Roommates can be an excellent solution to living in an expensive city, but we all know they come with challenges, too. Follow these five steps to make sure you and your roommate build a home sweet home, and not a scene out of “American Horror Story.”
It’s no surprise that the New York area can be a pricey place to live. In fact, according to the Zumper National Rent Report for December 2015, New York City is second only to San Francisco in median rental rates. For many, sharing a house or apartment with a roommate (or roommates) is the answer to being able to afford a well-appointed, centrally located home versus a top-floor studio walk-up 90 minutes outside of the city. By sharing rent and other expenses, your dream of living big in the big city really can come true. That being said, not all sharing stories are happy tales. Follow these five steps to keep your name out of the next roommate-from-hell story on Gothamist.
Without question, finding a good roommate match is the most important step of all when embarking on a shared dwelling adventure. It is, unfortunately, also the most challenging step. Your very best friend in the whole wide world may not make a great roommate if your cleanliness standards and schedules clash, so be prepared to do a little legwork. It’s best to approach the process of finding a roommate in a logical, thought-out manner, not unlike a job interview. Make a list of important lifestyle factors to discuss with potential roommates, or even better, rely on an existing list like this one to broach topics you might otherwise feel shy about bringing up. There are no right or wrong answers, merely compatible or not-compatible answers, so don’t be afraid to have frank discussions. This is your future peace and happiness on the line, after all.
If you’re looking for a new place together, spend as much time as possible to make sure it’s a good fit for both (or all) of you. Is it a reasonable commute for each of you? Are their sufficient parks, shopping and laundry facilities nearby to meet each of your needs? Is it as quiet or as lively as you both like? If you’ve spent time vetting your roommate match in step one, coming to agreement on these major life factors should be easy.
On the other hand, if one of you is moving into a home currently occupied by the other, you’ll need to plan where space will be made to accommodate the new resident. Have you (or they) cleared out room in the kitchen, bathroom, living room and other shared space? Are storage spaces and closets equitably divided? Are all areas clean and neat for the new arrival?
Everything from quiet hours to sleepover rules to chore assignments should be spelled out clearly in advance to avoid disagreements down the line. This is where negotiation and compromise can be crucial to roommate success. Compromise, by definition, means you might not get everything you want, so each roommate should start with a short list of deal breakers. If you’re adamant about showering at 7 a.m. each weekday, make it known and stick to your schedule. If your roommate gets queasy at the sight of a messy kitchen, agree to a cleaning standard and keep up your end of the bargain. This list of 24 rules for living with a roommate is a great thought starter.
A roommate contract or agreement is a simple way to put in writing the roles and responsibilities of each tenant. While the lease is the legally binding agreement specifying payment terms for the home itself, a roommate agreement can help delineate other provisions such as shared utilities costs, what to do in the case of accidental damage caused to one another’s possessions, stipulations for pets, and whether you agree to legally binding arbitration in the event of a dispute. Google “roommate agreement” for ideas or check out a few free options on TidyForms. Each roommate should agree on the content and sign the agreement prior to moving into the dwelling.
While your roommate may sign off on sharing a home for a year in complete good faith, life has a way of happening — jobs relocate, family members become ill and engagements happen. Who’s responsible for finding a new roommate and covering rent in the meantime? If you bought a plant (or a TV or a sofa) together, who takes it when your time as roommates comes to an end? It’s likely that neither of you can afford the entire rent on your own, so leaving the other tenant in the lurch could inflict serious financial damage. Creating an exit strategy in the beginning, can keep you from creating a messy end when the unexpected happens.
By approaching the process of sharing living space in a patient and thoughtful manner, you can avoid a world of trouble and unease in the last place you want it — your home.