Get a roommate they said. It will be great they said. Like any relationship, getting a roommate starts off well. You both like each other, it seems you may even forge a friendship while easing the financial burden of having a place on your own. Then — what’s that dirty dish? Who’s that overnight guest? And… is that a cat? This is where a roommate agreement can come in handy.
As people get more comfortable in their surroundings, their true colors show. The person you interviewed who seemed like the perfect roommate to split the bills with is now turning into a slob, a loud insomniac or someone who pays too late or not at all. Now what?
All hope is not lost, and you don’t have to be “stuck.” It pays to expect the best and prepare for the worst in most situations and having a roommate is no different. We’ll show you the ins and outs of a roommate agreement, how it can save you a lot of heartache or just let you sleep easier at night.
What Is a Roommate Agreement?
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A roommate agreement is a document that clearly defines the terms of living with another person. Even if you’re having a friend move in and the two of you rarely disagree, it can’t hurt. The agreement doesn’t have to be a dreaded conversation and should be positioned as mutually beneficial to everyone involved.
A roommate agreement takes the guesswork out of the “rules”—both written in the lease and unwritten in your minds. It makes clear both parties’ expectations so there aren’t big surprises down the road. Grab your computer and make a draft using the information we’re laying out for you. You and your roommate can ensure you have a harmonious and fair living arrangement.
BENEFITS OF HAVING AN AGREEMENT
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Think of a roommate agreement as having a live-in referee. When covered questions arise, the answer is in black and white. This can serve as a gentle reminder for the “I don’t remember agreeing to that” arguments that may arise. It saves the heated pointing fingers of he said, she said arguments because there’s a moral roommate compass.
IT CAN SAVE RELATIONSHIPS
If you are living with a friend or even a semi-stranger who you want to remain civil with, a roommate agreement takes the emotion out of the issue. Because you both agreed to its terms when you were collaborative and calm, there’s no need to say anything you’ll regret. It’s in the agreement.
It can also foster relationships. Both of you will breathe easier knowing exactly what you’re getting into. There’s nothing worse than hoping the other shoe won’t drop. You will both rest better knowing you see eye to eye on the topics you took time to discuss and agree upon. It always feels better to know your voice has been heard.
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN DRAFTING THE AGREEMENT
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We recommend making an outline of topics you’d like addressed and asking your new roommate to do the same. It’s often the little things that end up making someone crazy so it’s important both of you get your concerns and “non-negotiables” on the table. Your roommate may think of something you’ve forgotten that later you would have regretted omitting.
Once you both have your outlines or checklists, meet in a casual and comfortable setting with the stated goal to be both of you entering the agreement happily, knowing both your needs will be met. Here are the topics we think are a great start to any roommate agreement:
THE “LEAD” ROOMMATE
Generally, only one person will sign the lease. That person is the lead roommate. Because this person is on the hook legally, they get to decide who stays and who doesn’t. If everyone in the residence is on the lease, it’s an equal say all around.
This person will also keep the lease and know if its terms are being broken. If you’re the lead roommate, you can decide the big house rules before the agreement discussion. This is a good conversation for the interview. If you don’t allow drinking in your house or are allergic to cats, you need to let people who might live with you know this up front. If they agree to big house rules, be sure to include those in your roommate agreement.
WHO SPENDS THE NIGHT
Often one of the most contested issues in a living situation. You have a single person move in with you and then they get a girlfriend. Suddenly she’s spending five nights a week in your place, taking showers, playing music and cooking her famous fish tacos. Does your sister come to visit once a year and stay with you for three weeks? Have the talk.
Have the conversation up front. How many nights is too many? How will last-minute guests be handled, if allowed at all? Maybe weekends are ok, maybe not. Be very specific here. The worst is to have your roommate ask if his friend Dan can crash for a few nights while Dan is standing right in front of you.
Some people even add that a guest can't be left alone in the house or that they need to have spent X amount of time getting to know the other roommate before spending the night is allowed. Also, stipulate if a third party can have a copy of the key either for convenience or emergency purposes.
Few people like to clean. Even fewer like to clean up after other people. We all know to keep our own spaces clean- but everybody’s definition of clean is different. If your roommate has their own bathroom are you ok with the toilet never being scrubbed or the bathtub left to its own devices? Specify how often the space needs to be cleaned so that things don’t become damaged due to neglect.
The common spaces may require a chore chart—who cleans what and when. Or, if one of you hates dusting but loves to vacuum, great! Be sure to lay it all out—how often, to what degree and how to trade off if one of you can’t do it on a particular week. If your head explodes when a dish is left in the sink overnight, make that clear up front. If leaving food on plates for a week and ignoring the exploded lasagna in the microwave makes you feel at home, mention that too.
Before you move in together, be clear about who can use what. If it’s your TV and X-box, can your roomie use them? Are you new Calphalon pans off limits? Make sure you’re both clear about what you’re willing to share and what you’re not. Some people are fine with their roommates coming home having “borrowed” their favorite sweater, others aren’t.
What about laundry detergent, dish soap, spices, and flour- how will you either separate or split the expenses of everyday items? If you only use imported, organic basil and your roommate replaces it with dollar store stuff, will you be ok with that? If not, stipulate your special items as unshared.
If you need to use the shared bathroom at 7:15 sharp and so does your roommate, things could get awkward. Know each other’s schedules ahead of time, be considerate and stick to them. Sleep schedules are critical to talk about. If you get up at 5 am every morning but your roommate doesn’t get home until 2 am, set some ground rules so you both get to sleep when you need to.
Television watching and music listening habits of another person are terrible things to be surprised by. Be sure you talk about habits you know you have. Ask your best friends about habits you have you may not know of, they may surprise you and they may be worthy of mention.
How will you split these up and when should they be paid? If you can’t live without the NHL Network and your roommate didn’t know hockey was a sport, maybe they shouldn’t pay half of that monthly fee. Whatever your arrangement, be ultra-clear here. Know who’s name the bills will be in, when they are due and when you want the money in your hot little hand. No surprises here- people get the funniest about money.
We wish we had known about a roommate agreement when we were in college, it could have saved a friendship or two. This is a fantastic way to lay down some ground rules. Once, you’re both happy, sign, date and make copies of the agreement for everyone. We hope it never comes down to “I’ll see you in a court of law” but if it does, this may help.
Roommate agreements are just a great way to keep the peace and let everyone know their voice was heard. It’s also a great way to spot trouble before it happens. If you’re pounding out the details and come to a big impasse, you can part ways knowing it’s best for both of you. These types of agreements lay the groundwork for a mutually beneficial and successful partnership and living arrangement.