Roommate Decisions: The Personal Stuff

  • Roommate Decisions: The Personal Stuff

The key to a successful roommate relationship is having each party know what to expect right from the start. The best way to accomplish this is by drafting a written roommate agreement that anticipates problems before they arise and establishes ways to deal with them.

Roommate Agreement Checklist

A good roommate agreement should cover at least the following areas:

  • Money. How is the rent split? If there are joint purchases, such as appliances and furniture, how are they paid for? What happens if a roommate cannot pay his/her share?
  • Private spaces and common areas. Who gets which room? How are the common areas furnished and maintained? Are there guidelines for maintaining private areas?
  • Food and common household supplies. Are they shared? How are they paid for? Who is responsible for replacing items?
  • Visitors. Is there a limit on number and timing of visitors? Are overnight visitors allowed, and if so can they sleep in the common area? How long can a visitor stay? Who pays costs related to visitors (use of common food/drink supplies, etc.)?
  • Pets. Cats? Dogs? Snakes? What kind of pets are allowed?
  • Noise. Are there guidelines for acceptable noise level? What about late at night? In private areas? In common areas?
  • Moving out. How are jointly purchased items divided? If a roommate wants to move out before end of the lease, who is responsible for finding a replacement? Under what circumstances can a roommate be asked to move out?

Also check out Roommate Leases: the Legal Points.

Same Sex vs. Opposite Sex Roommates

Both same sex and opposite sex roommates have their plusses and minuses. If you lived in a co-ed dorm in your college, you already know more you want about the strange habits of the opposite sex. If you have a clear preference, go with it and don’t settle for a situation that you are not necessarily comfortable with.

The most important thing about selecting a roommate is to learn as much as possible about the prospective roommate’s personality and habits before signing up.

Friends as Roommates


  • You know the person
  • You have a pretty good idea if you can trust them (i.e., they won’t skip town with your money or murder you in your sleep)
  • You have a similar, if not the same, circle of friends
  • You won’t have to go through the first apartment experience alone


  • You risk losing him or her as a friend if things don’t work out
  • You may learn TMI you didn’t want to know about the person
  • If it devolves to fighting, it’ll be a hassle among your other friends

This is just our general list, so it would be a good idea to make up your own pros and cons before deciding.

You may both think that it is silly to have a written agreement. After all, you know each other so well! What could go wrong? But what if you never realized that your friend’s tolerance for dirty dishes and dust bunnies is much higher than yours, and you end up doing all the cleaning. Or your friend may not make as much money as you and expects you to keep the place stocked up with groceries. Before you sign the lease, sit down and plan on paper how your roommate relationship will work. It may save your friendship.

Boyfriend/Girlfriend as Roommate

When you’re getting your first apartment, the idea of moving in with a boyfriend/girlfriend can be very tempting. You can afford a nicer place, and you have a person to share bills and groceries and responsibilities with, which can be very comforting. You are “playing house” and getting to know each other better. This can be a great way to make the relationship evolve and deepen, but it’s also important to remember that this is a first-time experience for both of you so there are bound to be bumps in the road and some learning experiences.

Just like when you’re roommates with a friend, you may not see any need for a formal agreement, but that could be a mistake. It is easy to get wrapped up in the romance of the situation and forget that this is a legal contract you are entering into with the landlord, so it might be a good idea to jot down the apartment equivalent of a pre-nup. If the relationship ends, you don’t want to be stuck sleeping on the couch with your ex in the bedroom while you save up money for a new place. A breakup is no longer just a break-up but possibly tantamount to an eviction – a high stress situation that is not conducive to calmly negotiating who moves out. If you have a roommate agreement, the details have already been worked out, so you’ll have a little more time to stress about whether or not your ex is seeing someone new instead of fighting over who has to deal with the lease.

Strangers as Roommates

If you’re moving to a new city, the prospect of rooming with complete strangers recruited from the personals can be daunting, if not terrifying. The goal, obviously, is to weed out the crazies and hone in on cool, like-minded professionals who you’d actually like to split a six-pack with from time to time. But how can you do that? One way to stack the odds in your favor is to use a referral agency that has already done background checks on people before taking them on as clients. It costs money, but having some peace of mind can be invaluable while settling into a new environment. A more economical option is to go through your college’s alumni group to find leads.

Even if you use these approaches, however, you should still cast as wide a net as possible by scouring Craigslist and the newspaper listings. Also, if you give yourself enough time, you can wander the neighborhoods you’re considering and look for posted flyers or ads for local leasing offices.

Then, when you meet with potential roommates, make sure you grill them about their work schedules, interests, significant others (who may end up effectively being a third roommate), and positions on such things as house pets, weekly poker nights, etc. Use our Roommate Agreement Check List as a guideline for questions, and take notes as you go. Once you’ve found an apartment you like and roommates you can live with, you should feel free to ask your landlord about the upkeep required to keep the place in shape, for instance if there’s a backyard, whether you need to cut the grass. Also, don’t forget to ask how the deposit will be handled-will it go to the landlord or straight to the renter who is leaving? And Google everything: the address, the landlord, the address of the potential roommate, and his or her old landlord. Your potential roommate may also show up on Friendster, Facebook, or MySpace.

TIP: If your roommates are not comfortable with a formal agreement you can always write down the move in date, how much money has been given and the rules of the house, date it, sign it and give a copy to everyone in the house.

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