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Why a Roommate Agreement is a Good Idea

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Last revision: July 24th, 2019
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Category: Housing and Real Estate

A Roommate Agreement may seem like a significant formality for something that usually isn't that formal - after all, people live together all the time without having a written agreement between them. Especially for those individuals who shy away from lawyers and legal documents, a Roommate Agreement can seem not only unnecessary but also like it's a big hassle. However, nothing could be further from the truth. A Roommate Agreement is a great way to protect any parties that choose to live together as roommates!

One might ask, "what exactly is a Roommate Agreement?" Because these documents are not commonly talked about, it's reasonable to wonder what actually goes in this kind of contract. A Roommate Agreement is just what it sounds like: a document between parties that choose to live together (it can be two or more people). In a Roommate Agreement, the parties decide on certain rules and ways of doing things and write it all down so everyone living in the shared space can sign it and abide by it.

Although it may seem like it's pretty easy to find a good roommate and not have any issues, the truth is that many people get into heated disputes with their roommates all the time. In fact, without a written agreement in place, even something as simple as the dishes can turn once-friendly roommates into the angriest and most awkward living partners.

Here, we'll discuss all the reasons why having a well-drafted Roommate Agreement in place is a great idea - for everyone involved.

First, though, let's quickly talk about how to actually have a Roommate Agreement drafted if you decide you would like one. Please note nothing in this guide constitutes legal advice and instead, should all be taken as informational only .You can always go to an attorney licensed in your state to assist with drafting, if you choose. However, because a Roommate Agreement tends to be a relatively less formal document (less formal than say, business documents like operating agreements or formation certificates, and less formal than child custody agreements and other family law documents), you can also use an online service like Wonder.Legal to fill out a template, after you've decided what the specific terms will be for your Roommate Agreement. You can always have an attorney look over the already-drafted document for some extra help. Roommate Agreements can be signed before or after moving in and they should also be signed by new roommates coming later, as well.

Now that you know how to have a Roommate Agreement drawn up, let's talk about why you might want to.


A Roommate Agreement can protect you financially

One of the most important reasons to draft a Roommate Agreement is to protect yourself financially - in multiple ways. Roommate Agreements can help protect you from unfair financial liability to the landlord, to other roommates, and even to utility companies. A Roommate Agreement generally incorporates the Lease Agreement. What this means is that as long there is a written, signed Lease Agreement, the Roommate Agreement will be in addition to the Lease, not instead of it. Generally, the Lease will have all the roommates listed on it, but won't distinguish how the rent will get paid to the landlord, who pays what portion, who is responsible for the security deposit, how that will get split, if at all, etc. In a Roommate Agreement, all of those things can be written down.

It's common to see a clause in a Roommate Agreement that says whichever roommate did not pay their portion of the monthly rent is the only party responsible for any late rent or late charges due to the landlord. This is something that residential leases don't define. In other words, if four roommates were living in a rented house together and just one didn't pay on time, without a properly drafted Roommate Agreement, all four could be on the hook for late rent or charges equally. Please keep in mind, however, that in case the roommate that was meant to pay the late rent or late charges defaults, the other roommates will still be liable to the landlord for that specific amount. In other words, the Roommate Agreement is between the parties that are living together, but the lease isn't changed because of the terms of the Roommate Agreement. In the situation where one party defaults, others will still be responsible to the landlord.

The Roommate Agreement can define who is responsible for utilities, as well.

Final takeaway: Having a well-drafted Roommate Agreement can ensure your finances stay protected.


A Roommate Agreement may help you weed out bad roommates before you move in

Although it may seem simplistic, a Roommate Agreement can also help you weed out a bad roommate - long before you move in! Usually, someone that has harmful intentions (or someone that knows they are a terrible roommate, unable to commit to house rules) will be less likely to sign a written agreement which forces them to be responsible for their bad behavior.

If you are considering moving in with someone, especially someone that you don't know (for example, someone you may have met from a roommate board or website), and you ask them to sign a Roommate Agreement but they refuse, you already know for sure your living situation with that person won't work.

Similarly, if you are about to move in with someone, and you ask them to sign a Roommate Agreement, and then they agree, but the two of you can't agree on anything at all in the drafting process, it may be time to look elsewhere for your new roommate!

Final takeaway: A Roommate Agreement can help ensure you don't end up with a bad roommate.


A Roommate Agreement allows you to define expectations early on

One of the best things about a Roommate Agreement is that it forces the parties to sit down beforehand and have a serious discussion about what is expected. As noted above, it's more likely that you'll get into a bad situation if you move in with someone who refuses to sign a Roommate Agreement or has arguments with you during the drafting process. It's also, however, more likely that you'll end up in a great situation if you have a polite, respectful person who thinks signing an agreement is a great idea.

If you force the discussion upfront about many of the rules and boundaries in a Roommate Agreement, you'll quickly be able to see how much you have in common with someone. Not only that, if you do get in arguments later down the line, at least you have a set document to be able to go back to for some guidance, instead of trying to figure it out on the fly!

Final takeaway: A Roommate Agreement forces discussion between potential roommates before problems arise.


A Roommate Agreement can help protect your standard of living

Roommate Agreements, while helping protect the parties in serious matters, such as finances, can also help ensure the parties have the quality and standard of living that they want.

Often, the bulk of the text of Roommate Agreements is to define house rules, as mentioned above. Many times, Roommate Agreements will contain clauses about being respectful of other roommates, common areas, and overnight guests. These documents can also help define specific quiet times when the parties are expected to be silent and allow others to sleep. Roommate Agreements can also help define rules around pets, such as whether or not they are allowed.

Most importantly, the Roommate Agreement can help make clear that illegal activity among roommates won't be tolerated.

Final takeaway: Setting up rules for your standard of living is easily done through a Roommate Agreement.


A Roommate Agreement may prevent you from being left with a bill if someone moves out early

Another of the most important clauses in a Roommate Agreement is a discussion on what happens if someone moves out early or unexpectedly. It's not uncommon for roommates to be left with an old living partner's abandoned goods or, as touched on above, left with a huge bill on the rent. In a Roommate Agreement, the parties will determine beforehand what the consequences will be if someone moves out with no notice. Most of the time, that person will abandon their share of the security deposit. Usually, this is what happens, but when it is drafted in a Roommate Agreement, that person cannot later come back and attempt to get their money.

Additionally, a good Roommate Agreement will have a clause about any former roommate's abandoned property. Usually, the remaining roommates will be permitted to dispose of the abandoned property in any way they see fit, including selling it to pay for any debts the departing roommate has left behind.

Final takeaway: Making sure your Roommate Agreement has some provisions about what to do when someone leaves unexpectedly will help cover any final bills.


Final overview

There are many good reasons to have your living partners draft and sign a Roommate Agreement, discussed above. The biggest one, however, might be the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you've established a clear set of boundaries for yourself and your living space. Even if there are issues down the line, you'll feel a lot better knowing you've set yourself up for success in your own home through a well-drafted Roommate Agreement.


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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