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Preparing a roommate agreement

You’ve finally found that perfect roommate, or at least one you think you can get along with. But how can you be sure things will run smoothly until you’ve actually lived together for a while? Sure, you went through an extensive and thorough search to find the right roommate, but maybe they weren’t honest, or maybe you weren’t really aware of the type of things that might bug you.

Everyone wants a safe, comfortable living environment. If your roommate is inviting strangers into your home, eating all the food, playing loud music late at night, or leaving a big mess for you to clean up, it can make for a less than ideal situation. What can you do?

Roommate Agreement

One solution may be a Roommate Agreement. What is it? Well, it’s not a legal document, like a lease, but it lets you and your roommate come to some agreement about your living arrangements and responsibilities. If a dispute arises, you can refer to the agreement to help come to a solution. And hopefully, after spending time together drafting the agreement, it’ll help issues from arising in the first place. Here are some samples of Roommate Agreements from Western University and the Centre for Public Legal Education in Alberta.

Willing or unwilling

Discuss the idea of a roommate agreement with your potential roommate. Not everyone is willing to sign on the dotted line, and if you force an agreement on an unwilling roommate, he or she may not abide by it anyway. Remember, it’s not legally binding. One way to approach it is to ask the other person to list some of the things he/she would like to see in it. You can list the items you’re concerned with, and arrange an hour or two to get together and create a draft. It doesn’t have to be set in stone. If it turns out, over time, that something in the agreement is just not realistic, you can agree to amend it.

It’s a good idea to prepare your roommate agreement before signing a lease. If you don’t agree on anything, it may be a sign that this arrangement is not going to work out. Ideally, the two of you can sign the roommate agreement and the lease at the same time.

Points to cover

A roommate agreement can help to identify your expectations regarding all kinds of things, such as:

  • Rent: It may be just as simple as dividing the rent in two. But there could be other considerations. Maybe one party has a large master bedroom with ensuite and walk-in closet, while the other has a small bedroom. You’ll need to discuss what kind of split is fair to both of you. Or perhaps one person offers to do all of the housecleaning in exchange for a reduction in his/her share of the rent. Include the amounts, the dates, and who it’s paid to. You should also include the Damage deposit. List the total amount of the deposit, as well as who paid what. If one of you paid the full damage deposit, it should be noted, so there’s no confusion when it comes time to recoup it, should you decide to move.
  • Other expenses: There are other expenses, as well. Cable TV, for one. If you’re the only one who watches TV, it may not be fair to expect your roommate to pay half. Other considerations are utilities (if not included in the rent), and Internet charges. Often, these types of things are set up in only one person’s name, so make it clear in the roommate agreement, how much each person will pay, and on what date. Otherwise, one person could get stuck holding the bag.
  • Housecleaning: Make clear who is responsible for what portion of the housecleaning. For example, you each are responsible for your own bedroom, and you alternate cleaning the rest of the apartment each week. Then you need to itemize the chores: dusting, vacuuming, washing floors, scrubbing the toilet and tub, etc. Who is going to clean out the fridge or the oven, which are less frequent? Or, which often seems to be the wisest option, you agree to split the cost of a cleaning service. But even with a weekly cleaning service, there is still regular tidying up, washing dishes, and taking out the garbage and recycling to be considered. It’s a good idea to itemize as much as possible in writing.
  • Groceries: Will everything be communal? Or will you divide up shelves in the fridge; top shelf is my stuff, bottom shelf is yours? What about cooking? Maybe one person agrees to cook dinner five times a week, and the other agrees to pay a larger percentage of the groceries.
  • Dividing up the space: Are some areas strictly for your individual use, e.g. bedrooms? And what about bathrooms? If there is an ensuite in your room, does that mean it’s for your use only? When can you enter each other’s space (if ever)? Don’t forget to talk about storage space. There could be a storage locker somewhere else in the building, or there could be in-suite storage. Either way, decide who gets how much space. Are the appliances to be fully shared? Maybe one party owns a wine fridge, which is for that person’s use only. Write it down.
  • Visitors: Remember what we said about a comfortable, safe environment? If you’re curled up on the couch watching TV in your pajamas, you may not want your roommate bringing home guests. And what about overnight guests? Perhaps you could say that permission is needed if one party wants to have an overnight guest. And you could agree on a one-night maximum, unless otherwise agreed upon, in advance, by both of you. This is definitely something that needs to be discussed before the situation arises.
  • Parties, smoking, alcohol/drugs: These are all things that can be a huge annoyance to one or the other roommate unless talked about in advance. Smoking is usually going to be decided by the landlord, so if your lease says “No Smoking,” make sure your roommate is aware. If anyone smokes, this could cause you to lose your damage deposit, or worse. With regard to parties, you might stipulate that permission is required and that the party can go no later than a certain hour. Again, the landlord may have stipulated a “Quiet time,” so be sure to check your lease while drawing up your roommate agreement. When it comes to alcohol or drugs, what is your tolerance? Having this in writing can prevent problems in the future.
  • Parking: If you both have cars, and there is only one parking stall included with the unit, you should include something in the agreement. Maybe you can alternate months, or maybe one of you could use the stall all the time, in exchange for a reduction in the other party’s portion of the rent.
  • Pets: This is something that needs to be discussed right up front. If you’re not an animal lover and your roommate has decided to buy a pet, how will you handle it?
  • Temperature: Sounds funny, but you should probably agree on what temperature you want the thermostat to be set. This is important for a couple reasons: you don’t want to be sweating or freezing just to accommodate the other person, and the cost of heating/cooling the unit will vary, if not included in the rent.
  • Moving out: What will you do if one roommate wants to move out, leaving the other one to pay the full rent until a new roommate is found? There are different ways to handle this. You might agree that the departing person needs to find a replacement roommate for themselves. Or perhaps you want to be the one to interview prospective roommates. But as we remember from “Finding a Roommate,” there is a lot of work involved. Maybe you agree that the departing person must continue paying their share of the rent until a new roommate is in place. And if the departing person paid a portion of the damage deposit when moving in, how will you settle this when he/she moves out?

Signing a lease and tenants’ rights

Another thing to consider when moving in with a roommate is who is signing the lease agreement with the landlord. Often only one person is named in the lease agreement. However, as a rule, the landlord has the right to know who is living in the unit, and other tenants (roommates) must be listed as a tenant or as an occupant.

What are your rights? In Alberta, for instance, if you are listed as a tenant, you have all the rights outlined in the Residential Tenancy Act for that province. If there are other conditions in the lease, such as allowing a shorter period of notice than required by the Act, and you have not signed the lease agreement, you would not be obligated to comply with these conditions.

Also, if you are living with the landlord, for instance, the other party owns the house, and you are renting a room and sharing the kitchen, living room, bathroom, etc. with him/her, you are not protected by the Residential Tenancy Act. This could vary somewhat from province to province, so be sure you know what your rights are in your area, and in your particular situation. The Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre has a great description of the difference between the three main types of roommate situations in BC: co-tenants, occupants, or tenants in common.

For more information, or to get a quote on your home insurance, contact Square One at 1.855.331.6933.

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