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How-To Guides: Drafting a Roommate Agreement

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You may recall a certain character on a widely popular sitcom who drafted a roommate agreement on contingency of sharing an apartment with his best friend. That guy, Sheldon Lee Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, drafted one of the most well-recognized (though, completely bizarre) roommate contracts on TV. 

Clause: "Selection of a new take-out restaurant requires a public hearing and 60-day comment period." - Really, Sheldon?

As the show progresses, viewers start to see some hostility towards Sheldon from Leonard (and the others) when a rule or clause of the agreement is deemed "violated" (but who can blame him?).

Roommate agreements are not meant to cause tension between roommates; rather they're drafted to keep the peace and used as a resource when a dispute occurs. Sheldon's agreement is very quirky and extreme, so it's probably not the best one to use as a reference when building out yours. 

When drafting the roommate agreement, be sure to outline what is expected in the apartment, just as long as it's fair and feasible. There will come a time (or many!) when an argument arises. Luckily, a roommate agreement is an excellent resource to have so everyone is kept on the same page. 

If you’re interested in pointers on how to draft a roommate agreement, continue on:

Step 1: Understand the Purpose of the Agreement

Before you can draft a copy of the roommate agreement, you and the others need to understand its purpose. As mentioned previously, it’s used as a reference during a disagreement to help keep the peace in the apartment.

This contract won’t be upheld by community management, but it could be legally binding if you get it in writing. If you do take it up in court, most likely due to a violation of a financial clause dealing with rent, a judge may make a ruling in the case. 

Roommate agreements should not be confused with a lease agreement. It’s a personal household contract created by the people who share an apartment.

 Step 2: Make it Fair and Feasible for All

For those who have seen the show, we can all agree that Sheldon’s rules for the apartment are outlandish and extreme.

While discussing the content that will go into the agreement, remember everything captured must be feasible and fair to all roommates. Terms of the contract should be followed in good faith by all who share the apartment. Should a dispute arise, refer to the roommate agreement.

Step 3: Plan and Execute the Draft

During this stage, you want to make sure you cover everything that could be refuted should an argument occur in the apartment. Below are some clauses and items to consider adding if you’re living with roommates:

I. Pen Names and Address of Residence

The first section of the agreement should have the names of those sharing the apartment, the name and address of the community as well as unit number. Have each person sign by their printed names and date the contract.

II. Decide How Rent Is Divided

Within this clause, make it very clear how much rent each person owes. Roommates typically divide the payment equally. However, some may agree to different amounts depending on room size, number of bathrooms, etc. Write down what each person owes to deter any disputes later on.

If a deposit was put down, include in the agreement who (or who all) paid the amount and how much is expected back to that person (or persons) when they move out. 

III. Note the Terms of Termination

When someone unexpectedly bails out from an apartment, everyone else has to suddenly make up the difference. It might be in the roommates' best interest to include a form of action that must take place by the person moving out before the lease expiration. Make it clear within the roommate agreement that the person leaving either has to:

a. Find a new tenant -that is approved by the others- before moving out

b. Continue paying rent until a new tenant can be found by the group

A term of termination clause can protect you from an abrupt financial setback. When a new roommate is found, notify the leasing office so that person can be added onto the lease agreement.

IV. Agree on Shared Expenses

Like with the division of rent, roommates must also come to an agreement on the division of shared expenses such as utility and service bills. There are a couple of ways to do this:

a. Divide all bills equally

b. Allocate a percentage based on use

c. *Have each roommate pay a bill (or two, depending on how many there are) in their name

*For example: Alex, Heather, and Nina share an apartment. Alex pays for the electricity and water, Heather pays for natural gas and movie streaming service, while Nina pays for garbage and cable/Internet.

Most roommates typically go with the first option, since it's the fairest of the three. But, depending on the situation in your apartment, b or c may be the more suitable choice. 

V. Outline Shared and Personal Spaces

If you agree on private areas within the apartment, include them in the agreement. Common areas should also be outlined, which include the living room, dining room, balcony/patio, office space and kitchen. If you have appliances or things in the shared spaces that you don't want others to use, state it in a clause of the contract. Divide storage closets and cabinetry equally if they're in a common space or a shared bathroom. 

VI. Set Rules for House Guests

Visitors and overnight guests should be addressed within the roommate agreement, because apartment guests can pose as a major source of conflict between roommates. Discuss how long they can stay, if advance notice must be given to others regarding overnight/visiting guests, etc. 

VII. Cleaning Responsibilities

Create a chart of chores that need to be done in the common spaces around the apartment and divide them equally among each other. Be sure to list who is responsible for what, and on what days the chores need to be finished. Remember to come up with these chores together. 

Try to be as specific as possible when allocating maintenance responsibilities. 

VIII. Miscellaneous

Some miscellaneous things to consider:

  • Parties and entertaining
  • Pets
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Decorating

We all like to entertain at our apartments, but it’s best to make sure everyone is okay with it. One roommate may have an early morning board meeting or the other may be ill and needs rest. Include in the contract how early in advance one needs to give notice about entertaining. *Note the quiet hours in the apartment community.

Another thing to include in the contract is pets. If everyone is on board or okay with the rules laid out for a pet, feel free to adopt if you live in a pet-friendly community. Be sure to include who is the rightful owner. 

Smoking is a big thing to consider. Include in the agreement where a person is allowed to smoke, such as the balcony or parking lot. *Be mindful that the apartment community may be a non-smoking community, or that they have set rules in place regarding smoking in the apartments, building, and surrounding areas.

Decide together if alcohol is allowed in the apartment and state it in the contract. Some apartments, like student housing, may have rules against alcohol. Ask the leasing agent if it is allowed or prohibited in your apartment.

The apartment is everyone’s home, so to keep the peace, see if anyone has any objections to decorations. If not, that’s cool. But, some may be against wall art, sculptures, or large paintings in the common areas.

IX. Finalize Agreement

Once the roommates have formed and agree on the terms of the agreement, create and distribute a final copy to each person to sign and date. In case one is lost, have a digital one on hand to refer back to.

Click here for a roommate agreement template, created by Ohio University.

 

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