Roommate Agreement FAQ

The Roommate Agreement   (Top)

Q: What is a roommate agreement?
A: A roommate agreement is a contract made between the residents of a rental unit. The agreement outlines the terms, conditions and responsibilities agreed to by each of the residents. Roommate agreements are sometimes referred to as roommate contracts. LawDepot provides a written roommate agreement.

Q: What is addressed in a roommate agreement?
A: Roommate agreements typically address the following:

  • date of agreement;
  • names of roommates;
  • address of property;
  • portion of rent and security deposit to be paid by each roommate;
  • portion of utilities to be paid by each roommate;
  • house rules;
  • household duties and restrictions;
  • particulars on how the tenancy can be terminated; and
  • any other terms that the roommates think are appropriate.

Q: Why do I need a written roommate agreement?
A: Roommates can make lots of informal agreements about splitting rent, sharing chores, and paying bills. However, oral agreements are too easily forgotten or misinterpreted. It is better to put your understandings in writing.

The greatest value of writing a Roommate Agreement is that it forces you and your roommates to take your co-tenancy responsibilities seriously. The more you can anticipate potential problems, the better prepared you'll be to handle disputes that arise. Before you move in, it is a good idea to sit down with your roommates and create an agreement that is tailored to meet your needs.

Q: How is a roommate agreement different from the lease my roommates and I have with our landlord?
A: A lease is a legal contract between a landlord and one or more tenants. The landlord can look to one or all of the tenants on the lease, for payment of rent. If there is more than one tenant on the lease then all of them are jointly and severally liable for rent and other charges stated in the lease. If one tenant moves out, the remaining
tenant(s) are still obligated to honor the lease for the duration of its term.

In contrast, a roommate agreement is a contract made between the residents of a rental unit. The agreement outlines the terms, conditions and responsibilities agreed to by each of the residents in relation to how they share space, and how they divide rent and other expenses. The roommate agreement is not binding on the landlord.

Rent Information   (Top)

Q: How should rent be divided?
A: Roommates may decide to split the rent equally or unequally, depending on their personal wishes. Landlords often insist on receiving one rent check for the entire rent as they usually don't want to be bothered with multiple checks from co-tenants. It may be a good idea to designate one roommate as the person to whom other roommates pay rent each month and then he/she signs the full check for the landlord.

Security Deposit Information   (Top)

Q: What is a security deposit?
A: A security deposit is a sum of money the tenant pays to the landlord to guarantee that the tenant will fulfill all obligations under the lease. The landlord holds the security deposit for the term of the lease to ensure that the tenant does not default on the terms of the lease or otherwise damage the property. Should the tenant damage the property (normal "wear and tear" excluded) or if the tenant has not paid rent, the landlord is entitled to recoup the debt from the security deposit. Usually the tenant must provide the landlord with the security deposit at the start of the lease. At the end of the term, the tenant will receive the deposit back minus any deductions for repairs/restoration.

Q: How should the costs of the security deposit be divided?
A: Generally, roommates split the security deposit when they pay it at the start, and get it back when they move out. But what if one roommate moves out before the lease is up? The landlord is not required to return the security deposit for the apartment until all tenants vacate. One common solution is to have the new roommate pay the departing roommate his or her share of the security deposit. If the departing roommate caused some damage to the apartment, then the new roommate should deduct the cost of that damage from the amount paid.

Utility Information   (Top)

Q: How should utility costs be divided?
A: As with the rent payments, roommates need to agree between themselves how the utilities will be paid each month. Some important questions you and your roommates may want to consider include:

  • Whose name will each utility bill will be in?
  • Who is responsible for the payment to the utility company?
  • If some roommates have cell phones, will they still have access to a household phone?
  • If some roommates do not use a certain utility, will they still be responsible for paying for it?

House Rules, Duties and Restrictions   (Top)

Q: How should roommates address smoking?
A: If smoking will not be allowed in the residence, consider acceptable smoking areas for residents or guests who do smoke (e.g. on the balcony, on the porch, in the backyard).

What if, when smoking outside, the smoke drifts inside and leaves a smell in the residence anyway? What if the smoking area becomes crowded and makes it difficult for people to enter or exit the residence? Consider potential difficulties in advance where possible.

Q: How should roommates address parties?
A: Roommates may wish to consider the following:

  • What is considered a "party" and what is an informal gathering? If a roommate brings a couple of friends over late at night and they drink for a couple of hours, is it considered a party? Should it be allowed?
  • When are parties allowed (e.g. anytime, weekends only) and what arrangements must be made in advance with other roommates?
  • Is there an established guest list for the party/gathering?
  • Who will clean up after the party and when should the cleanup be completed?

Q: How should roommates address noise?
A: Decide before you move in when the "quiet hours" will be - at what time will the TV and stereo have to be turned down (e.g. 10 p.m. weeknights; midnight on weekends)? Also, decide on a time for quiet hours to end in the morning (e.g. 8 a.m. weekdays; 10 a.m. weekends).

Q: How should roommates address overnight guests?
A: Roommates may wish to consider the following:

  • If allowed to stay over, where will guests sleep?
  • How much notice is needed before a guest stays overnight?
  • If you only have one living room couch, and two guests on the same night, how do you reserve it?
  • How many nights of sleepover is too long a stay?

Q: How should roommates address unwanted guests?
A: Roommates may wish to consider the following:

  • If a roommate has a friend or other individual visiting regularly, and this person is unpleasant, rude or abusive to the other roommates, should they have the right to request that the host roommate only see this person outside of the premises, thereby minimizing unwanted exposure of the other roommates to this individual? If so, should they do it by a vote or a face to face meeting with the host roommate?
  • What about a friend who consistently visits and, although not staying overnight, stays for dinner a lot and eats a lot of the residence food? Should specific limits be set on dinner guests?

Q: How should roommates address food?
A: Roommates may wish to consider the following:

  • Will you share food expenses or will each resident be responsible for him/herself?
  • How will you share responsibilities for cooking and shopping?
  • How will you know whose food is whose?

Q: How should roommates address security?
A: Roommates may wish to consider the following:

  • Should doors be locked at night or when no one is home?
  • Where will you keep an extra key?
  • Should anyone besides the roommates have a key or know about the extra key?

Q: How should roommates address personal property?
A: Roommates may wish to consider the following:

  • Can personal items such as stereos, TV's, kitchen equipment, bikes, and motor vehicles be shared?
  • Can roommates borrow each other's clothes, books, CD's, etc? Must they get permission each time?

Q: How should roommates address cleaning/maintenance?
A: Roommates may wish to consider the following:

  • How clean will you keep the apartment?
  • Who is responsible for which household chores?
  • When should those chores be done?

Q: Should you get your landlord's permision to have a pet?
A: Your lease may specify whether pets are permitted on the property. If the lease is silent on pets, it is best to first seek your landlord's permission before getting a pet. Where pets are allowed, you should agree in writing to compensate the landlord for any damage caused including cleaning, insect/flea and/or odor removal on leaving.

Q: How should roommates address computer usage?
A: Roommates may wish to consider the following:

  • Should there be a time limit on how long a roommate can use the computer (not using it for hours at a time)?
  • Should there be a request that roommates not use the computer for certain activities or to visit certain sites?
  • If a roommate has the computer in his/her bedroom, does he/she mind if other roommates go into the room to use the computer?

Q: How should roommates address television usage?
A: Roommates may wish to consider the following:

  • Should television usage be agreed upon in advance or scheduled to meet each roommate's preferences?
  • Does everyone have to turn the TV down after a certain time on week nights?
  • Should certain times be allowed for entertaining guests in the living room, if it is the same room as the television set?

Q: Are all the "House Rules" and "House Duties" legally enforceable?
A: Some parts of a roommate agreement are not likely to be legally enforceable - for example, a judge is unlikely to order your roommate to clean the bathroom. However, judges will enforce financial agreements such as how rent is to be shared. If one of the roommates did not pay his/her share of the rent on time, the other roommates could take legal action against that roommate and avoid a bad mark on their own credit record.

Termination of Tenancy   (Top)

Q: What happens if one roommate needs to leave before the lease ends?
A: The departing tenant will not be relieved of his or her obligations under the lease (and could be named in an eviction lawsuit) unless the landlord specifically releases the departing tenant or allows that tenant to assign all of his or her rights and responsibilities under the lease to the new tenant.

Q: You and your roommates signed a one-year lease on an apartment but after a few months, one of your roommates decides to move out. What can you do?
A: Since you and your roommate signed the lease, you are all jointly and severally liable for the entire amount of rent payable. This means that if the departing roommate does not pay his/her share of the rent, the landlord can seek the rent shortfall from you and/or any of the remaining roommates. The landlord is not bound by the tenants' own agreement to pay only a certain portion of rent.

To protect yourself, you and the remaining roommates should consider taking the following steps:

  1. Read the lease to see whether you can get a new roommate
    • Is subletting/assignment allowed? Is there a restriction that only those persons named in the lease can occupy the premises? Even if subletting is prohibited, the landlord cannot unreasonably refuse to sublet.
    • Do you have to get the landlord's permission before you assign or sublet? If so, does the landlord's permission have to be in writing?
    • Do any special conditions have to be met?
  2. Consider how to arrange for a replacement roommate:
    • What type of person would make an acceptable replacement (reasonable criteria)?
    • Who will arrange and pay for advertising?
    • Who will receive calls and show the unit?
  3. Ask the landlord how he/she would like to handle the following:
    • the landlord's approval of new tenant;
    • the new tenant's relationship to the lease; and
    • the old and new tenants' security deposits.
As a final recourse, you and your roommates may have a legal right to sue your departing roommate for any money you pay to cover the rent he/she would have paid. If you had a written or oral agreement that all of you would stay in the apartment throughout the duration of the lease, then you can sue that roommate for breach of contract or agreement. If you clearly address this issue in your roommate agreement, it is all the better for your legal protection.

Q: What if a new roommate moves in after the lease and the roommate agreement have been signed?
A: Before a new roommate moves in with you, you should obtain your landlord's approval. Your landlord will most likely want to ensure that the new roommate has a good credit and rental history and has good references. In addition, your landlord may also want to ensure that the new roommate does not exceed the occupancy limit of the rental unit.

Assuming the landlord approves of the new roommate, the landlord will then most likely want to revise the lease to include your new roommate as a tenant. In this way, the new roommate will also be held responsible for rent payments, damage to the premises and any other obligations under the lease. This also means that the new roommate will also be protected under the terms of the lease. You and your new roommate should also sign a new roommate agreement (along with any other roommates in the premises). The roommate agreement should be kept up-to-date so it is consistent with the details of the lease.

Signing Details   (Top)

Q: Do I need the legal name of my roommate(s)? May I simply use their nicknames (aliases)?
A: Be sure the names of everyone living in the rental unit appears on the agreement; in full and without nicknames so they are identifiable as the specific individual. This ensures that everyone is responsible for paying rent and meeting any other obligations set forth in the roommate agreement.

Q: Should I list the name of our leasing agent or the property management company under "Landlord"?
A: A Leasing agent represents a property owner in leasing the property, but may not necessarily also be involved in its management; a property management company also may or may not specifically be the landlord. It is best to name the specific individual as landlord where possible.

Q: Have the roommates signed a lease? (Who should sign the lease?)
A: All adults living in an apartment should be named on the lease and should be co-responsible for payment of rent and maintenance of the unit. This means that each of you is responsible for making sure the entire rent is paid each month and that other obligations under the lease (maintenance, payment for damages, etc.) are everyone's concern. This also means that you are all protected under the terms of the lease.

Q: Do I need to have the agreement signed in front of a witness?
A: Most documents and contracts do not require a witness for them to be legally valid. However, it is preferable that the document be witnessed. A witnessed document provides evidence that the parties were physically present when they signed the agreement and all signatures are original.

Miscellaneous   (Top)

Q: As a tenant, should you consider getting insurance for your property?
When you are living in a rented property it is the landlord's responsibility to take care of the building insurance. However, this does not cover your contents or possessions or damage caused by you or your visitors to the landlord's fixtures and fittings. You should consider getting protection from such events with a tenant's insurance package.

Q: If you are insuring your property as a renting tenant, what coverage should you look for?
A: Renters' insurance can help you in many different situations. These may include:

  • if your apartment catches on fire and your possessions are damaged or destroyed;
  • if a burglary takes place in your residence and your belongings are stolen;
  • if a friend of yours injures himself while having a party in your home;
  • if an electrical power surge damages your television, stereo and computer.
Renters' insurance generally has a broad coverage, but earthquakes and damage caused by flood are usually not covered in most renters' insurance policies. Comprehensive coverage can include:
  • complete all-risk coverage for your dwelling contents;
  • coverage for damage to the landlord's fixture and fittings, and protection for your security deposit; malicious damage and vandalism;
  • occupiers' and personal liability;
  • alternative accommodation and rent payments;
  • money and credit cards; and
  • extended coverage to possessions when outside and away from home.