Roommate Agreements

Living with roommates can be a fun but challenging experience. Roommates often become the closest friends, but sometimes misunderstandings and conflicts can occur that require some thoughtful communication and resolution. There are legal, financial, and personal implications to consider before sharing a home with someone. A Roommate Agreement, either verbal or written, will help ensure that all roommates understand each others' needs and expectations and can help prevent many conflicts that arise. 

Creating the Roommate Agreement

Sit down with your potential roommate before you move in together. Discuss every aspect of living together, especially any areas that might where there might be differences of opinion. Make this an honest and frank discussion on your expected living arrangement. Withholding your needs and expectations from housemates will only cause misunderstandings and conflicts later on. Some topics to discuss include:

Security Deposit

Landlords do not have to return the security deposit to anyone other than the person who originally paid that deposit on the lease. For roommates living together, it is important to understand the best way to deal with the security deposit. If the tenant who paid the deposit moves out while the other tenant stays, it is a good idea to have the landlord pay the security deposit back to the person leaving and then have the remaining tenant pay a new deposit on the lease. This will ensure that the new tenant will be able to get the security deposit back when s/he chooses to move out.

Division of Rent

Before you move in together, determine who will occupy specific bedrooms and how much rent each person will pay. These issues are a source of frequent dispute and must be settled before tenants sign the lease.

One option for determining how much rent each tenant will pay is to calculate it proportionately to the square footage occupied by each tenant (see example below).

Example of calculating proportionate rent:
Sue is the master tenant in a 800 square foot apartment. Sue's bedroom, which is larger and has the walk-in closet, is 17'x15', equalling 255 square feet (including closet space). The smaller bedroom is 15'x12', equalling 180 square feet, including closet space. The shared space (kitchen, living room, bathroom) account for the remaining 365 square feet.

Total square footage: 800 sq ft
Total rent: $1700
Price per sq ft: $1700 / 800 sq ft = $2.125 per sq ft

Master tenant: 255 sq ft (bedroom) + 182.5 sq ft (half of shared areas) = 437.5 sq ft x $2.125 per sq ft = $929.69
Subtenant:
180 sq ft (bedroom) + 182.5 sq ft (half of shared areas) = 362.5 sq ft x $2.125 per sq ft = $770.31

Respect for Personal Property

Discuss with your roommate the usage or non-usage of individual property, including trivial items such as shampoo and hairspray. Take this opportunity to establish what is and is not acceptable to each person so that you both understand what the boundaries are. If you do decide that borrowing items is okay, consider setting a time limit or a bookkeeping strategy so that items don't go missing or remain loaned out indefinitely.

Purchase of Food

Roommates must decide if food should be purchased for individual consumption or communal consumption. If you both agree that food should be shared, decide:

  • Will you shop together or take turns?
  • How often will you shop (weekly, biweekly, monthly)?
  • Will you contribute a set amount of money ($50 per shopping trip) or just split the total?
  • Will you take turns cooking or cook together?
  • What if one of you decides to go out on your assigned cooking night?

If food is purchased for individual consumption, decide:

  • If you are not sharing food, are there any exceptions, like sharing condiments or leftovers?
  • Where do you each store your food to keep it separate?
  • Do you use labels to identify whose food it is?
  • Do you have certain nights when you cook together, or take turns cooking for each other?
Furniture and Household Supplies

Roommates should draw up a list of household necessities (kitchen utensils, cleaning supplies, lightbulbs, etc) that are needed and how they will be purchased. If they are items that will be bought regularly (paper towels, toilet paper, etc.), it may be a good idea to integrate it with the grocery shopping list. 

If major items of furniture are needed, discuss how they will be purchased and who will pay. Remember that if you split the cost, there may be conflict when one person wants to move out and take that item of furniture. Therefore, you should establisg provision for reimbursement and/or distribution if a roommate moves out or the occupancy ends.

Cleaning and Housekeeping

Roommates should also establish a cleaning routine. Work together to decide how often the unit should be cleaned and whether you will take turns cleaning all the common areas or whether you will each have assigned areas that you should maintain regularly. It is a good idea to establish a common definition of 'clean' and 'messy' so that you both understand what is expected. Even details that may seem trivial now (like how long a dirty dish is allowed to stay in the sink) can become a subject of contention if not properly addressed.

Guest Policy

Discuss with your roommate whether overnight guests are allowed and, if so, how long guests may stay. As a courtesy to roommates and neighbors, be sure to set rules for your guests, especially if alcohol will be consumed. Discuss appropriate behavior and acceptable noise levels with your housemates and guests. Also, be aware that local ordinances prohibit high levels of noise, underage drinking, and disorderly conduct. Tenants can face hefty fines, eviction, and/or police intervention for the violation of such laws (see also Eviction).

Roommates Moving Out

Even in ideal living conditions, roommates often choose to move out for a variety of reasons. You and your roommate should discuss this possibility before moving in together. Decide who will be responsible for finding a new tenant. The remaining tenants may feel that they should have the right to choose the new tenant, since they will be living together. At the same time, some people feel that the tenant leaving should have to bear the responsibility of finding a new tenant. A compromise may be having the tenant that is leaving do the work of posting the vacancy and scheduling the viewing, while the tenant staying gets the final say on who is offered the unit. Be sure to check your rental agreement, since some landlords do not allow subletting or assignments (see Rental Agreements and Subletting & Assignments).

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