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Avoid Roommate Problems Using Written Roommate Agreements

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Many roommate problems arise when roommates forget what they agreed on regarding the rent or other aspects of apartment living. Sometimes, roommates realize they never even discussed certain key issues at all. These types of problems can affect even the most compatible roommates, and the strain it causes on a roommate relationship may jeopardize your rental.

The best way to proceed is to avoid the temptation of a "figure things out as you go" strategy. The time to think about and agree on issues with your roommate is before you sign a lease. Follow these two steps to avoid problems:

  1. Decide who pays for what. All things being equal, you should expect to split the rent equally with your roommate. However, sometimes it makes sense for one roommate to pay more than the other. For example, say you share a two-bedroom apartment with your roommate. You both agree that the roommate will get the small bedroom with the view of an alleyway while you'll get the large corner bedroom that overlooks a park. In this case, you should probably expect to pay more of the monthly rent to reflect the larger bedroom size and superior view.

    Aside from rent, discuss how much each of you will contribute to other anticipated expenses, such as utility bills, a cleaning service, and grocery shopping.

  2. Put your agreements in writing. Roommates are human, and humans sometimes forget things. To prevent misunderstandings with your roommate, put your agreements in writing. This way, you'll both remember exactly what you decided, which will avoid disagreements that could lead to missed payments and unnecessary friction. Include in your written agreement how much you and your roommate will contribute to the rent and other expenses. (Keep in mind that your landlord and utilities aren't interested in how you divvy things up with your roommate -- just that they're paid in full.) Also, write down what you and your roommate have decided about the practical aspects of your apartment living. Here are some points to consider:

    • Will one of you cook, and how often?

    • Will you alternate who takes trips to the supermarket?

    • Will you split the task of writing expense checks or managing online utility accounts?

    • What furniture and appliances will each of you bring?

    • Who's responsible for decorating the common areas?

    • How much notice will you give each other if one of you wants to move out before the lease term ends or if only one of you wishes to renew the lease?

    If a roommate candidate is eager to make oral agreements but balks when you suggest putting your agreements in writing, it's a red flag that this person may not be so trustworthy or serious.

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