]. Alex, Bob, and Charlie have paid landlord a total security deposit of $_____. [Note here if each roommate paid the same amount or specify what each roommate paid]. Alex, Bob, and Charlie all agree as follows:
- Rent. The rent of $_____ per month is due on [insert due date of rent as specified in lease]. Rent will be shared equally, at $____ per person [OR list what each person will pay]. Alex will write a check for the total month's rent and take it to the manager's office on or before the first of each month. Bob and Charlie will pay their share to Alex ____ days before the due date.
- Utilities. Each roommate will share the costs of Internet, electricity, and trash service equally. Bob is responsible for getting the payments to utility providers on time; Alex and Charlie will pay him their share of the costs 2 days before payment is due. Charlie will pay for cable TV in his room.
- Spaces. Alex and Bob will share the large bedroom with the adjacent deck; Charlie will have the small bedroom. Alex and Bob will use the bathroom attached to their room; Charlie will share the other bathroom with any guests.
- Food. Each cotenant is responsible for his own food purchases.
- Cleaning. Charlie will clean his own room and the bathroom he uses; Alex and Bob will clean their room and bathroom weekly. The household chores for the rest of the apartment—living room, dining room, and kitchen—will rotate, with each cotenant responsible for vacuuming, dusting, and mopping on a weekly basis.
Each cotenant will promptly clean up after himself in the kitchen. No one will leave dishes in the sink for more than 24 hours, and everyone will promptly clean up when asked.
- Guests. Because of the apartment's small size, each tenant agrees to have no more than one overnight guest at a time and to inform the others in advance, if possible. Each cotenant agrees to no more than four guests overnight in a month.
- Exam Periods. During mid-term and final exam periods, no cotenant will have overnight guests or parties.
- Violations of the Agreement. The cotenants agree that repeated and serious violations of one or more of these understandings will be grounds for any two cotenants to ask the other to leave. If a cotenant is asked to leave, he will do so within two weeks, and will forfeit any outstanding pre-paid rent.
- Leaving Before the Lease Ends. If a cotenant wants to leave before the lease expires, he will give as much notice as possible (and not less than one calendar month) and diligently try to find a replacement tenant who is acceptable to the remaining cotenants and the landlord.
- Security Deposits. The cotenant who leaves early (voluntarily or involuntarily) will get his share of the security deposit returned, minus costs of unpaid rent, repairs, replacement, and cleaning attributable to the departing cotenant, when and if an acceptable replacement cotenant signs the lease and contributes his share to the security deposit. If an acceptable cotenant cannot be found, the departing cotenant will not receive any portion of his share of the security deposit until the tenancy of the remaining cotenants is over and the security deposit is refunded, in whole or in part, by the landlord.
- Dispute Resolution. If a dispute arises concerning this agreement or any aspect of the shared living situation, the cotenants will ask the University Housing Office Mediation Service for assistance before they terminate the tenancy or initiate a lawsuit. This will involve all three cotenants sitting down with a mediator in good faith to try to resolve the problems.