Relationship and Legal Issues When You Move In With Your Significant Other

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Should You Have a Formal Roommate Agreement?

Donna: A properly drafted and executed roommate agreement is a great idea, especially if you are not named on the lease. The following, at a minimum, should be included in the roommate agreement:  

    • How much rent each person will pay?
    • Who’s responsible for the security deposit?
    • Who’s responsible for paying the landlord?
    • Who’s responsible for paying the utilities?
    • How long the agreement will be in effect
    • Who stays in the apartment should a break-up occur?

You might also want to include the following:

      • Whether you can have overnight guests and, if so, how often?
      • Who does what household chores and how often?
      • Will food be shared by the roommates and, if so, who buys the food?
      • Who occupies which bedrooms?
      • What are circumstances under which someone can move out or is asked to move out?
      • How much notice needs to be given?
      • Does the person who is moving out have to find a replacement roommate?

Alex: To me, if one or both of you feel you need a “roommate pre-nup” and worry about seeing a one-year lease through to its end, I would take some time to reassess whether the two of you should actually be moving in together. This is not to say that a couple that has no worries about their relationship won’t blunder into a disaster within a year – but extricating oneself is relatively easy.

That said, there are a couple things I’d consider putting in writing: If the two of you bought a pet together, who gets to keep it? The same with major furniture purchased together. Decide upfront who’d get to keep the HDTV and the fancy couch you both bought – and write down how much they cost, so that if one of you needs to reimburse the other, you have the amounts handy.

Would a roommate agreement be legally binding?

Donna: If the roommate agreement conforms to the requirements for a valid contract in your state, then the roommate agreement is a contract that is legally binding, but there are certain provisions that a judge might not enforce (e.g., it’s unlikely that a judge would force a roommate to buy groceries, clean the apartment, etc.) The judge will enforce financial obligations of the roommates.

Alex: To go along with that, particularly in reference to the unenforceable clauses, the reason you have it in writing is so that you have a mutual understanding of how various issues will be handled if things don’t work out. It makes it more real, and makes it harder for one party to go back on their word.

Donna: I have one more legal warning: texting and emailing are very common forms of communication today and people tend to be very careless about what they write.  You need to remember that everything you put in a text message or email or post on your Facebook account or Twitter account can be used either to help you or hurt you if you have to go to court.

How should you keep track of your expenses?

Alex: Generally speaking, keeping good financial records is a good idea – though I don’t know that this is something unique to couples.

Donna: Any expenses the parties have agreed to split should be documented.  Best way would be to save the original bills and receipts. When people are cohabiting as a couple, they tend to get sloppy about expenses. That can be very problematic if the couple splits up and wants to recover an expense.

Alex: Agreed. If you get in a fight and you claim you’re paying way more than your fair share, it certainly is better to be able to consult your records and see that, in fact, you’ve been paying about 60% of the bills, or whatever it ends up being. And don’t forget eating out. It’s fun, it’s a great social activity, but it’s also incredibly expensive. For example, if you go out to a fancy dinner you can end up spending, as a couple, as much as you would for a week’s worth of groceries. Is that okay with both of you? Is that how you want to spend your money? It’s worth talking about – ideally, you’ll both be on the same page with regard to how much you eat out per week and how those costs are split.



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