You and your best friend have decided to get a place together. You already know each other, enjoy the same things, and get along great. But have you ever lived together? Negotiated bills together? Decided who gets the bigger room? What happens when one of you decides to leave before the lease is up? These things and many others can make or break a friendship. We recommend taking the “preventative” approach by finding out how your friend feels about these decisions before you agree to live together.
Generally, there is a primary leaseholder, with roommates added as sublessee, or there is shared responsibility equally among co-tenants. In the case of one primary leaseholder, that person is solely responsible for upholding the terms of the lease, including paying rent in full and on time, even if the sublessee (his or her friends) fall behind in payments. Like a property owner, she/he generally has the right to evict a tenant for breaking a term in the lease. How would you feel if you had to evict your best friend?
When roommates sign as co-tenants, they share equal responsibility. If one person falls behind on the rent, the others are responsible for coming up with the full amount, on schedule. If one of you breaks a lease clause, your property owner can start eviction proceedings against all of you. Most property owners would rather hold onto good tenants, but they have no legal mandate to do so.
Regardless of how your lease is negotiated, you will find that the more you can anticipate possible problems from the start, the better prepared you’ll be to handle disputes that do arise. First, try to choose compatible roommates. Then, before you move in, sit down with your roommates and create your own agreement covering major issues, such as:
1. Rent. What is everyone’s share? Who will write the rent check if the landlord will accept only one check?
2. Space. Who will occupy which bedrooms?
3. Household chores. Who’s responsible for cleaning, and on what schedule?
4. Food sharing. Will you be sharing food, shopping, and cooking responsibilities? How will you split the costs and work?
5. Noise. When should stereos or TVs be turned off or down?
6. Overnight guests. Is it okay for boyfriends/girlfriends to stay overnight? What about several nights in a row? Every night?
7. Moving out. If one of you decides to move out, how much notice must be given? Must the departing tenant find an acceptable substitute?
It’s best to put your agreements in writing. Spoken agreements are too easily forgotten or misinterpreted. While your agreement won’t be legally binding, it’s an excellent negotiation tool if you ever have a communication breakdown. Keep in mind that financial agreements, such as how rent is to be shared, are legally enforceable.
Be as specific as possible, especially on issues that are important to you. If dirty dishes in the sink drive you up the wall, write it down. If occasional guests are no problem, but you can’t stand the thought of your roommate’s (non-rent-paying) boyfriend hogging the bathroom every morning, make sure your agreement is clear on guests.
Remember: Communication is the key and a little consideration goes a long way!
Visit the WWU Off-Campus Housing Registry to create a personalized agreement for you and your roommates. Simply log in to complete the brief form. Once you have logged in, just click on ROOMMATE AGREEMENT – it’s very convenient.