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Renting with a Roommate

One of the decisions you'll need to make when you move out on your own is whether to have a roommate. Having a roommate lets you share in the cost of having your own place, and can make an otherwise out-of-reach apartment affordable.

Choose the right roommate
The right roommate can be or become a good friend, but not all your friends will make good roommates. Ensure that you and your roommate will be compatible under the same roof, whether you find your roommate on-line, in the paper, or through your circle of friends.

Some differences between you and your new roommate may be okay, and if you have plenty of space, some issues may not even be a big deal. But if you're sharing a small apartment, and especially if you'll share a bedroom, you may find that seemingly small habits can become a major nuisance, and can even make you miserable in your own home. Cover all the details with your prospective roommate before you decide to share a living space.
  • Job stability? A starving musician or a "self-employed" who doesn't seem to work much won't be someone you want to count on for rent money.
  • Standards of cleanliness? A little clutter, shiny and spotless, or outright messy?
  • Type of music? You can eliminate the problem with headphones, but it'll be a problem if your roommate likes to blast the stereo with music you can't stand.
  • Night owl or morning person? It'll be more difficult for companionship if you are both on completely different schedules, but being different here may be great if you don't socialize well together.
  • Personal habits such as smoking, drinking, recreational drugs? Is it okay if they limited their use to outside of the apartment or not okay at all?
  • Spiritual or personal beliefs? Can you accept a vast difference of opinion or beliefs from the one you share your home with?
  • Dating habits? Will it make you uncomfortable if your roommate has a different overnight guest every week or vice versa?
  • Social habits? If you like your privacy, you may not want to room up with some one who has people over all the time or who throws a party every weekend.
  • Hobbies and activities? Common interests are great, but you can also learn something new from your roommate, and vice versa.
The roommate agreement
Communication, trust, respect, and flexibility are key in any relationship, and the roommate relationship is no different. Once you choose the person you feel comfortable sharing a home with, draw up a written agreement so that you both know what is expected of you. Set guidelines so that each roommate feels the deal is fair. Things to include in your agreement:
  • How will expenses be divvied up? Roommates typically split rent and utilities equally, but some choose for each to pay specific bills, like one pays water and cable and the other pays gas and electric.
  • Also, what about groceries? Will you take turns buying or split the cost equally and share food, or will each be responsible for their own groceries? This may depend on whether you have the same type of diet, or whether you eat roughly the same amount of food.
  • How will you split the chores and household duties? Will you each take turns on chores or will you each take responsibility for specific duties? Also, specify minimum cleanliness standards. For example, "Dirty dishes should not sit overnight in the sink." Or, "Keep all personal belongings in your own room."
  • Will you have a designated quiet time? This may be especially important if you are a student and need peaceful study time, or if you work early morning shifts. Laying these ground-rules now will prevent resentment from being kept up all night by your roommate's stereo or video games.
  • Will you share property and possessions? You will each bring your personal items into the household; clarify which items you don't mind sharing, and which items are off-limits. You may not mind if your roommate uses your gaming system, but don't want any one using your computer.
  • How will you divvy up property that you purchased together if you go your separate ways? If you decide to split the cost on some furniture or household goods, figure out how you will determine who gets what if one of you moves out, before you make the purchases.
  • How will you handle guests staying overnight? Will there be a time limit on a guest's stay? A boyfriend or girlfriend who stays over every night, showers there, eats the food, and watches t.v. all day can make other roommates uncomfortable, and is unfair for those who are paying their own living expenses.
  • How much notice should be given if one of you decides to move out? Be sure that you'd be giving enough time to replace the roommate whose leaving, so that the one who's staying isn't financially burdened by having to foot the entire rent bill on their own.
The lease
Many rentals require that all tenants be on the lease. This helps to protect all who live there, and gives the landlord legal recourse against all tenants in the case of failure to pay rent or damage to the unit. Don't let any one move in without being put on the lease if your landlord requires it.

The main concern with having someone on the lease is that it's often harder to get them to leave if things don't work out. If your rental does allows sub-letting, then you would be considered the landlord to your roommate and may be able to evict a troublesome tenant with a 30-day notice. Insist on a signed lease and adequate deposits if you decide to go this route.

If you sign a lease together, get a month-to-month lease if possible. Things can change even if you get along; one of you may need to relocate for a job, may choose to buy a house, or may want to move in with a significant other. A monthly lease will make it easier for all involved to move on with their lives if some one needs to move.

Problems with a roommate can arise even with a signed lease, but people tend to keep their end of the bargain more often when their name is signed on a legal document. Hopefully, you and your new roommate will both fairly share the expenses, respect each other's needs for both privacy and friendship, and enjoy a rewarding experience as roommates. Choosing the right roommate and laying down the ground-rules, from the beginning, will help prevent issues in the future.

And keep in mind that a roommate arrangement is a business agreement, whether you are already good friends with your roommate, or will hopefully become friends. The savings in rent costs is usually the primary reason for getting a roommate to begin with, so each roommate should be expected to contribute their fair share of the expenses, no matter what personal drama they are going through. Treat your roommate relationship as a business, and insist that they meet the financial obligations they agreed on.

Getting rid of a bad roommate
It's still possible that you end up with an unsuitable roommate, even when you thought you covered all the possible issues before they moved in. They may turn out to be a deadbeat, may have lied about their cleanliness habits, or may be otherwise irresponsible. Start by talking to them nicely about your concerns. They may just move out on their own; many people won't feel comfortable staying somewhere if they know they aren't welcome.

You may have to take it further if they don't seem willing to move out on their own. Your rights and their rights will depend on the type of leasing arrangement you have, whether you are the owner of the property or are leasing it, and your state's eviction laws.

Talk to your landlord first, but remember that they are usually more concerned with receiving rent payments than how compatible the tenants are. But, you may get lucky and find out that your landlord is willing to help you out somehow, especially if your problem is due to your roommate not paying their share of rent.

You may have to consult a legal professional if you can't get anywhere on your own. It may end up costing you more than you saved in rent by having a roommate, but it's better than living with someone you can't deal with or who won't pay their bills. Whatever you do, don't just change the locks and throw their stuff outside until you know the laws in your state, or they may be able to take you to court for damages.
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Friday, 23 August 2019

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