In 2017, nearly 79 million adults, or almost a third of the adult population, had a living arrangement with a roommate. Whether you’re moving in with your best friends, or shacking up with strangers, it might be worth drafting a roommate agreement to head off conflicts before they arise.
What is a Roommate Agreement?
A standard lease is a legally binding document, whereas a roommate agreement may not necessarily be. It can be an informal document or it can be made into a legal contract, depending on what you decide you want. Just because it’s not always legally binding, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth having, however. Popularized in sitcom The Big Bang Theory, a roommate agreement allows people who are planning on living together to agree on a set of house rules and expectations. This means that there is less chance for disagreements and misunderstandings between roommates as everything is laid out beforehand. Unlike in the Big Bang Theory, they’re usually fair to each roommate, and don’t tend to have clauses about Godzilla.
Why Would You Need a Roommate Agreement?
You don’t move in with people planning to fall out, but unfortunately sometimes things can turn sour. Having an agreement in place means that you can try to head off conflicts before they occur, or at least have a plan in place. It also means that you can figure out if moving in with these roommates is a good idea, and decide against it if there are too many things you disagree on.
Topics to Cover in a Roommate Agreement
Different people may require different items in their roommate agreements. A few topics that you might want to consider covering include:
Division of Living Space
First of all, if you’re not renting by room, but rather in a joint tenancy situation, you’re probably going to want to agree who is going to live in which bedroom, especially if the rooms are different sizes. Outlining this can avoid conflict later on if someone decides they feel cheated and want to switch rooms.
If the rooms do happen to be different sizes, you may want to use your roommate agreement to reflect that - different size rooms may mean that you pay different portions of the rent. Although a roommate agreement may not be a legal document, it can be useful to show in small claims court if one roommate doesn’t pay their share of the rent. It can also be important to define rental amounts if, for example, there is a couple living in one room, as opposed to a single person in another. Do you each pay an equal share of the rent or is it per bedroom?
Note down who paid what amount towards the security deposit, and what is to happen if the landlord withholds some of the security deposit at the end of the tenancy.
This is where you decide who is responsible for paying what bills. Utilities tend to only be able to be in one person’s name, so you’ll have to make sure that you’re all paying equal bills (or thereabouts) or that you’re sending money to whoever is paying the bills. Outline exactly who is going to pay what bills and how you’re settling up, including what day of the month bills are to be paid.
How often is too often for overnight visitors? At what point does the extra visitor become another roommate and need to contribute to the rent? If a person is expecting to come home to an empty house but finds a sleepover happening, they might not be too pleased. Someone might expect to be allowed to bring whoever they want to their home, but another roommate might not want strangers around. Define the rules and stick to them.
Communal Property vs. Private Property
Will each person have separate food storage areas in the fridge and cupboards for their own ingredients? Who is in charge of buying cleaning supplies - it seems silly to have multiples of each item. Perhaps you decide to chip in to get cleaning supplies together. Or maybe you’ll take it in turns to buy them. With regards to food, do you each buy and cook your own, or will there be items that you share, such as condiments and coffee? This may seem like a small thing to decide, but it will get very annoying very quickly if you’re on different pages on this issue.
This is especially important if you’re on different schedules. If one of you is a party animal but the other has to get up early for work, you’re going to want to specify quiet times. The same goes for anyone working nights and sleeping during the day. Otherwise, you may run into some serious problems. Even if you all work similar schedules, there are some people who are night owls whereas some are early birds. Setting quiet times can help keep harmony by allowing everyone all the sleep that they need.
Cleaning and Other Chores
Who is going to be responsible for which chores? The kitchen and bathroom are the areas of an apartment that usually require the most upkeep - if you agree to a cleaning rotation you can make sure that they remain clean. Agreeing that things should be kept clean is a good way to prevent a build up of dishes in the kitchen - something that is especially useful if you’re going to be sharing pots and pans. The last thing you want is to get home from work to discover the equipment you need to use for dinner is sitting dirty on the countertop.
Schedules for Bathrooms and Cooking
Different people have different schedules, but if you happen to work the same shift as your roommates, you may find that the bathroom and the kitchen are constantly full. By laying out your schedules in a roommate agreement you can make sure that the spaces are used efficiently. Maybe you take turns to cook each other dinner, thus clearing the traffic in the kitchen. Perhaps one of you prefers to shower in the evenings whereas another is a morning showerer. Discussing this before moving in together means that you can avoid being late for work due to a bottleneck in the bathroom.
Smoking is likely to be prohibited in the lease, but it can be useful to include it in the roommate agreement too. Reinforcing the existing rules is a good way to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Especially if it’s not already discussed in the lease, it’s important to decide whether all parties are okay with smoking inside the property. You can discuss where smoking is going to be allowed, whether that be inside, just outside the door or all the way at the other end of the yard. By agreeing to this together, you can avoid a lot of hassle later down the line.
Again, this is something that is likely to be already in the lease, but it might be worth having some rules regarding pets. If a person already has a pet when they move in, it should be easy to agree who is responsible for the pet deposit. However, if a person has allergies, they may want to ensure that these are taken into consideration. It can also be useful to have rules in place in case someone decides that they want to get a pet in the future.
Moving out Early
Sometimes a person may find themselves in a situation where they need to move sooner than anticipated. Decide who is responsible for finding a new roommate to fill that slot. Usually, it will be the person who is moving out. You will probably have to check your lease to see what the rules are regarding subletting. If there’s nothing in there, check with your landlord. You’ll also want to include something about them still being responsible for their portion of the rent until they find someone to move in as a replacement, even if they have moved out. This will protect the rest of you from being stuck paying extra rent.
One final thing you’ll want to agree on, is how conflicts will be resolved. For anything that’s not in the roommate agreement, will they be discussed by text, or will you have a roommate meeting?
How to Write a Roommate Agreement
First of all, it’s important to make sure that you write this agreement before you all actually move in together - retroactively implementing rules may be difficult. There are many templates online, otherwise you can just dust off your laptop and get going.
- Be explicit where possible - don’t leave room for interpretation.
- Write the agreement together. Set some time aside to get together and discuss what needs to be in it.
- Make sure that everyone agrees, and make compromises if necessary, but know that once you all agree, that is it.
- Have someone type it up and print copies for everyone to sign.
- Sign at the same time - this way nobody will feel like anything has been snuck in.
Don’t forget that as things change and time moves on, you may want to make amendments to the agreement. This is acceptable as long as everyone agrees to the revisions.
A roommate agreement can be tricky to get right the first time, but it can help you avoid headaches in the long run. Having one can make sure you’re compatible with your potential roommates before you commit to living together, and can outline rules and expectations that you each have.