Living With Roommates: Part One

According to the 2007 National Multi-Housing Council tabulations in the Annual Social and Economic Supplement from the U.S. Census Bureau, the 32 percent of Americans who rent -- whether they are young, old, married or divorced -- are probably going to be looking for a roommate.

Picking a Roommate

Ahh, roommates. Can’t live with ‘em and you can’t pay the bills without ‘em.

In our “Roommate Scenarios” series, Apartment Living aims to help those lucky 32 percent of us to look at the good, bad and the day-to-day drudgery of living with a partner-in-crime.

Most of us are probably unaware of some of the do’s, don’ts and absolute no-no’s of sharing our space. Your roommate abandoned the place? Well, unless you follow the letter of the law, you’re stuck with the bill. And it’s doubtful your landlord will let you wash his dishes to stay another month!  

Because you and your roomie both signed the lease, you are jointly liable for the rent. Period.

What is unfortunate is that people often enter a legally-binding situation like this without having the basic points nailed down. The following questions to consider come courtesy of the folks at Avalon Communities, a rental property management company:

  • How long will each roommate stay in the apartment?

  • What are the basic house rules concerning guests/smoking/drinking/cleaning/groceries?

  • What happens if a roommate wants to leave early? Who pays the rent? How do you find a replacement?

  • How will you divide the rent?

  • Who gets the bigger room (and does that entail a larger share of the rent?)?

  • Who will have their name on the utility bills?

Even if you and your roommate are best friends (sometimes especially so) it is a good idea to have a written contract -- either a roommate agreement or a sublease agreement -- depending upon your situation. These can be provided to you by your landlord. It’s in his or her best interest to see all parties involved understand their legal obligations.

Unexpected problems can occur—an argument, job changes, whatever—and a prior agreement sets obligations and rights of the roommates (it’s kind of like a pre-nup if you think about it!). Although these types of agreements can be either oral or written, both are equally enforceable under the law—but obviously in written agreements consequences are clearer.

That last point will be made ever more poignant in Living With Roommates: Part Two. The first subject in the series had been living with his girlfriend for about eight months. His story covers the move-in, the meltdown and the eventual hassle of dealing with the aftermath of a roommate who, in every respect, violated every obligation of being a tenant.