What should go in a contract with a roommate?
October 20, 2009 5:42 PM   Subscribe

A friend and I are looking to rent an apartment together. We're both a bit cautious and want to draft an informal contract laying everything out. What would you make sure to specify in such a document? How do we split utilities we disagree on?

A friend and I are looking to get an apartment together. (We are two males, early 20s, in Massachusetts, if it makes a difference in your answers.) Although we trust each other, we want to draw up a contract laying out exactly how everything will work, since we've both seen roommates end up having furious brawls over issues that really should have been handled before they even moved in together. We don't plan to involve a lawyer or draw up anything ornate, but wanted input from the hive mind on what sort of things you wish you had ironed out and written down beforehand?

The more obvious issues are what will happen if someone backs out of the lease (they'll be responsible for payments), and who owns shared property. (Neither of us own a couch, for example.) These should be straightforward to spell out. But what other things are we overlooking?

How do we handle disagreements? Not feuds, but just things we have different opinions on how to spend money. For example, I want the top-of-the-line FiOS, and he wants the cheapest plan available. I've thought about picking up the difference, but that leaves him getting the benefit, too. Similarly, access to the pool on premises is an additional fee, which I don't find worth paying. But if he pays it himself, I would gain the ability to use the pool and might even end up going. Neither of these are really big deals, and I trust that we'll find an amenable solution. But they're also the type of things I can see turning into feuds, and, with just two of us, it's not like we can vote. Is there a recommended course of action we might put in the contract?

Sorry if this is an open-ended question, but what else do we need to address now, before we move in together? I'm sure there are a lot of things that we're not thinking of right now, and, if we're going to draw up a contract, I want to make sure it's robust.
posted by fogster to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps a planned cleaning schedule, photocopied and stapled to the contract?
posted by mannequito at 5:45 PM on October 20, 2009

Best answer: Sleepover guests that turn into live-in soulmates that turn into a third roommate that doesn't pay rent.
posted by GPF at 5:46 PM on October 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: doing. the. fucking. dishes.
posted by Jon_Evil at 5:49 PM on October 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Pretty important in my experience: How you deal with purchasing common household items (toilet paper, dish detergent, handsoap, paper towels, cleaning chemicals, sponges, etc). I find with two people, it's pretty easy to just make it a taking-turns kind of deal ("Hey, man, I bought the bleach last time, we're out, it's your turn"). Agree ahead of time on what kind of brands you are willing to buy (ie. expensive green or cheap store-brand?) so that one person isn't consistently spending more than the other on shared items.

With furniture, buy separate items, and have those be yours. Don't split the cost. He buys a kitchen table, you buy the couch, etc. That way you have ownership. If you do end up splitting the cost of one item, agree to the price you would sell it for on craigslist, then when you all move, you can either sell it, or one person can buy the other person out for the sale price.
posted by greta simone at 5:54 PM on October 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Probably, more important than any specific issue you can see coming up, it would be a good idea for you guys to decide on how conflicts will be managed in the future. For instance, what is the appropriate way for one of you to inform the other that something is unacceptable?

I say this because it seems that most people's problems with their roommates are less about any particular grievance and more about how those grievances are handled. Having your roommate want you to clean up more often is fine, yeah, but getting a passive-aggressive note saying as much is just going to make matters worse. The easiest way for small issues to blow up into horrible fights is for the different people involved to have different expectations about how small issues should be dealt with.
posted by Ms. Saint at 5:55 PM on October 20, 2009

Best answer: roommate problems always seem to be:
houseguests who stay too long / deciding how long is too long
the boy friend or girlfriend spending too much time around
the roommate who loses their job and can't make rent / utilities
guest broke something, who pays
they didn't pay for cable but want to watch it anyway

the pool issues seems like it could be handled by you paying a "guess pass" equivilent based on how many times you use the pool vs how many times the other guy uses to pool.
e.g. you use it 10% of the times they do, you pay 10% of the bill, but if you use it more than x times, you have to pay 50% going forward....
posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:56 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Are you going to share groceries or household items? I would suggest you have written down how much you expect to day per week/fortnight/month. Same with bills, to stop any unexpected surprises... something about having people over? parties? noise? what you both feel is acceptable. Like above, partners that become live-in, 3rd room-mates that don't contribute. Also, chores and responsibilities - just lay our your expectations... Oh! think about what happens if someone breaks/damages your things? Perhaps something about replacing/help pay the cost (if someone stains your nice new couch, they help pay, etc)
posted by latch24 at 6:08 PM on October 20, 2009

Is the cost of pool comparable to FiOS? Obviously you both want to cut costs somewhere but are disagreeing on where that is, maybe you need to find another mutually agreeable place to cut costs?

Is there a max rent/utilities bill you can agree on? Work out what that figure is and then add up essentials to that limit, haggling happily as you go. Could you save enough to have both pool and FiOS by not having a landline, for example?

What about a slush fund for cleaning supplies that you both chuck in 20$ (10$, whatever) each week? That way it's not a fight for whose turn it is to pay, simply whose turn it is to go out and buy it.

Is there a no pet policy- either from the building or from one of you?
posted by titanium_geek at 6:29 PM on October 20, 2009

Best answer: If you purchase a nice sofa, and he spills grape juice all over it (or accidentally burns it, or whatever) -- what then? Will he automatically be responsible for paying for the whole thing (couches can be over $1000)? What if he just makes a small stain that can never be removed?
posted by amtho at 6:29 PM on October 20, 2009

Best answer: You like it clean. He doesn't care. You do all the cleaning for awhile, but then you get sick of it. Do you split the cost of a monthly housecleaning, say? What if he doesn't want to pay? What if you don't -- after all, you're good at cleaning on a weekly basis, but then again, you're kinda the only one who cares...

Then, his friends come over. They listen to music really late. And they smoke weed. That's fine, you don't totally care, but the least they could do is put the bong away. I mean, your parents came to visit, you even bought a couple framed pictures for the wall to make the place look decent, and then he left the bong out on the table.

Anyway, your girlfriend doesn't like it. You guys hang out on the sofa watching TV; he doesn't mind sharing the living room with you, but you know, it's kinda your space when it's you plus your gf, it's not like he can say "let's watch football." She starts hanging around more, and now you'd like her to have a key, so you don't have to come home from work again like that time she left her laptop cord at your house, it's not like she's going to steal anything, so why not let her be able to come in and get stuff quickly. But then, one day, she has Columbus Day off and you don't, so you leave but she's still getting ready to go out, then your roommate starts to feel a little sick and decides to work from home in the afternoon, and that is just weird, that he comes home to find her there. It's not even like she's paying utilities. Plus, she wants you guys to have a microwave, and nicer dishes, and a proper kitchen table, so you and she go out and buy some, and now even though half the time you're at her place still, it's basically like the apartment is yours and hers and he's just crashing there (why don't you guys just get married already??)...

Also, he scratched your nice cephalon pan and gunked up the toaster with melted cheese accidentally.
posted by salvia at 7:02 PM on October 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

You might want to have a talk about noise, parties, and guests. I don't know that its something that you'd want to have in a written agreement necessarily, but its something that you need to make sure you're on the same page on. I've had wonderful friends who were so-so roomies because they were night owls who liked to watch loud action movies with their friends in the living room (under my bedroom) at 2am on nights before I had early morning class.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 7:39 PM on October 20, 2009

Best answer: My First Apartment has some ideas.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:38 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Chores and food.

Sounds basic, maybe, but seriously, hash it out now:
  • How often does the bathroom get cleaned? Who cleans it? What happens if that person fails to clean it in a timely fashion? (Obviously you don't want to penalize someone who's ill or not physically there that weekend, but I've had roommates who would put it off for a week, saying over and over that they're going to do it tomorrow.)
  • How long is it okay to leave dishes in the sink? An hour after supper? The next day? Three days? If there's a dishwasher, who's responsible for loading and unloading? It sounds petty, but when you've done the dishes every day for three weeks, your ass is going to be chapped.
  • What about maintenance chores--mopping the floor, wiping off counters and cupboards, cleaning the crud off of the stove? How often do they need to be done, and who does them?
  • If you have your own washer/dryer, how long is it okay to leave clothes in them? It's super annoying to do your wash and go to put it in the dryer, only to find that your roommate's load from last week is still sitting there, meaning that you either have to fold it, move it, or delay drying your own clothes.
  • What's the policy for shared food? It's one thing to share a box of cheerios; it's another thing to come home from a weekend away and discover that your roommate drank all the milk and all the beer and hasn't replaced it.
  • What are the standards for public areas? I had a roommate who felt that it was just fine to leave laundry, dishes, half-eaten food, books, whatever, lying around the living room. I did not share this view, and it really messed up our relationship.
  • What are the rules about overnight guests? At what point does "girlfriend there five nights a week" become "girlfriend living with us but not doing any chores, oh my god, I want to kill her"?
  • Figure out what happens if one of you becomes unemployed. It sucks to think about, but especially in this economy, it's really important to know what'll happen. You don't want to be the dude stuck holding the bag, but neither do you want to be the dude who stuck your friend and roommate with charges that you couldn't meet.
  • What's common property? That is, what's fair game for borrowing? Video games? Books? CDs? Clothes? Computers? What requires permission, what can you just take and put back when you're done? I've had roommates who felt that all of the above were in the take-and-put-back category, and it...worked not so great.
  • If roommate uses up something of yours, is it acceptable to purchase whatever's available, or do you want the same brand? This will vary from item to item, but if the only toothpaste you like is the orange-mango stuff from Tom's of Maine, it's going to suck when you realize that roommate has used the last of it and replaced it with Colgate flavor burst orange (or whatever that stuff is).
  • It's been mentioned, but talk about conflict resolution now. Assign penalties or whatever for things not done, and agree that if something needs to be discussed you'll do it like mature adults, not by leaving passive-aggressive notes on Facebook. Agree that you will not pull your mutual friends into arguments with your roommate--you don't want them to be forced to pick sides, and as much as you'd like to tell them about the super-annoying thing your roommate does, you'd probably prefer that they not know about the super-annoying thing that you do, right?
  • Not really about a contract, but get emergency contacts for each other, and figure out what you'll do if the other person is seriously ill, self-harming in some way (define this, too), or seems to be having some sort of mental break. I've had to deal with all three, and without any plan ahead of time, it didn't end well. Swap insurance information. Talk about what is and isn't okay to pass along to parents, friends, or other involved parties. Figure out right now where those lines are, because if something horrible happens, it's really, really easy to get overwhelmed. You don't want to have to take him to the hospital without any idea of how to contact people who can give permission for him to be treated; you don't want to be living with someone who has a nervous breakdown and be unable to reach their family. It's weird and kinda awkward, but should something happen, you want to be prepared, both for your sake and the sake of your roommate.

posted by MeghanC at 9:05 PM on October 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

in some ways being a housemate with a friend is harder than a stranger as you have the commodity of keeping the friendship as a major concern. At the end of the day there's going to be a thousand little things that will drive each of you nuts in different ways. you have to keep it copacetic and remember that if you do the cleaning that probably means you're the cleaner person and you're doing it for yourself. cost wise, separate them where you can and take turns, but this isn't necessarily something that's easy to plan out in advance. When i lived with 3 other people we would take one bill each (so as to make sure someone didn't get stuck with wildly fluctuating savings). You can't plan for every event, but you can at least remember that at the end of your time living together you still want to be friends. Plus everything that people said above
posted by NGnerd at 9:19 PM on October 20, 2009

Best answer: If you're friends, make sure that you have a plan B clause (i.e. "If we sign this lease the other person can leave at any time but has to pay") sort of thing. Because things go downhill very fast if you assume too much about your roommate/friend's probable behaviors. So it helps to find a less expensive place that you would be able to afford solo if need be.

I recommend paper plates for the first while.
posted by Khazk at 11:19 PM on October 20, 2009

As to the sharing of household purchases (cleaning supplies, toilet paper), I agree with the above poster that you should agree before hand on how much and what brands. I suggest rather than alternating, though, do a "house fund", just a jar or a box or something that you both put cash into with a little notepad/pocket that you can record removing cash and leave receipts. That way, if you run out of something you don't have to go through some kind of "is it my turn or his turn" and if one of you forgets something at the store it doesn't have to become a source of resentment.
posted by carmen at 5:37 AM on October 21, 2009

Best answer: I used a template (similar to this one) to help me get all the basic details before I put in all the things specific to my situation with my roommate.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:46 AM on October 21, 2009

Small household purchases: My roommate and I each have a running tally of our purchases stuck to the fridge. It's easy to see where we are at, and if one of us is feeling rich we can pay the other one off.

As far as FiOS, I think it's best to just split that stuff down the middle.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:52 AM on October 21, 2009

Best answer: Oh yeah, and speaking of household expenses, you may find this thing I posted to projects useful: A Spreadsheet to Track Shared Expenses Between Two Roommates.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:57 AM on October 21, 2009

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