Points to Consider Before You Copy the Keys

As rents continue to rise, so do the number of people looking to share a rental.

After all, why pay $1,200 for a two-bedroom when you can pay $600 for your share?


Here are suggestions for making roommate life a little easier.

* Compile an inventory of your personal traits. Start at the beginning of the day and move forward. Are you an early riser? Do you have food preferences that are unique? Do you smoke or drink? Your lifestyle should be compatible with the person sharing your space.

* What are you looking for? Some people just think about saving the rent money and forget there's more to the equation.

Make a list of traits you absolutely will not tolerate in a roommate.

Are you the late-night party type or workaholic type? Housekeeping habits, cooking arrangements and level of privacy should also be considered.

* What will the arrangements be regarding overnight guests, especially those who are not on the lease? Clearly decide in advance on a time limit for guests (hours, days, etc.).

* Decide who gets the parking space (if any) and when. Will you take turns? First come, first take?

If one roommate gets exclusive right, be sure to adjust the rent share accordingly to avoid resentment.

* What are you able to afford? Make sure to factor in the cost and sharing of utilities--especially the telephone, which can be expensive and frustrating to share.

* Find out if the potential roommate has or desires a pet.

* How long do you plan to room with someone? A year? Longer? Time is money if a lease is broken, so be sure your timelines are compatible.

* Determine responsibility. Do you prefer to lease a place together or be the sole responsible party? If you choose to bring in a roommate into an existing situation, check your lease. Subletting is not always allowed. Be sure to get the owner/manager's written permission before giving someone the keys to your place, since you could be evicted for breaching this important clause.

* When seeking a roommate, ask friends, family and people you trust. If you are a college student, most colleges and universities have a housing office that provides roommate information. Several roommate-listing services are also available for a fee. Be wary; anyone can put in an ad. Applicants are not usually prescreened. Ask for picture identification and proof (such as student identification) of any representations made. Credit checks should also be considered.

* Once you've found a roommate, the next step is set up rules, in writing. Several roommate contracts are available through Internet search engines, bookstores and housing offices. Many recommend getting legal advice before signing any document.


* Before you move, be sure to fill out an inventory/condition-of-unit checklist so everyone agrees to the condition at move-in.

* Everyone signing the lease will be jointly and severally responsible for everything in the document. "Joint and several" means "all for one and one for all." If a roommate moves out, the remaining residents are still responsible for the total amount of the rent due and any damage.

* The security deposit is joint and several, with a twist. If someone moves out, the deposit remains with the unit.

Owners don't usually return deposits until everyone moves out, since the deposit is basically insurance for the unit and the tenancy. The remaining (or new) tenant has to buy out the departing one. Contact the owner and find out what deductions should be made.

Once you've decided on the correct amount due, be sure that the departing roommate assigns his or her share in writing to the unit. At final move-out, the owner will divide (and make deductions from) the remaining deposit in equal shares, unless the lease says otherwise.

* Always put agreements in writing, and ask for legal advice if needed. Ink lasts longer than memory and makes clear everyone's rights and responsibilities.