After years of having roommates ourselves, Pat and I started Urban Pharm. Through our personal experiences and observations of our tenants, we have come up with the following list of tips to make your roommate situation successful and enjoyable. We hope that these tips are helpful. If you have another suggestion that you think would be helpful, please let us know and we may add it to the list.
1. Know your roommates’ financial situations. Chances are, the lease you sign will be “Joint and Several,” meaning that everybody is held liable for making sure the rent is paid. Even if you pay your portion of the rent, the landlord can still hold you liable if your roommates don’t pay. Don’t be afraid to ask your potential roommate about their financial situation. After all, you will be living together, so you will eventually learn some very personal things about them anyways.
2. Know your roommates’ behavioral tendencies. This can be hard if your roommate is a stranger. Even when you have never met your new roommate before, you can learn a lot by going out a few times before moving in together and signing a lease. Remember that leases are not just financial contracts, but they also stipulate other activities that happen in the house or apartment like the number of guests and the length of time guests can stay. Besides issues related to the lease, you will also want to know that your roommate will not be up partying all night when you have to work or go to class the next day. Other considerations like how clean you like the apartment should be understood prior to moving in together.
3. Learn when to share. You are already sharing a living space, but what about soap, toilet paper, and groceries? Sharing is a great way to build a relationship amongst roommates, but using more than you give can be problematic. Before moving in with a new roommate, discuss which items are shared and which are to be procured and used individually.
4. Pick your battles. A roommate cannot be escaped by “going home.” You will see them more than your own family. Before commenting on an undesired behavior, consider the consequences to your relationship and the “vibe” in the house or apartment.
5. Designate a Tenant-Landlord Liaison. Sounds fancy, but this just means find somebody who will deal with the landlord. This job will entail reporting maintenance issues, paying rent, and organizing move-in and move-out tasks.
6. Designate a Household Finance Manager. Preferably somebody who is financially responsible, and maybe the same person as the Tenant-Landlord Liaison. This person should collect rents from the other roommates and pay any other shared bills. They should also handle switching utilities. If tenants split utility responsibilities, the Finance Manager should notify each roommate how much they owe (refrigerator notes work well) and make sure all roommates pay their portions.
7. Establish Household Rules. Working out quiet hours, dish washing responsibilities, sharing policies, etc. ahead of time will make your living arrangement more enjoyable. Rules don’t have to be written and they don’t have to be overly specific. However, there should be consequences for breaking them; whether a “3 strikes and you’re out” policy or a “you owe me a beer” policy.
8. Understand the Lease. If a roommate doesn’t live up to their financial or behavioral obligations, you should know how to proceed within the permissions of the lease. You may convince the roommate to move out and find somebody to replace them. However, this generally cannot be done without landlord approval. Be sure to read the lease together and ask your landlord any questions that you have regarding how to proceed if a roommate relationship goes sour.