What to consider when choosing a roommate.
Negotiating a roommate agreement may not be your highest priority when starting out in a new place. It is highly recommended that a Roommate Agreement [PDF] be completed after an honest discussion about issues and personal habits!
Experience has shown that even the best of friends can become bitter enemies after several months of sharing living arrangements. In some cases, an agreement might be advisable before signing a lease as people may discover that they are not suited to be roommates.
Topics to discuss
Money can be the single biggest issue to cause friction between roommates. It is important to ensure what amount is being paid and by whom (i.e. if one person shares a room, do they pay less than the roommate that gets a single room, or if all roommates get a single room, does the person with a smaller room pay less). Also, does each roommate pay their share to the landlord or does one roommate pay another and that roommate pay the landlord.
It is important to know exactly what costs are shared when living together. Telephone, food, TV rental, etc., are important issues to decide. It is also necessary to have a system about when payment is made or required (i.e. if the phone is in the name of one roommate and the other roommate(s) are required to share costs, is the payment by the other roommate(s) due when the bill is received or the deadline on the bill).
Remember, if the payment by the roommate(s) is due when the deadline for the bill is, the roommate who actually pays the bill could have a cash flow problem. It is recommended that a policy be established that payment is due a certain number of days after the bill is received or a certain number of days before the deadline on the bill.
If the rooms are identical, choosing one may not be a concern. But if one room is larger than others, or has a better view, some negotiation will be necessary. It can be as complicated as negotiating a different rent for each room or as easily as a coin flip to determine who gets a particular room.
Chores can often be mundane or easy depending upon individual needs and talents. Whether it is washing dishes, cooking, general cleanliness, or cleaning the bathroom, it is necessary to determine a level of tolerance for certain tasks. Sometimes it's beneficial to set up some schedule and/or alternate duties on a weekly or monthly basis.
Often students are not present during the summer months or stop in occasionally. It is beneficial for various reasons to ensure everyone knows what is happening during the summer period. If the place is to be vacant for an extended period, it would be a good idea to have a friend check for security reasons, pick up any mail, or water the plants. If tenants are going to return at varying times throughout the summer, it would be prudent to coordinate those dates.
There are two primary situations that involve subletting. One is when you sublet in the summer to get extra income. The second is when a roommate leaves for whatever reason and wants to sublet to meet their monetary obligations. In the first case, it is necessary to discuss who will sublet and how the income is divided. Does the sublet have use of the entire apartment or just one bedroom and the common area? (It is advisable to have a written agreement with the sublettor). In the second case, there should be some discussion as to whether the sublettor needs to be approved by all parties or if the sublettor needs to be a non-smoker or the same sex as the remaining roommates.
It's important to know what will happen at the end of an agreement. It should be incorporated into the agreement that all parties have a discussion as to what is going to happen. If one roommate is going to give their notice to vacate the roommate(s) = agreement, it should be required that each individual give a copy of the notice to the other roommates so that they can decide if they are going to stay or give their notice as well.
It is strongly advised that some ground rules are set beforehand regarding the following issues:
Early morning or late at night; can be caused by stereos, clock radios, talking late at night with a visiting friend, etc.
"My roommate likes to listen to his/her stereo (even at low volumes) late at night."
Can consist of mutual friends, visitors, overnight guests, partners, or even parents.
"My roommate has their partner over every Friday and Saturday night or they stay for a week at a time."
Could include many things at varying degrees i.e. bedroom/common area, bathroom items, items in the fridge, etc. Note: It may be worthwhile to do a property list to ensure that everybody knows which items belong to each roommate as well as for insurance purposes.
"My roommate went into my bedroom to borrow my hair dryer and told me a couple of days later when I could not find it."
Determine who uses which parking spaces (if applicable)
Not only decide if roommates can smoke but where and also consider guests.
"My roommate and I agreed that we would not smoke but my roommate has a friend who chain smokes. After three hours the apartment stinks!"
It's always important to have good communication between roommates - designate an area (i.e. fridge door) to leave messages for each other.
"My roommate never writes down messages and tells me after the message becomes irrelevant!"
There may be times when visitors will not be allowed or maybe two roommates prefer using the same area to study.
"My roommate likes to work on the computer late at night. The computer doesn't bother me but the keyboard clicking does!"
Decide if pets will be allowed, even on a temporary basis.
"My roommate and I agreed to not have a cat or dog but at Christmas s/he got a gerbil that runs on its wheel all night!"
What is the expectation in terms of going grocery shopping
"One roommate has a car and others expect him/her to take them shopping."