A well-written roommate agreement is necessary for having a living environment that is civil and nontoxic with your new roommate. Roommate agreements have no strict format but should be clearly written out with bullet points or numbers, and include ideas from everyone involved, especially if they are easily annoyed.
Roommate and housemate agreements are like checklists in a way; you’re going to mark each section off as you go, so you don’t forget something that could come up as a problem later, and cause an argument or disagreement about living together.
I always explain it to people like this “Have a roommate agreement no matter what! Because nobody wants to throw down a deposit and first month’s rent on a new place with roommates. Then, disagree on every little thing that comes up, roommate agreements prevent this from happening. This is especially true if people are renting a place in an expensive city such as San Francisco or New York City (NYC.)”
As you think about writing up your roommate agreement, think about each section of the agreement like asking a question to your roommate. An example question might be “What time is quiet hours?” or “How many overnight guests are allowed per week?”
The only way you can agree on something with your roommates is to ask them about it. Especially if you have a college roommate (residence life) or you’ve decided to share a place with a group of friends. Even living with your boyfriend or girlfriend requires a roommate agreement.
Keep in mind that roommate agreements are not recognized in court as a valid binding legal document. You can’t sue someone for not cleaning.
Disclaimer: Take my advice for creating a roommate agreement from the perspective that I’m not a lawyer, and it’s not legal advice! Just some ideas from my own roommate experiences.
Quick tip! Make sure all roommates sign the roommate agreement before making a final decision to live together.
The Main Sections Of a Roommate Agreement Explained
1) The Head Roommate
Whichever roommate signs the lease for the place you are renting is the head roommate. This person has the right to decide, depending on the lease terms, who stays and who goes.
Unless you both sign the lease together!
If two people are signing onto the lease, you’ll both have the same authority. You’re in it for the long term together, so be a good team because you’ll both be the head roommates.
As a team or just one person, you’ll need to take the responsibility of what a head roommate does. Things like making decisions on house rules that are fair and deciding if pets are allowed or not.
You will also ensure that people living in the house are not breaking any of the lease terms. After all, you did sign your name to the lease and put a deposit down.
The easiest way to be a head roommate is to plan for it ahead of time. Whether you find a new place to rent or buy a new home, plan ahead, and you can rent out that spare room and get extra money.
One big upside for being the head roommate and having the extra responsibility of having your name on the lease, you can have the rules and living arrangements more in your favor. Especially if an argument comes up and you decide to part ways. Since you have more authority, being the head roommate, you won’t have to move.
The downside of being a head roommate, you’ll have to directly deal with the landlord for anything that goes wrong. Like damages, the deposit, and back rent.
2) Overnight Guests
If you are dating someone while living with roommates, you need to have an upfront conversation about the expectations of overnight guests.
If your boyfriend or girlfriend starts staying over most nights of the week, it could annoy your roommate who may not have wanted to have multiple people in the living space. They’ll start to think of your guest as another roommate, and it happens all the time.
Have an upfront agreement on what’s acceptable for overnight guests. It will prevent problems from arising later on, for both of you!
Nothing will cause roommate conflicts more quickly than the cleaning. It’s best to agree on some cleaning rules and a schedule, so everyone knows what’s expected of them.
If you like a kitchen sink that is free of dirty pots, pans, and dishes. Agree with your roommate that dishes should be washed right away, or promptly loaded in the dishwasher.
If you’re the type of person that picks up your food off the floor when you drop things, agree to that too.
Take turns cleaning shared spaces like kitchens, living rooms, and bathrooms. Keeping a list of who took out the trash or did the dishes will allow you to see the chores each person is performing.
Cleaning schedules that alternate between roommates can really help out a lot too! And make sure your roommate cleans as good as you do, or it will never work out.
The kitchen and bathroom areas are the most work to keep clean, so make sure no one slacks off or skips their turn!
4) Shared Property vs. Individual Property
Before you move in, make sure that you agree on what property and personal items will be shared and not shared.
For example, if you share a bathroom, it makes sense to share toilet paper. But not a toothbrush or a bath towel!
Also, I would not consider food as being shared property, especially if you’re picky! It rarely ever works out the same way that sharing toilet paper does. (This sounds silly I know, but with roommates anything is possible.)
Avoid problems with others eating your food by having a labeling system. Label your other items, such as laundry detergent, coffee, and spices too! Also, make sure you each have a dedicated space in the fridge, cabinets, and closets.
You also don’t want your roommate to hide your things like laundry detergent or coffee because you left it out, and they put it back in the wrong spot! So always put your stuff back where it belongs.
5) Bathroom And Kitchen Schedules
Conflicting bathroom schedules gets really old quickly. Everyone has a schedule or routine in the morning before work. Make sure you are not both in there at the same time by agreeing on a schedule that works for each of you.
If the kitchen is spacious enough for two people to use at the same time, a schedule may not be required. But then again, too many cooks in the kitchen can get old very quickly.
6) Bad Habits And Other Silly Things
Occasionally you will discover a new annoying habit from your roommate. Like they always eat the last slice of your pizza or take the last beer. Or maybe you move in together and find out they don’t know how to use a vacuum or a mop (yes, this has happened to me).
My favorite is when they like the thermostat 5 degrees hotter or colder than I do.
Opinions of what a bad habit is will vary from person to person, so do the best you can to address a solution for a bad habit in your roommate agreement.
Remember! you can always modify a roommate agreement after you move in to address the bad habit.
7) How To Split The Bills Up
You need to document precisely how the bills will be split up in your roommate agreement. You need to divide up monthly rent and bills in a way that is fair for each roommate.
Most of the time expenses will be divided up 50/50 for two people or even by a third if three people live together. But, if you have the master bedroom for example, it makes sense that you might pay more of the rent.
Each living arrangement is different, so do your best to work out a fair way to divide up the rent and living expenses. There’s is no right or wrong way to do it, just make sure it’s fair!
Where Can You Get a Roommate Agreement Template?
I recommend you search on Google for a free one, or download a Roommate Agreement Template from a self-help legal site like Nolo.com.
Every situation for a roommate agreement is a bit different depending on your lifestyle. If you smoke, for example, you’d want to add a clause that says you agree to only smoke outside. Or if you’re in college, you might add a clause for having quiet time for things like studying.
A well thought out roommate agreement can go a long way with keeping a roommate living situation healthy and peaceful for everyone.