Roommates / Cotenants

Group Tenancy

Before agreeing to live with roommates, it is important that everyone meet and discuss every aspect of living together, especially where there might be differences of opinion.

Before signing a lease, have an honest and open discussion about your expected living arrangement. Consider some of the topics listed below:

  • Roommate/cotenant agreement: Write up a roommate/cotenant agreement so all tenants understand their responsibilities of living together. The purpose of this document is to help you have a group living experience that is free of discord and unpleasant surprises. Find a sample roommate / cotenant agreement.
  • Division of rent: Establish who will occupy specific bedrooms and how the rent will be split per person.
  • Managing utilities: Decide who will be responsible for the payment of utilities, phone and cable bills. Keep in mind that in order for these services to be provided, someone must assume responsibility to the companies selling these services. It is recommended that each tenant be in charge of a certain utility, rather than one person having his or her name on all the utility accounts.
  • Purchase of household supplies and furniture: Draw up a list of household necessities and the amount each person will pay. There should be a provision made in advance for reimbursement and distribution if someone moves out or occupancy ends.
  • Purchase of food for individual and communal consumption: Discuss how food will be purchased and prepared if this will be a group activity. For example, fix the amount each housemate will pay for food and decide how often food will be purchased. Housemates should also agree if they will shop together or separately. If food will be purchased individually, define areas for each person’s food and a policy for consuming other people’s food. Also consider dietary practices like vegan, vegetarian, Kosher foods, or food allergies.
  • Respect for personal property: Agree on the usage or nonusage of individual property even trivial items such as shampoo and toothpaste. Agree on remedies when individual property is missing or damaged and the responsible party cannot be determined.
  • Cleaning: Make a schedule that distributes jobs fairly and equally to everyone. List each main job and describe what needs to be done. The schedule should be reviewed by your group and approved by every member. Sometimes roommates create a schedule that rotates the different chores.
  • Create a policy for entertaining guests: Discuss whether fellow tenants may have overnight guests and how long guests may stay. As a courtesy to housemates and neighbors, be sure to set rules for your guests. Discuss appropriate behavior and acceptable noise levels with your housemates and their guests. Also, be aware that local ordinances prohibit high levels of noise, underage drinking, and disorderly conduct.
  • Consider the possibility of fellow tenants leaving: Even if you discussed your desires and expectations before you moved into your rental, housemates may still decide to move out. Everyone should talk about this possibility before moving in. Decide who will be responsible for finding a new tenant and for making timely rent payments. Remaining housemates may feel they should have the right of filling the vacancy since they will be living with the new tenant. On the other hand, they may feel that the person moving out should bear the responsibility of finding a new tenant. Tenants should also keep in mind their lease agreement, since some leases forbid subletting.

You may think all of these precautions unnecessary among friends, but having an open discussion ahead of time allows tenants to understand each others’ standards and expectations.

Resolving Conflicts

Living together with your friends can be very different from hanging out with them, even if you’ve known them for a long time. Remember to keep the lines of communication open between all roommates and be open to cooperation.

Common problems among roommates may include paying bills on time, cleaning, having guests over, violation of quiet hours, and wanting to leave the apartment and move somewhere else. If you have a roommate/cotenant Agreement, many of these issues will be covered and, hopefully, the problem roommate will live up to what he or she promised.

If you do not have a written agreement, have a group meeting and discuss the situation openly and sensitively. Usually a conclusion can be reached with compromise. You should also take this opportunity to come up with a formal roommate/cotenant agreement.

If this doesn’t work and the problem is serious, then consider other options. The landlord may be able to handle problems such as violations of the lease, e.g., a roommate brings a pet into the apartment when your lease prohibits pets. If you experience physical threats or violence, call the police. This can be a difficult decision if you are close to the person, have no place to go, or are afraid of the possible consequences.

When Fellow Tenants Violate Lease Terms

If a tenant is violating any part of the lease, bring it to his or her attention. If the tenant persists in the lease violation, call a group meeting to discuss the issue and try to come to an acceptable resolution of the matter. All tenants should understand that their actions could cost them time and money, especially if the problem results in a court action.

Remember, all tenants signed the lease and are responsible for the conditions outlined in the lease. This generally makes each tenant individually and jointly responsible for every legal provision in the lease. One person’s violation of the lease is the responsibility of all the tenants.

Top 10 Ways to Be a Good Roommate/cotenant

  1. Pay your rent and bills on time!
  2. Respect the privacy of your roommates. Never read personal mail, email, or other documents. Never “snoop” in dresser drawers or closets.
  3. Observe any established quiet hours. Be responsive to requests for quiet when your roommates are trying to sleep or study.
  4. Keep it reasonably clean. Clean up after yourself in any common living areas.
  5. Share responsibilities for cleaning, cooking, managing bills, etc.
  6. Be considerate when having guests. You are responsible for their behavior.
  7. Be responsible for security measures. Lock the doors and windows; don’t lose your key.
  8. Respect the property of your roommates. Ask before borrowing and take care of things that are lent to you.
  9. Pass along messages promptly. Write them down and put them in a predetermined location.
  10. If you use the last of something, replace it. At the very least, tell your roommates that you’re out of the item (milk, toilet paper, etc.).