I don’t know whether the adage “two can live cheaper than one” really applies to marriage, but it definitely applies to apartment renting.
A random sample of 10 recent apartment ads featuring both one- and two-bedroom apartments found one-bedroom units renting for an average of $657 while two-bedroom units rented for an average of $844. The highest rent asked for a one-bedroom apartment was $750, while the low was $595. For two-bedroom units the high was $995 with a low of $725.
So, if you rent a one-bedroom apartment on your own, you can expect to pay around $650 a month rent. If, however, you opt for a two-bedroom, and a roommate, your monthly rent will only cost you around $425 each, for a monthly rent savings of about $225.
A roommate can lower the monthly rent payment, but he or she can also raise your blood pressure, if you select the wrong one. Here are some safeguards you can employ when taking in a roommate or renting to roommates, as well as some pitfalls to avoid.
Most important, make sure that all parties understand the law, and their rights and responsibilities, as both apartment renters and owners.
For instance, if you move in with a roommate and later move out, but your roommate stays, there is no security deposit refund required of the apartment owner because the “tenancy” at the unit has not terminated.
As a renter, you should consider making a tenancy contract with your potential roommate separate from any rental agreement or lease that you sign with the owner. The contract could include how you plan to handle the security deposit if one of you moves out before the other, as well as some basic ground rules in terms of what you expect and demand of each other.
If you and your potential roommate are having serious problems at this point, it is probably time to consider finding a different roommate or room.
As a landlord, make sure that your prospective tenants understand that each is both “jointly” (together) and “severally” (alone) responsible for the rent. Also, make sure that they understand the security deposit situation.
It is generally unwise to accept roommates as co-tenants if only one of the two has good credit. If you rent to a roommate with marginal or bad credit, and the roommate with good credit moves out, you may be facing a tough situation, possibly even an eviction, unless the remaining roommate can find a responsible replacement renter to help pay the rent.
If all goes well between you and your prospective roommate before you move in together, but your relationship subsequently turns into “The War of The Roses,” you should be aware that it is generally not possible for you to evict your roommate, unless you had “sublet” to him after you were already a tenant (more on this later).
Your roommate, on the other hand, could get you evicted, marring both your credit rating and your psyche.
When it comes to utilities, it is probably wise to split the gas, electric and water bills with your roommate. The phone bill, however, is not always so wise to split, particularly if your roommate is from out of state and is lonely for his friends and family.
Since the basic rate for phone service varies from $4.45 to $8.35 per month (Pacific Bell), you won’t save much by sharing a phone anyway.
Of course, if you and your roommate are a “match made in renters’ heaven” sharing the phone can result in the added nominal savings decribed above.
As a landlord, make your renters aware that they are responsible for both their phone bills and any potential equipment or wiring problems that may arise with the phones. This goes for cable TV charges, wiring and equipment also.
Also, inform your prospects that the phone company will charge them $85 an hour to repair wiring problems, unless they pay about an extra dollar per month for phone maintenance insurance, but they need not use the phone company to fix such problems, if they decide against the phone company insurance.
Many reputable electricians can fix such wiring problems for about half the phone company’s rate.
There are times when one roommate can evict another. This occurs when you have sublet to a roommate and are his landlord.
This is when you, as a renter, want to make extra sure that the person you select as a roommate is going to be a good one. If your roommate doesn’t work out, and you have to evict him, it could cost you a lot of money and take you a long time to do so.
According to statistics from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the marshal’s office, gathered by the California Apartment Law Information Foundation (CALIF) in its 1989 statewide study of evictions, the average lag time from filing an unlawful detainer (eviction) action to possession, is 80 to 90 days. The average loss (rents, attorney’s fees, etc.) exceeds $2,000.
Perhaps worse than the time and money you will need to invest to “divorce” your roommate, will be living with him during the process and the potential damage he can do to you and your possessions until he moves out.
As a special community service, the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA) will help you, as a prospective “landlord,” to screen your potential new roommate.
Bring a copy of this article and a rental application, completed and signed by the proposed co-tenant, to any of AAGLA’s four regional offices (call (231) 384-4131 for locations) with $25 (cash) to cover the cost of the screenings, which include both the Unlawful Detainer Registry (eviction) check and the Telecheck, which tells you if the person has written any bad checks.
Of course, there are no guarantees that your new roommate will be perfect if his or her screening results are good, just a better chance that he’ll be a good one.
But don’t get the impression from all of this that roommates are nothing but trouble. Most roommate situations work out just fine, for everybody, yielding the roommates higher standards of living at a lower cost while providing their landlords with great renters.
With Los Angeles rents rising from low to moderate to moderate to high, partly as a result of earthquake and fire-safety ordinance requirements that have virtually eliminated low-income housing in most older and brick buildings, and new construction replacing older properties, more and more renters will be “doubling-up” with new roommates to keep their monthly housing costs down.
When you decide to take the plunge, don’t be afraid of getting a roommate. When you do, however, be very careful about which one you select. Be sure it’s the right one.