Moving in with someone new can be an exciting yet daunting experience if you aren't sure how to approach him or her about your living arrangements. Often times, roommate quarrels can break out because one roommate used the rest of the laundry detergent without replacing it or was playing an electric guitar until 4 a.m. These disagreements happen, but sometimes it's better to get all of your living guidelines down on paper, in order to avoid any unnecessary confrontation. Many renters will opt for what's known as the Roommate Contract. In dormitory situations in college, many on-campus residential areas will have a roommate contract to print out – but the rules are different for regular apartments and/or houses.
What's a Roommate Contract?
A roommate contract is a written agreement between renters residing in the same rented space, and is separate from the lease the renters signed. A lawyer can draw up this agreement or contract formally if you so choose. Otherwise, you and/or your roommate can write it by yourselves.
What Should the Roommate Contract Include?
Trying to draft a roommate contract may not be as easy as you think, because there's more that can go into it than just paying your bills on time (Pop culture reference: A not so in-depth version of Sheldon Cooper's Roommate Agreement with Leonard Hofstadter in the sitcom the Big Bang Theory). It isn't just about money. If you're new to living with other people, you'll want to be clear on things like respecting the belongings of others, noise and quiet time, and general responsibilities. Here are a few useful categories to include in your roommate contract:
- Lease duration and details: Include things like the date the lease was signed, when it ends, when rent is due, how much is due by each renter (and to whom, as some leases only allow for one or two people to be documented on the lease), and your landlord's name.
- Security deposit details: If you paid a security deposit, make sure you write down how much it was in the roommate contract if it was divided equally. Your lease will only notate that a security deposit was paid in full, and therefore will not be split equally among roommates once you move out.
- Utility/cable/internet costs: Internet and cable costs are usually the same amount per month, so you can state the actual monthly amount in the roommate contract. Since utilities can vary month to month based on usage, you will want to clarify the portion each roommate is responsible for. For example, "Roommate A and Roommate B will be responsible for splitting the utility bills equally each month, resulting in both parties paying one half of the total bill." Be sure to specify whose name the bill falls under as well. For example, "Roommate A will be responsible for one half of the month utility costs and will pay Roommate B by cash or check for the bill on the 1st of each month."
- Apartment ground rules: Once financial obligations are out of the way, you want to tackle things like noise, common space, personal belongings and smoking/alcohol rules. This section can also include whether or not pets can and will be allowed (assuming they are already allowed in the unit as per your landlord).
- Groceries: Set up a plan for food with your roommate. You don't necessarily have to split costs of groceries down the middle, since a lot of times you may eat very different things. What you can do, though, is agree to rotate buying certain staple items like milk, bread, eggs, or anything else that can be considered a common food item. You can also decide to have separate groceries entirely, and set up a system to identify your food, perhaps by labeling what you buy.
- Responsibilities and Tasks: There will be a lot of common space in an apartment, and it will require a lot of upkeep. This section of your contract can include anything from a rotation of taking out the trash to who buys what cleaning products. Maybe you will want to take turns cleaning the bathroom or kitchen every other week, or rotate dusting the living room.
- Guests/Overnight Guests: Nothing can ruin a harmonious co-living situation by an unwanted houseguest overstaying his or her welcome. Maybe your roommate obtains a significant other, and that person has thus become your third roommate without paying any rent. You can address issues like these by setting general guidelines in your roommate contract, so you and your roommate can date, entertain, etc. without any ill feelings or tension in the apartment.
Initiating a Roommate Contract with Your Roommate
A good way to initiate the contract is to propose a co-authorship of the agreement, so all parties are involved from the get go. If this isn't an option, and you've taken on the task of drafting up the contract on your own, you should tread lightly when approaching your roommate so as not to offend anyone.
If you don't know your roommate that well, be up front and honest. You can offer to meet up for coffee to go over some things prior to move-in, including a little bit of getting to know you conversation. You want to start your relationship with your roommate off on the right foot, so if you have a copy of your contract with you, let your roommate offer any changes or suggestions before going ahead with any final copies. Don't let your roommate feel as though you are backing him or her into a corner, but that you are willing to compromise to have an enjoyable living experience.