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Choosing a roommate

Many people who live off-campus decide to have a roommate. While individual reasons for wanting roommates vary, there are many advantages to not living by yourself:

  • You will save money. Rent and utilities divided by multiple people will be less expensive than paying for everything on your own.
  • A roommate provides companionship and an outlet to meet new people.
  • Many people feel safer knowing that there’s always someone else around.
  • More space. Apartments with two bedrooms also tend to have separate living rooms and kitchens.
However, just as there are new freedoms and new opportunities, there are also new things to consider. When two or more people simultaneously sign the same rental agreement, they are co-tenants and share the same legal rights and responsibilities.

Co-tenants may decide to split the rent equally or unequally. However, this arrangement has no impact on the landlord. Each co-tenant is independently liable to the landlord for all of the rent. So, if one tenant can’t pay a share of the rent in a particular month, or simply moves out, the other tenant(s) must still pay the full rent. Also, a landlord can hold ALL co-tenants responsible for the bad behavior of just one and evict everyone with the appropriate notice.

Roommates make lots of informal agreements. Your landlord isn't bound by these agreements and has no power to enforce them. If you have shared a house or apartment then you know about roommates who play the stereo too loud, never wash a dish, have too many overnight guests, or otherwise drive you nuts. If the situation gets bad enough, you’ll likely end up arguing with your roommates about who should leave.

The more you can anticipate possible problems from the start, the better prepared you’ll be to handle disputes that do arise. First, try to choose compatible roommates. Before you move in, sit down with your roommates and create your own agreement covering major issues, such as:

  • RENT - What is everyone’s share? Who will write the rent check if the landlord will accept only one check? How does the check writer get paid back by the other roommates?
  • UTILITIES - Who will have the utilities in their name?
  • SPACE - Who gets to stay in which room?
  • CLEANING - Is there going to be a set schedule? Who’s responsible for which duty?
  • FOOD - Will you be sharing food, shopping, and cooking responsibilities? How will you split the costs and work?
  • GUESTS - Is it okay to have guests stay over night? How many times a week? Do you have to get permission each time?
  • NOISE - What time is “quiet time”? When should TV’s be turned off or down low?
  • MOVING OUT - If one of you decides to move, how much notice must be given? Must the departing tenant find an acceptable substitute?
  • DISPUTES - How will you handle disagreements? If it doesn't work out, who has to leave?
It’s best to put your understandings in writing. Be as specific as possible, especially on issues that are important to you. And know that while judges can’t order a tenant to clean the bathroom, they can enforce written, financial agreements, such as how rent is to be shared.

In the end, the best way to have a good roommate is simply to be a good roommate, willing to compromise and communicate.