Do You Need a Roommate Agreement? (Yes!)

A roommate agreement seems like overkill to many renters. The idea of entering into a contract with your roommate—especially if that roommate is a friend—may bring to mind images of silly outcomes like litigation over someone not taking the garbage out. However, it is in your best interest to have a roommate agreement. And that’s true even if your roommate is your best friend or your brother.

Roommate Agreement

Here’s why:

A Roommate Agreement Sets Clear Expectations: Often when people move in together, they’re making unconscious assumptions. It’s all too common for friends or strangers to move into shared space without setting clear ground rules. Then, ugly surprises crop up when they find out they’re not on the same page. A roommate agreement ensures that both tenants have thought through how work, space and expenses will be shared and are truly on the same page.

Surprises Happen: Even if both renters have the best of intentions, plans can go awry. One roommate may lose her job or be forced to move out of state because of a family crisis, for example. While you may believe (and perhaps rightly so) that you can work it out if something unexpected occurs, the last thing either of you wants is to have to try to sort out the legalities and financial aspects in the midst of a crisis. A roommate agreement lets you provide for contingencies like this while heads are clear and there’s no time pressure.

People Can Surprise You, Too:  Most people who move in with friends or relatives are pretty confident up front that they won’t have any serious problems. But conflicts do happen, either because someone turns out to be less reliable than you thought or because differing perceptions leave both parties feeling wronged. Having a roommate agreement will not only protect you legally in this situation, but it may protect your relationship as well.

Making a Roommate Agreement Work

You can find free templates for roommate agreements online, and that’s great as a starting point. But don’t just download an agreement, skim through it and think you’re covered. Make sure that you both understand the agreement and that you make any changes necessary to accommodate your real intentions. Don’t leave something in but say, We’d never really do that, or leave something out but agree verbally—make sure it reflects your actual agreement and that you've gone through it together and truly are on the same page. Although a roommate agreement can protect you if litigation becomes necessary, its primary purpose is to keep you and your roommate from reaching that point.

Learn more about living with roommates.