Q: Since rents have become so expensive, I’m considering a roommate to share my apartment. Any suggestions?
A: Taking on a roommate is more complicated than most people think. More than just sharing a space, that person will also share your financial and personal obligations. You’ll also be sharing friends, family and a host of personal habits.
You’ll also need your landlord’s permission. They can provide the “application to rent” form you’ll need the prospective roommate to fill out, as well as run the credit and background check needed before making a decision. A credit check will confirm job and address information, creditor status and any eviction data.
The ability to afford the rental amount is a top consideration as well.
In addition to confirming a solid background and ability to pay, consider some basic details that may help avoid conflict down the road. Drawing up a roommate agreement is essential. A plethora of sample roommate agreements can be found online by searching “sample roommate agreements,” and roommate services also provide help filling out forms to avoid conflict.
What should you take into account when looking for a perfect roommate?
Dwelling details: Who gets the bigger view? How will the rent be divided? Is there enough parking for the two vehicles? Does the other person need a lot of storage or closet space?
Decide how you want to decorate the space, including what covers the walls in public rooms, such as kitchen and living room. Who brings what furniture? Two sofas cluttering up the living room can be unsettling. Painting the place can also cause conflict. Because most leases require the unit be “returned in the condition as when first rented,” the cost of repainting or repairing may stress your budget come move-out time.
Phone lines and Internet access may also challenge roommates, especially when it comes time to pay the bill. Two phone lines are ideal, but not everything can be neatly split. Whose name will be on the electric and/or gas bill?
Habits: Living with someone who loves rock and roll at midnight might not jive with a devotee of Mozart at noon. Food choices also play a vital role when sharing space. Whether you’re a vegetarian or a fan of junk food, seek someone who shares or at least respects your food preferences. Food allergies should also be discussed and ruled out, especially if severe. Peanut butter in the pantry can be fatal for some people.
Pack rat or neat freak? Whatever your pleasure, make sure it measures up to your roommate’s standards. In shared spaces, such as kitchens and baths, personal habits should be clear from the start. Do you favor the cozy clutter of a dozen shampoos in the bath or the spartan feel of clean countertops? Does your idea of stocking the refrigerator include an old can of opened tuna and stale bread? Do you dine on fine china or prefer to eat on paper plates over the kitchen sink?
Schedule: Whether you’re working, going to school or both, schedules should parallel one another. Some folks need peace and quiet, especially during study or working at home times.
Privacy: Unwelcome guests can cause wide rifts between roommates. More than just Aunt Tilley dropping by for the occasional weekend, bringing in regular overnight guests can also bring embarrassment. Whether overnight or for a period of several weeks, extra guests should be addressed and agreed upon in advance.
Besides inconvenience and lack of privacy, visitors may trigger an increase in rent. Some rental agreements contain language that allows for an increase in rent when someone stays beyond a set number of days in any calendar year, so watch out for that possibility.
Pets: Assuming the lease allows pets, do you have any preferences when it comes to pets? If you’re a dog person and your roommate brings in a cat, the fur could fly when it comes to deciding what works best. Of course, if you have allergies, make it clear from the start that pets won’t be a possibility.
Respecting the lease: Both of you need to read and fully understand the terms of the lease, not just glance over the document and scribble your name at the bottom. Both of you should be named on the lease, and are “joint and several” in all aspects.
Possible breakup: No relationship is perfect, and some must come to an end before the lease is up. Have a contingency plan in place in case things don’t work out, including a set amount of time to give you notice, such as 30 days.
Roommates should not depart until they have replaced themselves to the satisfaction of the remaining resident, and the landlord as well. Keep in mind that the security deposit usually remains with the unit, and that anyone leaving will be financially replaced by the incoming person as well.
Call in the landlord for a walk-through of the unit a couple of weeks before the roommate leaves so the deposit can be replaced and refunded to the satisfaction of all parties. By planning and considering all the roommate challenges and advantages, hopefully you can make a decision you can live with and enjoy.