Before you move in with someone (or have someone move in with you) as a roommate, you should draw up a roommate agreement. Part of it is just proper manners, but it also helps with setting expectations and resolving conflicts.
A roommate agreement is different from a subletting agreement in the sense that you’ll need a sublease agreement when you are subletting your place.
Why do I need a roommate agreement?
You need a roommate agreement for a number of purposes. First it helps you discuss all the intricacies of living together before you actually do so. By doing this you’ll get a feel for a lot of things that you wouldn’t think about otherwise. Second – one it’s signed – it will help you resolve conflicts. And conflicts surely always arise.
Most conflicts between roommates are about:
- (not) Cleaning
- Money (bill paying / deposits)
- Difference in habits: sleeping schedules / eating habits / tidiness
- Personality differences: usually this is about perceived lack of respect or different lifestyles
- Using the other person’s stuff or even stealing
A roommate agreement can help you prevent a lot of these conflicts and make sure you have a common ground once you encounter problems. You can use it do fall back on once a conflict arises and it needs to be addressed.
What should be in a good roommate agreement?
A good roommate agreement contains all the items that are needed to divide the costs of living and lay down the law for the way you want to live together.
The most common items are:
- Rent: what is the amount each roommate will pay; It doesn’t have to be 50/50 if one has more room than the other of course.
- Utilities: how much does each roommate contribute;
- Other costs: do you share internet? A phone? Trash pick-up? What if the dishwasher breaks?
- Term: how long will you be living together and what are the rules about moving out?
- Deposit: does a new roommate contribute and if so – how much?
- Living arrangements:
- Schedules for bathroom / nighttime / visitors etc
- Rules about music / parties / visitors
- Kitchen use (especially about the fridge!)
- Temperature and A/C
- Conflict resolution: write down some basic rules on how you’re going to talk about conflicts when they arise. This will be a good start and will help you get along pro-actively. You don’t want to discover your roommate is impossible to talk with once the first conflict arises!
All the templates below will be good starting points. We recommend you pick one with your roommate and take it from there.
Do I have rights without a roommate agreement?
You always have rights even without a roommate agreement, but not the same as with one. Depending on where you live (in which jurisdiction) you can usually not just be locked out of your room without notice. Even if you don’t have a roommate contract.
Nonetheless, a roommate agreement is a legally binding document. It doesn’t mean that all the clauses in it are enforceable in court or in practice. But it does mean that some of them are.
If you are the main tenant.
Without a roommate agreement you – as the main tenant – are most likely on the hook for:
- the full rent
- cost of utilities
- the deposit
- other incurred costs
With a roommate agreement you’re still going to have to pay these to the landlord, but you’ll have a legally binding document to help you recoup the agreed-upon amounts from your roommate. Without such an agreement it will be a lot more difficult.
If you are NOT the main tenant.
Without a roommate agreement you run the risk of losing your room without notice. Fighting an eviction will be a lot harder than with a contract. During the process of being on the street you’ll need documents to prove that you indeed had a room and a contract will be one of those.
It is also important that you pay your costs electronically as much as possible (rather than in cash) as that will leave a trail that you can use in legal processes. If you can show that you transferred your share of the rent each month, it will be a lot easier to convince a judge that it’s your room.