Renting an Apartment with Roommates

Last revision: Last revision:December 16th, 2020

Living with roommates can be a truly amazing experience. If you live in a big city like New York, or Los Angeles, or Chicago, sometimes your roommates become your family. They are the people you see the most, after all.

Unfortunately, sometimes living with roommates can also become a headache. No one wants it to happen, but living with roommates can be a gamble, even if you know your roommates before moving in (in fact, sometimes living with friends can be the hardest thing of all).

Luckily though, there are some things you can do to make sure your living situation stays as comfortable as possible. A lot of it comes down to preparation: if you've taken the time to find roommates who will fit your personality, and you've discussed your expectations beforehand, you are ahead of the game.

Here, we've put together some simple tips to help you have the best experience you can while living with roommates.

Please keep in mind that nothing in this guide constitutes legal advice. Everything here should be taken as informational only.


Make sure all roommates are on the lease.

Planning to have a successful relationship with your roommates (and a successful tenancy with your landlord) starts before you ever move in. Make sure all parties living in the space are on the lease.

In fact, the biggest mistake you can make when renting with roommates is to be the only person on the lease. Many people do this, not thinking anything of it, and then later find themselves very frustrated and in a bad situation.

Although it's common to go into the situation trusting your roommates, you should still legally protect yourself. If you are the only person on the lease, then you open yourself up to liability if a roommate damages the premises, doesn't pay rent, or leaves without notice.

You also need to ensure you decide exactly how the roommates will split the rent.

There's no need to be the only tenant. In fact, most landlords will probably require every person who is living in the apartment to be on the lease. Even if your landlord doesn't require this, however, you should insist on it. You don't want to be left holding the bag if anything goes wrong.

Final takeaway: Make sure the lease lists everyone in your living space.


Decide early on how you plan to split bills.

Just like you want to ensure your legal and financial safety with the lease, you should also set up it up so that your household bills are split fairly and equitably.

If possible, make sure that every roommates' name is on each of the bills. You'll likely have several bills: electric, gas, water, cable (or Netflix), internet. Although it may seem like a lot of work, it's worth to try and put each of your names on all the accounts.

Sometimes, however, companies won't allow this and will only let one or two people be on an account together. In that case, make sure the responsibility for bills is split evenly between all roommates. In other words, if only one person can be on the account for the electric company, make sure another person is on the account for the water bill.

After you've decided how the accounts should be set up, then you should decide how the actual payment will be split. Usually, bills are split equally between roommates, but you may have a different system you'd like to work out. No matter what, make sure all the roommates agree on the system before you move in.

In this way, you can protect yourself as much as possible from being left holding any major bills.

Final takeaway: Decide how you will split the bills long before you move in.


Draft a Roommate Agreement.

Having a signed Roommate Agreement is essential if you plan to live with roommates.

A Roommate Agreement can not only help you memorialize things like your responsibility for the lease and your responsibility for the bills, it can also help set up much-needed ground rules for your shared living space.

In fact, it is shocking how many people go into roommate situations without a written agreement. Having a Roommate Agreement should be the norm, not the exception.

In a Roommate Agreement, you can spell out how the security deposit will be split and returned. You can precisely describe the process for paying rent. You can set up rules about common areas, overnight guests, pets, and quiet times.

No matter who you are living with, a Roommate Agreement is a necessity to keep things efficient, fair, and flowing smoothly.

Final takeaway: Draft and execute a Roommate Agreement to ensure ground rules are set for your living space.


Discuss what happens if someone wants to leave.

What happens if one of the roommates decides to leave early (in other words, leave before the lease is up)? Will the remaining roommates be responsible for finding someone new, or will the departing roommate? What will happen to the departing roommate's portion of the security deposit?

These are all questions that need to be answered between the roommates.

It's not uncommon for these things to happen, as often, people move away, or get married, or just want to live in a different part of town.

You also need to discuss these issues with the landlord. For example, let's say it's okay with you if one roommate wants to leave early. The other roommates have simply decided they will find a replacement. The way to legally do this would be through a Sublease Agreement, whereby the tenant who was originally on the lease subleases the space to a subtenant. But what if the landlord does not permit subleases, and requires all tenants to be responsible for the space through the end of the lease?

The parties all need to know what to expect before these issues come up. In other words, find the time to sit down and discuss what will happen if someone needs to leave before the lease is finished.

Final takeaway: Talk to all the roommates and the landlord about the possibilities and solutions for a departing roommate.


Be courteous and polite.

This one should be a no-brainer, but it can be quite surprising to find how angry you can become if you and your roommate aren't getting along. All the roommates should commit to being courteous and polite at all times.

Living with roommates can be tricky because you aren't as comfortable as you may be living with your family, but you also don't want to feel like you are living with strangers.

You may wish to become friends with your roommates, or you may wish to keep your distance. Either way, however, you should always be as respectful and considerate as possible. After all, you are sharing a living space with people who are not related to you, so challenges are bound to come up. It's how you handle those challenges that will determine how peace your living situation can be.

Final takeaway: Always be kind, courteous, and respectful to everyone in your living space.


Stay flexible.

Just like you should be as polite and courteous as possible, you should also stay open and flexible.

You may be accustomed to certain habits within your living space. For example, you may like to put your shoes in a particular location or set the coffee maker to start automatically in the morning. Although you should always maintain the habits and routines that are important to you, you should also make an effort to be flexible.

Living with others means you will necessarily have to deviate from some of the things that are important to you.

As long as you stay flexible, you'll have a much easier time managing your relationship with your roommates.

Final takeaway: Maintain some flexibility about your routines and habits to make your relationship with your roommates as smooth as possible.


Keep communication open.

Finally, although you may do everything right on this list, there's one thing that will continue to be important the whole time you live with roommates: keep communication open.

Things change, and people's life circumstances will shift this way and that. Maybe you had a roommate who was a dedicated early riser, up at 5:00 AM every morning for the gym, and that worked for you because you are the same. If this roommate gets a new job where they're working late, everything might suddenly shift in your living space.

No matter what, taking the time to discuss everything openly and honestly with your roommates will be critical.

After all, you want to make sure that your home is a place of calm. Keeping communication open with your roommates is a great way to do so.

Final takeaway: Talk through any important life changes with your roommates and remain open and honest.


Final takeaway

Living with roommates doesn't have to be stressful. In fact, it can be very enjoyable. Especially if you end up with roommates who are similar to you in terms of likes, dislikes, and personality, you can really set yourself up to constantly be having fun at home!

By following the tips on this list, you'll ensure you have the best possible experience, no matter who you choose to live with.


About the Author: Anjali Nowakowski is a Legal Templates Programmer at Wonder.Legal and is based in the U.S.A.


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