How to Negotiate a Roommate Contract
“Let’s go over the house rules.”
One of the most common conversation starters for roommates, determining house rules is essential to a healthy living environment. Noise, privacy, financial responsibility, and respect for space are known to muddy the waters in roommate situations.
Setting boundaries with a close friend or sibling may seem awkward or even unnecessary, but agreeing to certain living terms is paramount to maintaining a healthy roommate-friend balance. Designing a contract that is in the best interest of all parties also helps to reduce stress and focus on other important life events such as a new job, family, and more.
Roommate contracts are not standard when renting a home or apartment. They are binding agreements entered into by the occupants of a dwelling and are self-created or drafted by an attorney of choice. Before signing, all roommates should agree on the terms and should carefully consider the following negotiations:
The monthly rent may be outlined in the contract between the tenant(s) and landlord, but the method of payment and split fees are often determined by the roommates. Be sure to note the exact amount owed by each member of the home, and the exact date on which the payment should be made. If one party charges the entire month’s rent on a credit card, the roommate contract should determine when and how each of the other parties pay their monthly dues to “refund” the primary payer. Be specific about payment method, too – do you prefer paper checks, cash, or digital payments through Venmo?
If water, utilities, and the like are not included in the rent stipulated in your tenant-landlord contract, be sure to breakdown these payments in the roommate contract as well.
2. Early Move-Out
Let’s say you have a falling out, or one roommate vacates the home early to move in with a significant other – what does the departing party owe to the rest of the occupants? Separate from the early move-out penalty enforced by your landlord, roommates should agree to their own early move-out terms.
Is the departing party responsible for finding a replacement? Does she or he owe rent for the duration of the original rental period? Consider all situations to determine the best early move-out penalty.
Having a furry friend to come home to, even if it’s your roommates, sounds great in theory, but what if your roommate’s cat scratches your new sofa? Or their dog makes a stain in the carpet that will be deducted from your security deposit? Pet accidents happen, so be sure to discuss the possibilities before an issue arises.
If your rental property charges a pet fee, list in the roommate contract who is responsible for payment. You may also include rules regarding sections of the home that are off limits to pets as well as spaces dedicated to pet products such as for litter pans, food bowls, toys, and crates.
You have your own space and can finally entertain, but will your roommate approve of a late-night gathering, or of you hosting your significant other for dinner every weekend?
Setting social expectations is an important part of the roommate contract. You can designate quiet hours, set a limit for the number of guests, rules regarding spare keys, and the like.
5. Food and Miscellaneous Items
A leading cause of roommate disputes is food; more specifically, stealing or borrowing food without permission. On top of rent, utility bills, and car payments, grocery runs may be a part of your roommate’s strict budget. Putting financial and emotional strain on your roommate over a pantry item can be avoided by outlining food agreements in your roommate contract.
If you and your housemates choose to share food, determine who shops for what, when, and how and if they will be paid back. If you choose to shop and cook separately, designate cabinets, pantry space, and refrigerator shelves for each roommate to mitigate confusion over which carton of milk belongs to who.
Are you a renter in your 20s? Learn about other Legal Life Events you may experience in this season of life.