What to Include in a Roommate Agreement

Living with roommates may not always be ideal, but for many living in New York City and the surrounding areas, roommates are a must. Having roommates can make it much easier to afford an apartment or condo in your ideal location while splitting rent, utilities, and other bills.

If you’re in the process of seeking out roommates for your next rental, one thing you may want to do is to draw up a roommate agreement. Having such a document in place can not only allow you to narrow down potential roommates to those who suit your lifestyle but may also help you avoid common headaches and conflicts associated with sharing a living space.

What is a Roommate Agreement, Anyway?

Specifically, a roommate agreement is a written document that outlines some basic “rules” for living in your shared space. All roommates who enter into the agreement are expected to follow the agreed-upon rules at all times in order to promote a happy, healthy, and conflict-free environment.

It’s important to understand that a roommate agreement is different than a lease agreement. While a lease agreement is a legally binding document that ties you to your rental unit and sets out specific requirements related to the property (rent, decorating, etc.)—a roommate agreement is drawn up between you and the people you live with, and focuses more on how you’ll co-exist with each other and maintain the property together.

There are many reasons to draw up a roommate agreement, regardless of whether you’ll be living with a few of your best friends or total strangers. A roommate agreement can be legally enforceable if it is signed by all parties; it can protect you in terms of finances and can also help you avoid conflict and disagreements with your roommates.

Key Components of a Roommate Agreement

Before you sit down to draft your roommate agreement, there are a few specific components you’ll want to make sure you include. Of course, each living situation is different, so there may be some components here that don’t apply to you, as well as some that are not listed here that you may want to include in your own agreement.

Names and Assigned Spaces

Any roommate agreement should have some basic details, including the address of the rental and the names of the roommates entering into the agreement. From there, the document should outline which roommates are assigned to which rooms and which rooms are considered to be shared living spaces.

For assigned spaces, proper etiquette should also be detailed. For example, are you expected to knock before entering another person’s room? Is anybody allowed to enter another person’s space when they aren’t home?

Rent, Utilities, and Other Expenses

Next, it’s time to get into the details of who will be responsible for paying what. In most cases, rent, utilities, and the costs of other shared services (such as cable or Internet) will be divided up equally. However, there are some possible exceptions. For example, in an apartment where one bedroom is a large master with its own en-suite, it is reasonable to expect the person who gets the en-suite to pay a little more in rent than those without their own bathrooms.

Groceries are another important expense to address here. Will you share grocery costs equally or will each roommate purchase their own groceries?

Guests, Quiet Hours, and Gatherings

You’ll also want to decide how to handle guests, parties, and other gatherings. More than likely, you and your roommates will probably want to have friends over from time to time. Are there specific hours of the day when you wish to permit visitors? Will any hours or days be off-limits? For example, you and your roommates may agree that no overnight visitors are permitted unless unanimously agreed upon in advance.

If a larger gathering will be taking place that will require the use of common areas (such as the kitchen and living room), how much advance notice should be given to other roommates? What other rules will be in place for gatherings?

As you draw up this section of the roommate agreement, be sure to refer also to your lease agreement. Your landlord or property management company may already have some specific rules in place regarding guests, parties, and the like.

Shared Items vs. Personal Items

In most roommate configurations, it makes sense to have some “common” items that everybody can use. Toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and dishes/silverware are just a few examples of communal items that you may want to outline in your agreement. Who will be responsible for providing each item, or how will the costs of these items be shared?

For personal items, will there be any system in place to ensure that one roommate’s personal items aren’t used by somebody else? If you purchase your own snacks, for example, how are you expected to label or separate them so they aren’t mistaken for a communal item and eaten by other roommates? These are some of the most common complaints people have when living with roommates, so having a system in place for avoiding this problem can save you a lot of hassle and annoyance.

The Process of Writing and Implementing a Roommate Agreement

Now that you have a better idea of what to cover in your roommate agreement, it’s time to get writing.

Drafting and Writing the Agreement

Whenever possible, have your roommates present for the drafting of the document itself. This may not be possible if you haven’t found your roommates yet, and that’s okay. You can absolutely use the rules set forth in your roommate agreement to more-or-less “filter” roommates.

Signing and Making Copies

Once the agreement is written and all roommates agree, everybody should sign and date a printed copy of the document. This is what will make it legally binding. Every roommate should be provided a copy of the signed document for their reference. You may even want to consider posting a copy in a common area for easy access.

Decide on a Process for Making Changes

No roommate agreement will be perfect, and changes may need to be made from time to time. Make sure to have some sort of plan in place for revising the agreement as needed.

What About Divvying Up Cleaning Tasks?

Don’t forget to also figure out a system for sharing household chores, such as cleaning if you don’t have a maid service near you. If you’d prefer to avoid this headache altogether, consider hiring a professional cleaning service! Maid Sailors offers dedicated and thorough cleaning services at competitive pricing.

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