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.
Below as you read on, I’m going to discuss the seven ideas that I include in every roommate agreement that I make.
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.
Take my advice from the perspective that I’m not a lawyer, and it’s not legal advice. Just some ideas from my own roommate experiences.
All roommates should sign the roommate agreement before making a final decision to live together.
Quick tip! I also have a sample roommate agreement you can view to help get you started on yours.
Quick Note: I highly recommend you check out the following self-help books for being a tenant and having roommates. The more you know about the laws, the better agreements you can put into place to protect yourself. Nolo Tenant and Roommate Books
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.
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!
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, plan ahead, and you can rent out that spare room and get extra money.
If you’re the head roommate, you can have the rules and living arrangements more in your favor too. 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.
But what if you both signed that lease? One of you will have to break it. Each situation is unique with its own details, so work it out with your landlord.
Dealing with leases, landlords, mortgages, or banks is one of the downsides of being a head roommate! You have to take the good with the bad.
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.
Ever watch Court TV shows like Judge Judy during a weekday? Roommates sue each other in small claims court all the time. Because of disagreements with extra people who moved into the living space. The disagreements are usually regarding unpaid bills, rent, or other damages.
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. Keep 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 they clean 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 to what items you will share and not share. 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 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.
Decide on your cooking habits and if they are compatible. If you have different appliances, you’ll be using it can work. But, it will not work if you’re both trying to bake something at the same time in the oven.
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. Or every time you need to talk, they walk into their room and shut the door.
Opinions of what a bad habit is will vary from person to person, so do the best you can to make an agreement on correcting them with your roommate.
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.
In a perfect world you would divide up everything equally, but sometimes there are exceptions. Luckily for you, I have written an entire article covering the proper way for Splitting Roommate Expense Tips
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.
You get the idea, don’t forget to review my other roommate advice articles for more info on living with roommates!