There are many situations where living with a roommate becomes part of your reality. Sometimes this is intentional. You have a best friend you are going to school with or found someone you get along with at work and you decide you want to split the cost of an apartment together. Great!!
Other times, a roommate is a financial necessity. In many places, the cost of a decent apartment is prohibitive, and especially if you are just starting out in life and career, getting a roommate to cover the cost of half of the apartment can be the difference in making it work or not.
Regardless of why you are choosing to have a roommate live with you, you are going to have conflict arise at some point. Nobody likes conflict, but it is simply a part of life. Conflict is awkward, uncomfortable, and rarely does anyone walk away happy. The biggest problem with conflict is that many people do not have the interpersonal skills to handle the situation and they are afraid to do or say anything until it is too late.
But why be afraid? As the wise Jedi Master Yoda once said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Don’t be afraid to deal with the situation and live a life with your roommate that is full of suffering!! Nobody wants to live in a miserable situation they are coming home to every night. There are things you can do to both alleviate conflict when it arises, protect your personal interests at your apartment, and prevent many instances of conflict from coming up in the first place.
How do you accomplish this? You create a Roommate Agreement when you first go into your apartment.
A Roommate Agreement is going to outline potential pitfalls that can happen during a long-term stay with a roommate.
What can you put in this agreement?
Almost anything you want. Literally. Anything from who is going to wash the dishes and take the trash out, to how much of the rent each person is going to pay, to how guests are to be treated in a shared living space. You can put virtually anything you want in the contract. It is a great way to be upfront about the apartment, and your relationship with your roommate.
Who Needs A Roommate Agreement?
You may think that you don’t need a Roommate Agreement if you are moving in with your best friend. This is wrong. Living in close proximity to another person is one of the most challenging things another human being can do, and no matter how much you like the other person before you start living together, conflict is going to arise. Failing to lay out the ground rules that both people understand before you move in together is a recipe for disaster.
Even if it is your best friend, you should absolutely have an agreement. This will help keep your best friend in best friend status. If something comes up to say, regarding a friend of theirs that is spending a bit too much time at your place, you can simply refer to the Roommate Agreement and keep the personal emotions out of it. But if you let something continue, it will only fester inside of you, and when you finally do address the situation, it is more likely to be an emotionally charged outburst from you and a defensive reaction from them.
The same thing goes for a stranger moving in with you. Many times, people will simply put an ad out online looking for a roommate of a particular gender and age. This can be an easy way to find a roommate and cover some of the bills, but how are they to live with? You have no idea.
Having them agree to and sign a Roommate Agreement is the best way to layout the ground rules for how things are going to go at the apartment while you are living together and be the perfect way to protect yourself and your belongings from anything unfortunate happening.
Finally, this is a great tool for parents to use for college-aged kids going off to college. Parents are often footing the bill while their son or daughter is in college, and many times, their kids are living in a shared apartment with some of their friends or people they have met at the campus.
Parents don’t want to be on the hook for the behavior of 3 other people living in the apartment they signed for, so how do you lay down the ground rules for these other people? The answer is A Roommate Agreement.
What Are The Benefits Of Creating A Roommate Agreement?
There can be no understating of the benefits of a Roommate Agreement. Many times, these benefits are going to be unseen in the form of a smooth living experience simply because having the agreement in place from the start is what prevented conflict from ever taking place, to begin with.
The Roommate Agreement sets the rules that the people in the apartment are going to live by. This way, when an issue comes up that one or more people are annoyed with or don’t agree with, the Roommate Agreement is there as a guide a referee to the situation. This prevents emotion from taking hold, which can be deadly if you want to maintain a good relationship with the people you are living with.
Many times, the rules by which you want to live by are not explicitly said out loud to the other person. Too often, we think that the other person is going to have the exact same outlook on how to act and behave as we do, especially if we have known them for a long time. This differing of expectations is common and something that happens in virtually every relationship no matter if we have known the person our entire lives or just met them on the internet.
Something little, such as who is taking the trash out and when, or whose turn is it to clean the bathroom can turn into a relationship-killer if it isn’t addressed properly. The Roommate Agreement allows those rules and tasks and boundaries to be set up-front so there is no discrepancy or arguments halfway through your stay when a problem comes to the forefront. It allows you to take care of problems in advance so that they never even come up in the first place.
But if something does come up, you have a document that you both signed, that details out who should be doing what. If one roommate isn’t getting their rent payment in on time, you can refer to the Roommate Agreement to say, “Hey friend, we agreed that the full amount for rent needs to be on the kitchen counter by the 15th every month.” There will be no way of arguing with that because they agreed to it in the first place.
This is especially beneficial with the little things that can cause resentment and hostility. From laundry to bathroom use, to having friends over, to being loud at inappropriate times. You can put whatever you want in the Roommate Agreement so that everyone can stay respectful of each other during their stay together.
If you agreed that every other week the other person cleans the bathroom and they haven’t been doing it, but you have been cleaning the kitchen and taking out the trash, you can refer to the Roommate Agreement and use it as a referee instead of resorting to passive-aggressive texts, comments, notes, or twitter posts.
Primarily though, it creates the ground rules up-front. It is another insurance measure against something bad happening, or a relationship falling out for trivial reasons. Because the reasons are never trivial in the moment, they are the most important things in the world. Being able to set up a situation where all parties know what is expected of them as they share living space is going to help prevent you from having a miserable experience sharing your apartment.
What Are The Drawbacks Of Creating A Roommate Agreement?
So, are there any drawbacks to a Roommate Agreement?
Well, there can be some short-term uncomfortableness with asking your best friend, or even another random person, to go over with you and sign the Roommate Agreement.
If you are going into your living situation with someone you have known for a long time and consider a good friend, or even if it is your boyfriend or girlfriend, they may take offense at you insisting you need this agreement. It may feel something akin to a prenuptial agreement in their eyes. It can be a bit awkward. But only for a very short time, and at a great end benefit to both parties.
Also, if your friend takes umbrage at your suggestion of the Roommate Agreement and refuses to sign, then this tells you something you may not have known about this person. A friend is someone who wants to do what is best for you in all circumstances, even if that means having potentially awkward conversations about personal things. If they are not willing to sign and agree to this, you may want to consider how well you really know this person. After all, this is not a very big ask, and it is going to benefit both them and you.
Ask them what their expectations are with living with you in the apartment. Tell them that problems can arise when ground rules aren’t laid out and agreed upon in advance and because you value their friendship and want to always keep them as a friend, that coming to an agreement on this can help preserve that friendship.
Approach it in a way that shows the benefit on their end rather than the aspect of you not trusting them or their behavior, which is how they are viewing it as.
Is A Roommate Agreement Legally Binding?
When you end up signing the Roommate Agreement, how much power does it actually have? Is it legally binding? Can it be held up in a court of law?
Well, somethings will be legally binding, and some things won’t be.
The things that will be legally binding are going to be aspects of the agreement that deal with payment. Things like who is going to be paying what amount for the rent every month, how that money is going to be paid, and what happens if they don’t pay.
The same thing goes for Utilities. If you have two people living in an apartment and they agree to split everything down the middle, from gas to electricity, to water, even all the way to the cable tv and internet, then that can be enforced in a court of law. Even a handshake agreement or verbal agreement will many times be held up in court, having it written down and signed by the other person just makes it that much easier to enforce if push comes to shove.
Things that you are not going to be able to enforce in court are getting damages for your buddy not cleaning the toilet 3 weeks in a row even though the Roommate Agreement says he should have been doing it! The court isn’t going to punish him for you being a poor judge of character no matter what document you have in place saying he should be doing that. They will want you to work that situation out on your own as adults and not waste the court’s time being a referee for something so trivial.
These are the exact situations the Roommate Agreement is for. It’s meant to be an informal referee to situations like that that come up, so you don’t have to take drastic steps like kick a roommate out who isn’t holding up his end of the bargain. They know, because of the agreement they signed with you, that if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain, they will be asked, or forced, to leave.
A signed agreement is also going to be beneficial to parents paying for the apartments of college kids. This allows them to have a bit of enforcement if their child says one of their roommates just isn’t working. They can detail the problem out, address it with the individual, and then take appropriate action after that. But you can avoid all accusations of favoritism or unlawful eviction if you have the ground rules laid out right in front that everyone agreed upon at the beginning.
Finally, any Roommate Agreement is not going to supersede the Lease Agreement you signed with the apartment complex. Simply because you have your own rules doesn’t mean that you don’t have to follow the apartment complex.
Say for instance you have a Roommate Agreement provision that says, “No loud music after 11 PM”, but the Lease Agreement says, “No loud music after 9 PM”, the Lease Agreement with the complex is going to take precedent on that. The same thing goes for anything regarding payment, the lease agreement is going to trump anything informal that you have written up with your roommates.
This absolutely does not mean that you should not have a Roommate Agreement set up and put in place, it just means that when it comes to the Lease Agreement, it is going to be the primary rule giver. Anything else though is up for you and your roommates to decide upon.
What Should Be Included In The Roommate Agreement
Now we come to what you should actually put in the Roommate Agreement.
While this is a list of the things that we at Apartment School think are the most important, if you have other issues or items that are personally important to you, by all means, include them in the agreement! You can literally put anything you want.
Let’s start off with the basics.
The first thing you are going to want to do is to define how much each of your roommates are going to pay for rent. This can get tricky if you have a larger apartment with more than one room or rooms of varying sizes. If someone has a small bedroom that doesn’t have an attached bathroom to it, then they are probably not going to want to, or be expected to, pay as much for someone else with more amenities to their living space.
The same thing goes if you have something as simple as someone sleeping on a couch in a vacant room as opposed to having their own separate bedroom.
Figure out how you are going to split up the rent, list the roommates by name in the agreement and have them acknowledge it and sign.
Also, you should include in the agreement how the rent should be paid. Does one person collect the money and then send it all as one payment to the landlord or do you all send your portion of the rent straight to them instead? Are you all paying electronically or by cash or check? At the bank or in person?
Figuring out these things and having the agreement upfront solves potential problems before they happen, and rent is the Number 1 issue both you and your landlord is going to see if there is a problem.
The security deposit is usually split to the same ratio as the rent payments each roommate has. If you have just one roommate, and you decide to split things evenly, then that makes it an easy 50/50 right down the middle.
If you have more than one roommate, it becomes more complicated, but can easily be figured out by multiplying the security deposit by the percentage of rent each roommate is going to pay.
For example, if the security deposit is $500, and you have 3 roommates, Roommate A has 35% of the rent, Roommate B has 40% of the rent, and Roommate C has 25% of the rent, this is how the calculations would work out.
- Roommate A – 35% $500 x .35 = $175
- Roommate B – 40% $500 x .40 = $200
- Roommate C – 25% $500 x .25 = $125
This way, everyone is paying their appropriate share and will know how much to expect back at the end of the rental term if the apartment has been kept up good enough to get your deposit back.
Utilities and Other Bills
The most common thing for roommates to do is split the utility bills evenly. This is the easiest thing to do, especially if both roommates are respectful of the pocketbook of the other roommates.
Where it can become dicey is when it comes to Utility usage. Some people like to keep their apartment at a balmy 75 degrees in the wintertime, and others like it cold. If you have the utilities split evenly and your roommate decides they want the apartment to feel more like an oven, then you are going to be shouldering more utility costs than you probably like.
To avoid this, you should put in your Roommate Agreement what the agreed-upon setting should be for the apartment in the summertime and wintertime. This will help avoid situations like this from coming up.
In the same way, water usage can also pose a problem. Some people take long showers. Like 45-minute-long showers. We aren’t judging, it’s just a fact. And others are just in and out and on with life. The same goes for laundry. If you have someone who has an outdoor job, or perhaps goes to the gym or plays sports every day, they are going to potentially be using the washer in your apartment much more than you are.
It can be very difficult to set up rules that govern water usage, but simply having something down in the agreement allows the other person to know that you recognize that this could be an issue. Just doing this can help them be as respectful to you as possible knowing you are paying for half of the water bill.
The same goes for TV and Internet. Today, virtually everyone is using the internet as a matter of daily life, so more than likely, you are going to be able to split the internet cost right down the middle. It becomes trickier when you are talking about TV though.
You may have 2 roommates that are willing to pay for TV, while the other 2 would rather just save the money and say they don’t need it. But this is probably not going to prevent them from watching the TV that you and your other roommate are paying for. If you are willing to do this, then that is fine. However, if you insist that all bills and costs regarding the apartment are split evenly across all roommates, talk to them about that before you sign up for any service.
A constant struggle when living with another person. Chances are, your schedule and your roommate’s schedules are not going to match up perfectly. The same goes for when you want to have leisure time and have friends over.
What are the rules for noise when you want to sleep, but your roommate wants to have some friends over, cook some food, and watch a movie? If you are working 3rd shift and need to sleep during the day, this could pose a major problem.
What about listening to music in the apartment? Do you want your roommate to constantly be blaring metal out of his bedroom while you are trying to read or work? What should be the rules for what governs this? There is no wrong answer to this and you can be as strict or lenient as you like, the important thing is you have something down and agreed upon so there is no misinterpretation of expectations.
Layout what your schedules are and establish some firm ground rules that everybody can agree to and live with.
Schedules For Bathroom
Bathroom usage can be a struggle when there are more people to the apartment than there are bathrooms, which is a frequent occurrence in apartment life.
The place to do this in the agreement is when you lay out the rules for Noise. Your schedules are going to come up as a topic of conversation. If you have 3 roommates who are all getting up and going to work at the same time and all have to shower and get ready in the morning, having your own bathroom time and privacy could pose a constant problem unless a schedule is worked out.
Even just knowing and acknowledging the different schedules of the various roommates in the apartment is going to go a long way in preventing problems with this arising in the first place.
Everyone likes to have fun and getting a bunch of people together at your apartment for food and drinks is one of the best things about sharing your apartment. But what happens when one of your roommates needs to sleep on a Saturday afternoon when the game is on? Or on a Friday night when you want to have friends over? What about your roommate who needs to study for school or be to work early in the morning?
How are you going to handle these situations?
Again, the best way to do this is to lay out specific times when having a get together is allowed, and those times when the shared spaces you have together need to be more toned down. A simple agreement on times when partying is allowed and when it is not, even if it doesn’t completely mesh with everyone’s schedules perfectly is going to prevent any hostility or hard feelings from occurring.
Remember, you are looking for agreement and understanding with these provisions, not necessarily perfection.
“Ok. Who ate my Yogurt I had in the fridge??”
At work, you are always asked to label your food. Why? Because everyone knows there are those people who see something in the cupboards or the fridge and have a different view of shared food and personal food than you do. Labeling is the easiest way for the workplace environment to handle these situations.
The easiest way to implement this in your shared apartment is by having the agreement just say that everyone buys their own food and eats their own food unless otherwise stated. This allows your buddy to munch on the bag of chips you bought, but only if he asks first, which is just being respectful. And this agreement is all about establishing respect between roommates.
Going to the extent of labeling food in the fridge and cupboards may end up sending the wrong message to your roommates, and it is a lot of work and time-consuming. You probably only need to take this step if you are still having problems with food walking off on its own. Most times, simply acknowledging the boundaries of what food is everyone’s and what food is that person’s own is all that needs to be put in the agreement when you start out.
If you are the sort of people who like to operate on a more communal basis and you share most meals and food together, then establish in the agreement what meals are going to be made, who is going to do the shopping, alone or together, and how it is going to be paid for.
Again, it doesn’t have to be a perfect arrangement that is followed down to the letter every single time, but more of guidelines that everyone acknowledges and tries to adhere to in order to prevent problems or hurt feelings from happening.
Who gets the parking space?
This can be a major challenge if you have 3 or 4 roommates. Many times, the apartment complex is only going to give out one or two parking spaces at most or give a parking pass or sticker for one vehicle. After all, there are going to be a ton of other people in your building wanting good parking spaces as well.
Decide who gets the premier parking space if it comes to that, and perhaps include that as a “luxury amenity” that you pay an extra $10-$20 a month for. Include that in the price of the rent that you are all paying a month to compensate for less than ideal parking conditions, which can oftentimes happen in high-density populated areas like downtown or urban area.
Odds are better than not that you are going to have roommates that have different versions of what “clean” is. Some are going to verge on a minimalist OCD personality, while others may not know what a dust bunny is if it came up a bit them.
There is nothing that causes more grief for someone who is tidy to have to constantly be picking up and cleaning after the other roommates. The same thing goes for the dishes and trash responsibilities. If you are constantly washing your roommate’s dishes that they just leave piled in the sink, resentment is going to set in pretty quick.
Now, if you have something in the Roommate Agreement that outlines whose responsibilities are whose, you can alleviate this problem before they start. This is definitely something you want to put in writing in the agreement because cleaning the apartment is something that is going to be a necessary and ongoing thing. Especially if you want the chance to get your security deposit back. On top of that, it is nice to have an apartment that is kept up and tidy.
Outline the tasks and jobs the different roommates have. Divide up the different tasks between people, or you can simply have a schedule that rotates who does what job during what week. This is going to make sure that the trash gets taken out on time before pick up and doesn’t sit festering under your sink for days on end.
The same thing goes with cleaning the bathrooms. You will want to have a schedule laid out for who is going to clean the sinks and bathtub and toilets on a regular basis. Few things get people more riled up and talking about another person than the dirty habits that they are forced to remedy just to make the place nice enough to have people over.
There is absolutely going to come a time where someone starts slacking on their end of the bargain. It just happens. The Roommate Agreement is the perfect way to take care of it. Instead of making their shortcomings something personal against you or the other people in the apartment, simply reference the agreement you all signed saying that this is their responsibility and that you are upholding your end of the agreement as well.
More often than not, this is all that will be needed to rectify the situation and ensure that your apartment stays looking like you want it to look.
Personal Property and Stealing
When you are living in a shared space with other people, they are more than likely going to have access to most of your things whether you want them to or not. If you are going to share your TV because it is bigger, that’s no problem, your buddy can keep it in his room. But what about your nice guitar? Just because you have it out on a stand in the living room, does this mean that he can plink around on it whenever he feels like it?
There are going to be some things that you want to keep completely to yourself and off-limits. Perhaps you really value your book or music collection and don’t really want your roommates touching them no matter how good of friends you are.
This is another good provision that the Roommate Agreement can handle for you. Establish upfront what is off-limits and what anybody can use. If you have a bike, can your roommates take it out for a spin? Some people would have no problem with that at all, and others would take great offense to it. Both types of personalities are perfectly fine, but it helps avoid problems when you detail out what personal things are off-limits to everyone else.
In the same way, this helps things from walking off. With an agreement in place, you have way less chance of someone “borrowing” something of yours that you never see again because these boundaries have already been established upfront. Your roommates know what things of yours can be used by them and vice versa, so if something disappears, you can figure out what remedy is appropriate.
Who’s Space Is Who’s?
Just like you set boundaries for your personal items you don’t want to be touched, your personal space can be an issue of contention as well.
Some of your roommates may think that they can walk into your bedroom even when the door is closed. That may be a bit of a violation for some people. Other people may want to keep their bedroom off-limits to the other people in the apartment at all times, which is perfectly fine. It just makes it easy to establish when it is laid out in the Roommate Agreement at the beginning of the rental term.
Put down what is important for you to keep private and what isn’t. Maybe you establish as roommates that the living room is for everybody at all times. Great! It doesn’t really matter what specific provision you put in there that defines personal space and common space, the important thing is that you put something in there that defines these spaces upfront.
This way, there can be no argument or confusion over how the spaces in the apartment are viewed and used as.
There are going to be times when everyone has a guest over to the apartment. But what happens when one of your roommate’s “guests” end up sleeping on your couch or even in their bedroom more than any of you want?
This is something that needs to be established and boundaries set right when you move in. You need to have provisions for when normal guests can come over for food and drinks and just to hang out on a normal basis, as well as boyfriend/girlfriend status, and other friends and relatives who suddenly show up to crash for days on end.
These things can perturb the other roommates to no end, and if you don’t have something laid out in the Roommate Agreement, something that is agreed upon by all the people staying in the apartment, it can be very difficult, and a matter of great contention to get those people to vacate.
If you have no problem with one of your roommates having their boyfriend or girlfriend stay with them for nights on end, then don’t put something in there. But not putting something in there leaves you and any other roommates open to having the guest policy you have in your mind abused.
People’s expectations are going to be different. Defining exactly what the expectations are for everyone is never going to be a perfect situation because again, we all have different criteria we think should apply. But having some set of rules down is going to help prevent and fix any problems that do arise.
Leaving The Apartment Before The Lease Is Up
What happens when one of the roommates leaves before the lease is up? Maybe they drop out of school or get a new job, or just don’t get along with you and decide to move out. What then?
At this point, you have been depending on the other person to pay part of your rent and part of the bills. If they move out, you are going to be burdened with hefty bills you are going to have to take on all by yourself. This could put you in a terrible situation financially, not to mention the stress of figuring it all out.
The good news is you can outline what happens if someone leaves early in the Roommate Agreement. Make sure they understand if they leave early for any reason outside of one concerning their personal safety, that they are going to be responsible for paying their half of the rent for the rest of the lease period.
If they are your roommate, then they will be on the lease agreement with the apartment complex as well, and as we touched on before, that agreement is going to supersede any agreement you have between yourselves. However, your roommate agreement can detail out exactly how the situation can be handled, especially if you have more than two people living in the unit.
Specify that the roommate leaving early is either responsible for paying the rest of the rent, or they are responsible for finding a suitable replacement for them in the apartment. It isn’t just their situation that takes priority. It is the rest of the people in the apartment who have made life decisions based on them being in the apartment and sharing some of the costs.
Now, you are probably not going to be able to have them take the burden for the utilities or any other services you started while at the apartment complex. This is because most services like utilities, gas, and water are used on a demand basis. So, if the other person isn’t there, you aren’t going to be using as much of those utilities as you normally would. Some of the costs are unfortunately going to have to be shouldered by you if the roommate happens to move out early, but life is not without any risk. We are simply trying to help you avoid unnecessary risks.
If their names are listed as the primary on the utility bills or internet subscription, you are going to have to work with them and the services you need to get that changed.
In the end, though, you have the ability to take the roommate who left to court for the unpaid money left in the rental agreement. You will have both the Lease Agreement from the apartment and your Roommate Agreement supporting your case. Hopefully, though, you will just be able to work out the situations as rational adults and not take it that far. But if the roommate claims he is moving out due to some irreconcilable issue with you or another roommate and that’s why they are leaving, that agreement you put in place at the beginning is going to be a big help in resolving the dispute.
Put The Roommate Agreement In Writing
Make SURE to put the agreement down in writing and everyone in the apartment signs it. Yes, it can sound like a waste of time and a quick verbal agreement may seem less awkward, formal, or downright cheesy. However, at Apartment School, there is literally no end to the types of problems we have seen arise when roommates have lived with each other. A simple Google search can give you unending horror stories of roommates, the shenanigans they pulled, and the abuse one side has taken simply because the rules and boundaries were not established beforehand.
A verbal agreement can always be claimed to be misunderstood at a later date. Having something signed in writing is a surefire way to stop this situation from ever happening. It makes acknowledging to an agreed-upon set of rules a conscious thing that they are going into. When you leave little room for doubt, handling a problem when it arises becomes MUCH easier!
Modify The Roommate Agreement If You Need To
Remember, you can always adjust the Roommate Agreement partway through the time you are staying in your apartment. If one of the provisions just isn’t working out, or it is too strict, or maybe just needs to be modified, then modify it! If everyone agrees, this is the wise thing to do. The agreement is all about respecting other people the way you want to be respected. Feel free to change any aspect about the agreement that you want, just make sure everyone else is on board with it and have them sign it as a way to say they all approve.
The important this is to HAVE AN AGREEMENT. It doesn’t have to be a prodigious document that makes you Lease Agreement with the apartment look like easy reading. You don’t have to create something the length of War and Peace to make sure that your personal space is protected and that everybody agrees upon what behavior is expected and what they are expected to contribute to your little band of tenants.
Just put in the things that are important to you and your situation. You can make it as short or as comprehensive as you want. The list of topics we provided above is meant to give you as thorough a list as possible so you don’t miss something you wish several months from now you would have included.