Living with roommates is a reality for 79 million Americans and sometimes, it's a necessity if you live in an expensive city like Manhattan or San Francisco. You may get private rooms but will still have to share space within the rental unit as a whole.
Just like signing a lease agreement when you move into a new apartment, you need to set ground rules before you decide to move in with someone, even if they're your best friend. Part of it is etiquette, but mostly, it's to make sure you can discuss conflicts appropriately.
You don't have to create a golden rule for living together, but you should establish a roommate agreement with rules and expectations before you live together.
A study by Boise State University revealed the most common problems between roommates. Although these findings came from students who might have been in a college dorm and may not have experienced life in the real world yet, it still tells the story of conflicts that tend to arise when living with others. The top problems included:
Most of these issues stem from an inability to respect shared spaces. One roommate definitely doesn't have control over these areas, even if they think you're just being overly sensitive by complaining. Problems are real, and a person should never assume you're just OK with whatever.
The only real way to prevent problems and other things from going wrong is to take the time to discuss how to cohabitate.
A roommate agreement is a legally binding contract put in place that both you and your roommates agree upon and sign, before living together. Anything you want to hash out with your new roommate is fair game when it comes to this contract, so talk about any issues you think could lead to problems.
It's not the same thing as a lease agreement because it focuses on roommate relationships only. There could be some overlap when it comes to ground rules, but a roommate agreement mostly hones in on roommate space only.
Start with the basics. Write out the names of all the tenants and the address of your rental home. It's also a good idea to include whose room is whose in the apartment.
Here are 13 items you need to include when you create your roommate agreement.
Start with the details of how you'll make rent payments. Put the payment process in writing in your roommate agreement so there's no confusion about who pays what and when.
You definitely need to agree about rent so you don't run the risk of getting evicted.
Do the same for bills. This one is a little more complicated since bills can only be in one person's name. Figure out what shared bills will need to pay each month and how you'll be splitting expenses.
Within the roommate agreement, dictate how core utilities will get divided up and paid for, and include a date for when to pay these.
While you're talking bills, toss in how you'll both pay for other shared items like toilet paper. You wouldn't think that would cause a dispute, but wait until you're the only one buying it.
Life circumstances could cause one of you to move out early. Or, maybe it wasn't a match. It happens. Just make sure you set the expectation for what to do if this happens, including:
Money is always a key issue when roommates go their separate ways, so make sure even the most unlikely of issues, like where to send money that comes back, get addressed well in advance within the roommate agreement.
If the lease ends and everyone decides to move out, how will you handle the security deposit if the landlord does not return all of it?
For example, what if one or two roommates were responsible for damaging something in the unit?
It's a good idea to document instances of damage and repair, as it happens, so you have a record of it when you move out. Don't forget to take photos or video of the damages, as well.
Hopefully, you already know if one of you is a pet owner, but even if you don't, it's important to include pets in the roommate agreement. If your landlords allow pets in your apartment, be clear on what the owner is responsible for paying for, as there are various pet fees the building may charge. You may also want to adjust any household chores list to include cleaning up after the pet.
Make sure you also spell out in the contract if it's OK to get a pet in the future just in case.
If one of you is allergic to any animals, write in the contract that they're not allowed in the apartment.
Being aware of schedules (and showing some courtesy) goes a long way.
Do you leave every morning at 5 a.m. and like to play music while you get ready? Maybe your roommate doesn't wake up until 2 p.m. because they work nights.
Put everyone's schedules on paper and tack them up in the kitchen or someplace visible.
Everyone needs downtime.
In order to set this expectation, set quiet hours so your roommate won't knock on your door when you'd rather be alone and outline them in the roommate agreement.
Not only will quiet hours give you privacy and downtime, but they also establish when to keep the noise in the apartment at a minimum. This comes into play again when you're sharing schedules and figuring out how to go about your day respectfully.
No one wants a surprise extra roommate by way of a boyfriend or girlfriend. The same goes for any guest who doesn't want to leave. There's nothing worse than expecting to come home to an empty house only to find three of your roommate's buddies over.
Couples often have sleepovers, but if you don't want to see your roommate's significant other over more often than not, it's best to make it clear how often guests can come and spend the night in the roommate agreement.
This will help avoid an awkward conversation about seeing your roommate's partner too often and keep guests from overstaying their welcome.
One of the top complaints about living with roommates (or even a spouse) is not cleaning up after themselves. This gets complicated if you have different definitions of "clean." By talking about it, you can create a cleaning schedule that hits all the high notes. If, for example, you like a clean sink, agree to clean the dishes or fill the dishwasher after cooking.
Shared spaces usually need cleaning the most. They also require a specific set of cleaning supplies. Your cleaning schedule should focus on those spaces, and your conversation should also discuss how you'll share the cost of the necessary supplies.
Imagine planning to cook an elaborate dinner all day only to come home to your roommate doing the same thing. A schedule that outlines who will cook and when can help you avoid this scenario.
Or, waking up in a rush only to find your roommate is using the bathroom when you desperately need to brush your teeth and shower.
Knowing each other's daily routines will help. Maybe you shower at night and your roommate showers in the morning. Figure out what works best for each of your schedules and add this to the roommate agreement.
You may even want to create a shared calendar, so when things change, it's easy to keep each other in the loop.
How will the food, grocery shopping and cooking responsibilities be shared? Will you split the costs, or will everyone worry about their own shopping?
Will each person have separate food storage areas in the fridge and kitchen?
Some like it hot. And others like to sleep in the freezing cold. To avoid getting into a passive-aggressive temperature-changing war and paying a ton for the air-conditioning or heat, agree on a summer and winter temperature that you and your roommate are comfortable with and include it in the roommate agreement.
Agree on how you'll handle and communicate anything that isn't in the roommate agreement agreement.
For example, do you prefer to text about it or have a roommate meeting?
Having a written roommate agreement set in place, that you talk about together, will help guide the rules and expectations for everyone in the household.
Even if your best friends and an agreement seems silly, what this is all really about is respect. Remember specific roommate rules can provide:
Even in the most perfect relationships, people get into arguments. Instead of letting it fester until it blows out of proportion, turn to an agreed-upon list of rules and expectations and save your roommate relationship. It will keep everyone on the same page and accountable for their actions, or lack thereof (hello, dirty dishes or no toilet paper).