Renting an apartment with another person tosses you into a world of necessary cooperation and dependency that, if mismanaged, can lead to a truly miserable experience. We’ve all heard the horror stories: stealing, not paying rent, and making a mess are among the most offensive roommate behaviors.
Not being able to make them pick up their socks or do the dishes is one thing, but when it comes to unequally distributed bills or coveted food disappearing from the refrigerator, it’s time to lay down the law. Better yet, have the “budget” talk early, and avoid the tensions altogether. Here’s what to talk about.
You might have already signed your lease, but if you haven’t yet, heed this warning: Make sure everyone living on the property, everyone you’re counting on to pay rent, signs the lease. You might trust your best buddy to the moon and back, or have a good feeling about the roommate you found online, but it’s best to protect yourself against the possibility of your roomie nixing their rent payments. If you’re alone on the lease, you’ll essentially have to act as your roommate’s landlord, including bringing legal action against them yourself if they refuse to pay. With both names on the contract — unless it spells out how much each party is responsible for — you could still potentially be held accountable for your roommate’s unpaid rent, but he or she will be feeling the legal heat, too. Early on, discuss when the rent is due to be mailed out or dropped off, and any circumstances that could prevent either from making their payment.
It’s a basic human need — and it can lead to conflict and subterfuge. A staggering 27% admit to stealing food from their roommates. Before finding yourself in a situation where your roomie has been noshing your cherished frozen mozzarella sticks or organic pesto tortellini, decide on how you’ll handle groceries: a joint food fund with everything in the cupboards as fair game, or separate shopping trips and discrete stores of edibles. A little advice: If you plan to go the shared-fund route, chances are, you’ll be policing your roommate’s cracker consumption. Unless you’re living with a significant other, whose good qualities would make up for drinking more than their fair share of the cranberry juice, it might be best for you each to eat only what you buy.
The two main bills that roommates need to deal with sharing are utilities and internet. It’s rare for these two bills to be in the same amount from month to month, making it easy for you each to pay one. This means that you’ll need to decide whose name goes on which bill (you can do both), and whether one of you wants to take on the role of bill collector. If there are two roommates, and two bills to be split, you could each take one and essentially trade checks, so each ends up paying half of each and no one gets saddled with both. For this reason, autopay could be a bad idea: That paper bill mocking you from the countertop is a great reminder to ask your roomie for half.