Roommate Agreement FAQ - United States


A Roommate Agreement, sometimes called a roommate contract, is a contract between individuals residing together that outlines the terms, conditions, and responsibilities for each occupant, such as rent and utility payment amounts and dates, house rules and chores, and more.
General Information about Roommate AgreementsHandling Rent, Utilities, and Deposits Managing Rules and Chores in a Roommate AgreementDealing with Specific Rules and Chores in a Roommate AgreementSigning a Roommate Agreement
General Information about Roommate Agreements
Who are the parties in a Roommate Agreement?

Generally, all the members of a single household are parties in a Roommate Agreement.

Oftentimes, the property owner or landlord of that property would not be a party unless they also reside in the home with the other occupants.

If the landlord lives in the home, renting out a room using a Residential Rental Agreement may be more suitable and offer more protection for both the landlord and tenant(s) than a Roommate Agreement would.

What is included in a Roommate Agreement?

A Roommate Agreement typically includes:

  • The date the agreement was made
  • The address of the property where everyone will live
  • The name of each roommate
  • The details of the Rental Agreement (if any) that one or more of the roommates signed with the landlord of the property, including the dates the lease begins and ends and the type of lease entered into (fixed or automatic renewal)
  • The landlord’s name and contact information (if there is one)
  • The total security deposit paid (or to be paid) to the landlord (if any)
  • The total rent amount to be paid, the frequency of payments (weekly, monthly, etc.), and when it is due
  • How payments, including rent, utilities, and deposits, will be divided among roommates (and if each roommate will pay equal amounts)
  • How the household will be managed, including rules, duties, and restrictions
  • Information on how one or more roommate can terminate the tenancy, if needed
Why should I have a Roommate Agreement?

With a written Roommate Agreement in place, all the members of the household can examine the terms and conditions thoroughly and anticipate and plan for potential problems before they arise.

It is common for roommates to make informal, oral agreements about their living situation, such as how rent, bills, and chores will be divided or what the rules of the household are, but oral agreements are easily forgotten or misinterpreted, which is why it is better to create a written one.

What is the difference between a Residential Lease Agreement and a Roommate Agreement?

The main difference between a Residential Lease Agreement and a Roommate Agreement is based on which parties are involved.

A Residential Lease Agreement is an agreement between a property owner (or landlord) and one or more tenants whereas a Roommate Agreement is an agreement between all the individuals sharing one living space.

Because a landlord is a party in a Residential Lease Agreement, the agreement includes terms pertaining to the landlord, for example, their obligations to the tenant. It also addresses the tenant’s right to occupy the leased property without being unreasonably disturbed by the landlord.

A Roommate Agreement, on the other hand, is not binding on the landlord and only applies to individuals sharing one home as roommates.

Is a Roommate Agreement legally binding?

The financial obligations listed in a Roommate Agreement, such as duties to pay rent or bills, are legally binding and one roommate can sue another for failing to pay their portion of rent or bills.

That said, you and your roommates likely signed a Rental Agreement for your living space, and that agreement is binding regardless of any issues you and your roommates may have. This means you and your co-tenants are still obligated to pay rent on time and in full even if one roommate fails to contribute their share.

A Roommate Agreement may include some components (such as household chores) that may not be enforceable in court but are useful in establishing expectations in the home, mitigating disagreements, and maintaining a pleasant living situation.

What if a roommate needs to end a lease early?

Prior to moving in, you and your co-tenants signed a Lease Agreement to rent the property for a specific period of time. The lease is still binding even if one roommate leaves before the lease ends.

For this reason, it is recommended that roommates discuss what to do and how rent will be paid if one roommate decides to move out before the end of the lease.

Some landlords may allow tenants to end a lease early with advance notice or by paying a fee. Similarly, roommates could allow a roommate to move out with notice or a fee.

Keep in mind, if the roommate is listed as a tenant in the Residential Lease Agreement, they are still bound to that agreement unless the landlord indicates otherwise. Upon request, a landlord can relieve a tenant of their obligations or assign their obligations to a new tenant (who will become a new roommate in the home), but whether this request is accommodated is up to the landlord—not the roommates.

Also remember that individuals named as tenants are all equally responsible (a principal called joint and several liability) for the amount of rent listed in the Lease Agreement. In other words, if one roommate doesn’t pay their share of rent, the landlord can demand the entire payment from any of the tenants named in the Lease Agreement.

Handling Rent, Utilities, and Deposits
How should roommates split rent?

Roommates can choose to split rent equally or unequally, and how they decide to divide rent can depend on the living situation or any negotiations made between housemates.

Oftentimes, it is easier for roommates to split rent payments equally amongst all the home’s occupants.

However, unequal rent payments may be preferable in living situations such as:

  • Two roommates are a couple and are sharing one room
  • One (or more) roommate has a child (or children) and/or a pet
  • One (or more) roommate has access to more household benefits (for instance, one or more household members have sole use of the laundry room)

Keep in mind, regardless of how roommates choose to divide their rent payments, landlords typically prefer one lump payment for rent, such as one check from one occupant’s bank account as opposed to multiple checks from each house member’s bank account. For this reason, it is recommended that roommates designate one person to collect rent from the others to pay the landlord.

How should roommates divide utility costs?

Roommates can divide utility costs equally or unequally, depending on their situation, and may find it helpful to clarify:

  • Will utility costs be mandatory, or can one or more roommates opt out of using and paying for a service (for instance, if the household has cable TV but one roommate only uses Netflix or another streaming service, are they still required to contribute towards the cable bill)?
  • How will each roommate’s portion of a utility payment be collected, and how will the entire payment be made?

Keep in mind, the utility bill will likely be in one roommate’s name (not in all the roommates’ names) and that roommate will be responsible for contacting the company, if required.

This person would also bear the consequences of nonpayment (like a lower credit score), which is why having a Roommate Agreement is a good idea as it would provide that roommate some sort of protection if nonpayment occurred.

What is a security deposit?

A security deposit, sometimes called a damage deposit, is a sum of money paid by the tenant(s) of a rental property to the landlord of a rental property.

A deposit is paid at the start of the tenancy and used to recover unpaid rent or utilities, if any, or pay the cost of repairs for any damages made by the tenant(s) or their houseguest(s), with the exception of normal wear and tear (sometimes called ordinary wear and tear).

At the end of the tenancy, the deposit is returned to the tenant, minus any funds used to cover unpaid bills or repair costs.

How should roommates split the cost of a security deposit?

In a roommate situation, the whole household generally contributes money for the security deposit that is provided to the landlord.

As with rent, the roommates can choose to split the damage deposit equally or unequally, depending on the living situation (like if two people are sharing one room) or on any agreements made between the occupants.

When the tenancy ends, the roommates reclaim the money they contributed towards the deposit, less any funds removed from the deposit by the landlord to cover unpaid bills or repair costs.

Issues may arise if one or more of the roommates decides to move out before the end of their rental property’s lease and thus before their portion of the deposit is returned by the landlord. Roommates may want to address how this problem can be resolved (such as by having a new roommate pay a departing roommate’s deposit) at the beginning of their tenancy.

What is normal wear and tear?

Normal wear and tear, sometimes called ordinary wear and tear, is a concept that applies to damage deposits.

Normal wear and tear is defined as damage or wear that occurs from everyday living that cannot be repaired using funds from a tenant’s security deposit. For example, faded wall paint caused by sunlight exposure would be considered normal wear and tear. On the other hand, the tenant painting the walls a different color without permission would not be considered normal wear and tear, and, in this instance, the cost to repaint could be withdrawn from the tenant’s deposit.

In short, the concept of normal wear and tear is used to assist landlords and tenants in determining which party (the landlord or tenant) must pay for the cost of a particular repair.

How should roommates handle pet deposits or fees?

If your Lease Agreement permits pets on the premises, you may want to discuss how pet deposits or fees will be handled between roommates.

A pet deposit is a sum of money held by a landlord to cover damages, if any, made by a pet. Unused deposits are returned to tenants. A pet fee, on the other hand, is a nonrefundable charge tenants pay to have pets in their home. This fee is typically added to your rent payments.

Roommates may want to discuss who will pay the deposit or fee (which may depend on who owns the pet) and how deposits will be reimbursed (particularly in instances when one roommate who shared this cost moves out before the lease ends).

Managing Rules and Chores in a Roommate Agreement
Should rules be included in a Roommate Agreement?

To prevent future disagreements over household rules, it is recommended that roommates include household rules in their Roommate Agreement.

Roommates should discuss any rules that are relevant to their living situation, for instance:

  • Smoking: Can roommates smoke on the premises and where?
  • Alcohol: Can roommates drink alcohol on the premises, is alcohol allowed to be kept in the fridge, and are there any restrictions to drinking (such as defining which nights roommates are allowed to drink)?
  • Parties: What constitutes a party, are parties okay in the household, and do roommates need approval from the rest of the household before planning a party?
  • Quiet hours: At what times are roommates required to be quiet?
  • Guests: When are guests allowed over, at what times, and can they stay overnight?
  • Personal property: Can one roommate use another roommate’s property (such as a computer or video game system) and do they need to request permission before each use?

There may be other rules applicable to your particular living situation, such as rules regarding:

  • Pets
  • Food
  • Security

Keep in mind, some of the aforementioned rules may be addressed within your Residential Lease Agreement and any agreements made between roommates regarding rules will be dependent on the contents of the Lease Agreement for the property.

Should roommates include chores in a Roommate Agreement?

Discussing household chores is always a good idea and including those decisions in your Roommate Agreement is helpful in ensuring everyone knows what is expected of them.

In a Roommate Agreement, roommates can specify if chores will be divided evenly, unevenly, or based on a negotiated chore list that can be attached to your contract.

In some instances, it makes sense to assign chores unevenly.

For example, if one roommate owns a pet, that roommate could be solely responsible for caring for and cleaning up after the pet.

Are rules and chores included in a Roommate Agreement legally enforceable?

There are parts of a Roommate Agreement, specifically pertaining to rules and chores, that may not be legally enforceable. However, often it depends on the situation itself and whether the parties experienced any loss, damage, or injury.

As an example, you will likely not succeed in suing your roommate over them failing to wash the dishes. On the other hand, let’s say the Roommate Agreement indicates one roommate is responsible for shoveling snow from the home’s sidewalks and they fail to do so. If the household is fined because that roommate neglected to fulfill his duties, as agreed upon in your Roommate Agreement, then the other roommates may be able to pursue legal action against the offending roommate.

However, a court will take most financial issues seriously. For instance, if a roommate failed to pay their portion of rent on time, the other roommates could take legal action against them.

Why should roommates address rules and chores in a Roommate Agreement?

With a written record of your agreements, roommates know what conduct is appropriate in the home and what is expected of them. It also provides something roommates can reference in order to resolve potential disagreements.

Dealing with Specific Rules and Chores in a Roommate Agreement
How should roommates handle smoking in the home?

The Lease Agreement you and your co-tenants signed with your landlord will indicate whether smoking is allowed in your rental unit.

However, regardless if smoking is allowed indoors, roommates should discuss smoking in more detail, specifically where roommates can smoke inside or outside the house.

If smoking is allowed indoors, roommates will want to address if smoking in bedrooms or common areas, such as the living room or bathroom, is acceptable. If smoking is only acceptable outside, roommates should discuss where it is appropriate (e.g. on the balcony, porch, or in the backyard).

Roommates may want to discuss other issues as well, such as what will be done if:

  • The designated smoking area becomes a problem (e.g. gets overcrowded, blocks exits, etc.)
  • Smoke drifts into non-designated smoking areas
  • There is a concern about the current household rules pertaining to smoking
  • Cigarette butts are not disposed of properly
  • One or more of the roommates is allergic (or develops an allergy) to smoke

Even if all the occupants of the house are nonsmokers, it is still recommended that roommates discuss smoking to protect themselves in the event that one roommate starts smoking in the future, a new roommate who is a smoker moves in, or a guest who is a smoker is invited to the home.

How should roommates address alcohol in the home?

Everyone has their own opinion about alcohol, and some individuals may prefer having an alcohol-free home for a variety of reasons.

Because alcohol can be a difficult topic to discuss with roommates, especially after everyone has settled into the home, it is recommended that roommates consider rules pertaining to alcohol and include them in their Roommate Agreement.

Roommates may want to deliberate:

  • If drinking alcohol is allowed in the home
  • If alcohol can be kept on the premises (e.g. in a liquor cabinet or in the fridge)
  • If roommates are allowed to consume alcohol on work nights
  • If roommates can keep open alcohol containers in the fridge and/or drink openly in the household

Micromanaging the use of alcohol to this degree may seem extreme. However, addressing these topics can help ensure everyone remains comfortable in their living space.

How should roommates handle guests in the home?

Roommates should discuss how guests will be handled in the home. Particularly:

  • If guests are allowed in the home
  • How many guests can be in the home at one time
  • If a roommate is required to ask permission before inviting a guest to the home
  • If guests can stay in the home overnight
  • How an unwanted guest will be handled

Overnight Guests

Overnight guests can become a problem in a shared living situation.

If roommates decide to let guests to stay overnight, they may want to discuss:

  • Where guests will sleep: for instance, are guests required to sleep in that particular roommate’s room or can they sleep on the living room couch or in a spare room, if one exists? If there is a couch or spare room, will roommates need to reserve a sleeping space for their guest in advance?
  • How many consecutive nights a guest can stay overnight for
  • If a guest breaks a house rule, how it will be handled: for example, can another roommate ask a guest to leave if they are not following the house rules?

Roommates may decide not to allow guests in the home overnight but may still find it helpful to discuss rules pertaining to one-off incidents, such as what will occur if a guest drinks too much alcohol and cannot drive home or if a guest is unable to go home due to being locked out.

Unwanted Guests

There are various reasons why other roommates would want a roommate’s guest to leave the premises.

For instance, they could be rude, disrespectful, or abusive toward the others in the home or may be willfully ignoring the house rules.

Discussing unwanted guests between roommates can be uncomfortable, especially if the topic is brought up after the guest has been invited into the home.

It is recommended that roommates consider this issue prior to moving in together, specifically:

  • If roommates can prohibit a guest
  • If a guest’s inappropriate behavior can have them removed from the home (and what kind of inappropriate behavior can result in a guest’s removal)
  • If there are limits to how many consecutive days a guest can come over
  • If one roommate and a guest do not get along, what can be done to minimize their interaction (for instance, prohibiting that guest from staying overnight)
How should roommates manage parties in the home?

There may be a time when a roommate wishes to host an event in the home. To prepare for this eventual request, roommates should discuss how the household will handle parties.

For instance, roommates might clarify:

  • What is considered a party as opposed to an informal gathering?
  • How many guests can be in the home at one time?
  • On which days can a roommate have a party: for instance, can a roommate invite people over on a weekday?
  • Can roommates restrict a guest from attending another roommate’s gathering?
  • Can roommates limit the number of gatherings one roommate may have per month?
  • Who will be responsible for managing guests and cleaning up after the event?
  • What can roommates do if another roommate is not following the house rules pertaining to guests or parties?

By establishing such rules when everyone first moves in, roommates can feel at ease knowing parties in the home shouldn’t get out of hand (and knowing what to do in the event that it does).

How should roommates handle noise in the household?

Your municipality may have laws pertaining to noise (known as noise ordinances) but creating an agreement between roommates about noise is typically a good idea.

For instance, roommates may want to consider when the home’s quiet hours start and end (such as 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. on weekends) and what the appropriate volume is for televisions, stereos, computers, or other devices during those hours.

Should roommates make rules about the use of personal property?

It is recommended that roommates make rules regarding whether other members of the household can use another roommate’s personal property and if roommates should ask permission before each use.

Personal property could include items such as:

  • Televisions
  • Stereo or gaming systems
  • Computers
  • Kitchen appliances (e.g. blenders, toasters, etc.)
  • Motor vehicles
  • Clothes
  • Books
  • Subscriptions to a service (e.g. Netflix, Spotify, etc.)

Keep in mind, whether roommates can use items could depend on where the item is located.

For instance, if a television that belongs to one roommate is placed in a shared living room, it can generally be assumed that any individual using that space could use the television.

Should roommates discuss pets in their Roommate Agreement?

The Rental Lease created with your landlord should indicate whether pets are permitted on the property. If there is no mention of pets in your Lease Agreement, you may want to ask your landlord for permission before bringing a pet in to the home.

If pets are allowed, roommates may find it helpful to discuss how pets will be handled, including:

  • Whether pets will be allowed in the home (as roommates can still agree among themselves not to allow pets regardless if the property’s lease allows it)
  • Who will be responsible for looking after the pet
  • Where the pet will sleep
  • Who will pay the expenses related to the pet, such as pet deposits or fees, food, veterinary bills, etc.
Should roommates address food in their Roommate Agreement?

A Roommate Agreement works best when it is thorough and explores many situations that may come up when people live together. Discussing food and food-related expenses is a good idea in order to clarify:

  • Whether roommates will share food expenses (or if each person will be responsible for their own food)
  • Whether certain items (such as condiments, spices, etc.) will be purchased by the household regardless if roommates choose not to share food costs
  • If responsibilities like grocery shopping or cooking will be shared among members of the household
  • How space in the fridge will be divided
  • If food costs are not shared, how roommates will identify which items belong to each resident
How should roommates address security in the home?

It is important to consider how security will be handled in a shared living situation. Roommates may benefit from discussing specific rules about locking up the home, if anyone outside the home will have an extra key, and where spare keys will be kept, if any.

The home may also have a security system. If so, roommates may need to discuss if the cost of the system will be shared equally and when the alarm should be turned on (e.g. at night, when no one is home, etc.).

How should roommates divide chores?

Roommates can prevent disagreements by discussing chores before everyone moves in, for instance:

  • Who will be responsible for which chores?
  • When are chores expected to be completed?

Keep in mind that some people’s standards for cleanliness differ from others, so you may also want to discuss everyone’s expectations for how clean the property will be kept in order to avoid disagreements about cleanliness in the future.

What should roommates do about repairs?

In a rental property, some repairs are required to be fixed by the landlord, such as:

  • Repairs that affect the habitability of the unit (e.g. plumbing or heating issues)
  • Repairs on amentities that are listed in the Lease Agreement (for example, if a Lease Agreement indicates a washer and dryer are included with your unit, the landlord is required to fix it)

Other repairs are typically made at the end of the tenancy and are paid for by the landlord or the tenants depending on who caused the damage. If the damage was caused by the tenants or their guests, then the tenants pay the cost of the damage, usually using their security deposit.

When it comes to paying for repairs using the security deposit, roommates may want to discuss who will pay for damage that was not caused by everyone in the home (like if one roommate made a hole in the drywall).

Signing a Roommate Agreement
How do you sign a Roommate Agreement?

The only requirement for signing a Roommate Agreement is that all the parties involved use their full, legal name when signing.

Signing your agreement in front of a witness is not required but can assist roommates in the event that there is doubt about whether a roommate signed the agreement.

Do you need to sign a Roommate Agreement in front of a witness?

No, you do not need to sign your Roommate Agreement in front of a witness for it to be a valid agreement. However, signing in front of a witness can help prove that the roommate intended to sign and that the signatures are legitimate.

What name should roommates use to sign a Roommate Agreement?

Roommates should sign their Roommate Agreement using their full, legal name.

Using an individual’s full, legal name (as opposed to a nickname) ensures the document can be used in court in case the court’s assistance is required to resolve an issue.

How do you add a roommate to the household after a Roommate Agreement is signed?

To add a new roommate, you should first receive permission from your landlord. Your landlord may decide to update your Residential Lease Agreement to accurately reflect the current situation. This may include:

  • Your landlord reviewing your property’s occupancy limits (i.e. the number of people who can live in one home based on the size of the property)
  • Your landlord checking the new roommate’s credit history, rental history, and references

If your landlord approves their application, roommates can create an entirely new Roommate Agreement with all parties or amend their current agreement using a Contract Addendum (a document that is used to alter the terms of an existing contract).

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