When you move into a new rental unit, you might want to assume that your new roommates will pay their rent on time and keep the place tidy. However, if your housemates aren't meeting their financial responsibilities, you'll wish you would have signed a roommate agreement rather than just relying on a handshake.

Roommate agreements are legal documents that spell out house rules. While the word "legal" might make these documents seem a little intimidating, they're quite simple to compose. To make it even easier, we've compiled a list of what to include in your roommate agreement.

What is a roommate agreement?

A roommate agreement is a written agreement that sets house rules for those living in a shared rental unit. When you sign this document, it's implied that you'll follow it in good faith.

While it is a legally binding contract, it's different than a lease agreement or rental agreement. A lease agreement is between renters and hosts or landlords while a roommate agreement is between housemates or roommates. Think of this document as a roommate contract.

Topics to cover in a roommate agreement

Whether you use a PDF roommate agreement template or draft your own roommate agreement, outline all house rules and housemate responsibilities in this document.

These include financial responsibilities, such as rent and utilities, as well as policies involving guests and cleanliness. If you think something might ever become an issue, it's a good idea to include it in your agreement. By asking questions and spelling out the rules ahead of time, you're less likely to get into conflicts with your housemates.

1. Rent

roommate sitting on couch meme
Make sure you don't end up with this kind of roommate. | Photo credit: quickmeme

One of the major financial responsibilities of living in a place is paying rent. Figure out all the details ahead of time. Trust me, you don't want the last day of the month to roll around before your housemates realize their rent check is due by the end of the month, especially in instances where you're footing the entire bill while you wait on your housemates to pay you.

Key points to include:

  • What amount of rent each person is responsible for paying. All housemates might pay the same monthly rent amount, or your living arrangements might dictate that some roommates pay more than others. For example, if bedrooms are drastically different sizes, the housemate in the smaller bedroom might pay less rent.
  • When rent payments are due and who they are due to. One housemate might pay another roommate or each housemate might pay rent to the landlord or host. If the person paying the host needs the roommate shares 5 days in advance, say so.

2. Utilities

Just as with rent, write out how much each housemate pays for utilities. Usually, utility bills are split equally between housemates.

Besides including information about financial obligations related to utilities, make sure you include information regarding whose name the utility bill is under and who pays who.

3. Security Deposit

broken window
If your roommate throws a ball through the window, who's responsible for replacement costs? | Photo credit: Mr Thinktank

Spell out how much each housemate is paying towards the security deposit. Along with information about payment, discuss details regarding the refunding of the deposit.

For example, if one housemate scratches the hardwood floor and your host doesn't refund the full security deposit, what happens? Does everyone lose a portion of their deposit, or is the offender the only one who loses out? Of course, I hope you don't run into this situation. But once again, it's better to cover all scenarios before they happen.

4. Guests

girls holding wine glasses
How many guests are you comfortable with? | Photo credit: Kelsey Chance

We've all heard horror stories about roommates' guests. There's the significant other that becomes the extra roommate and the high school friend who eats all the communal food. While you may say you're fine with occasional guests, it's best to spell out what this actually means in your written roommate agreement.

Make sure to include specific information about:

  • Your overnight guest policy and daytime guest policy. For example, set a limit on how many nights per week housemates can have overnight guests or the number of nights in a row guests can stay over.
  • Whether or not you'll allow guests in your living space when none of the renters are home. For example, if a friend is visiting from out of town for a few days, are they able to stay in your apartment when you and your housemates are at work?

5. Cleaning

dirty dishes in sink
Even if this isn't your idea of clean, it might meet your roommate's standards. | Photo credit: Iain Watson

To decrease the likelihood of conflicts and keep your home at a cleanliness standard you all deem acceptable, make sure to discuss and outline your household cleanliness standards. While it may seem like overkill to lists specific cleaning activities, it's not.

Cleaning details might include:

  • Listing out household chores such as taking out the trash and cleaning common areas like the living room.
  • Details about who is responsible for each chore.
  • Describe how you'll keep track of cleaning — maybe you'll use a cleaning schedule or cleaning chart, or maybe you'll make a list of what housemate(s) is responsible for keeping certain areas clean.

No matter what methods you use to track who cleans where, make sure you use some kind of written method! Without one, it's harder to say if one roommate isn't contributing to keeping your living space clean.

6. Noise

man putting on headphones
You can still listen to music during quiet hours, just use headphones. | Photo credit: Austin Distel

In an ideal living situation, you and your housemate would have the same sleep schedule. But living situations are not always ideal. You might be a morning person who likes to go to bed at 10 p.m. and wake up at 6:30 a.m., while your housemate may stay up to 1 a.m. and roll out of bed at 11 a.m. Therefore, it's important to establish quiet hours or quiet times. This way, your roommate will know to use headphones when they're watching reruns of Friends at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday.

7. Communal Items

breakfast on plate
If you share eggs and bread with your roommates, what happens if you wake up and they just ate the last of both?  |  Photo credit: Flipboard

When you move in with others, most people assume some things are shared items, especially if the space is already furnished. You and your co-tenants will likely share items such as silverware and drinking glasses. However, it's a good idea to talk about if certain belongings in shared spaces aren't communal.

For example, maybe your housemate has an expensive blender that they don't want to share. Or maybe they're okay with sharing it, but they want it to be cleaned right after it's used. Details like these are important things to include in your roommate agreement.

Another item to think about is food. Does everyone have their own food or do you share certain items? If you do share food such as milk or peanut butter, write down how you'll handle costs and restocking.

8. Early Move-Out Dates

While housemates move in thinking they'll be living with each other for the duration of their lease term, this isn't always the case. It's better to figure out ahead of time what you'll do if someone has to move out early.

Determine whether or not your landlord allows subleases. If they do, talk about the details regarding the replacement roommate.

  • Who is responsible for finding a replacement roommate — the remaining roommates or the one who is moving?
  • Do all remaining roommates need to approve this new roommate?

If your landlord doesn't allow subleases, it's important to include information about whether or not housemates have to pay rent if they move out. When you're answering this question, think about different scenarios such as a family emergency and eviction.

9. Parking Spaces

pink house with three garages
News flash: You're probably not going to have a three car garage, so if you and your roommates all have cars, you'll have to compromise. | Photo credit: Arnel Hasanovic

If you're living in the city you may or may not have a car. You also may or may not have a parking space or garage, especially in cities like New York and San Francisco.

Before you move in together, figure out how many cars each housemate will have with them and how many parking spaces you and your housemates will have access to. If the number of cars is greater than the number of parking spaces, determine who gets the space and if they have to pay anything for it.

Drafting an Agreement

Now that you know the key items to include in your roommate agreement, you're ready to sit down with your housemates and create your document. If you'd like some more guidance, you can always look up examples of sample roommate agreements. But remember, each agreement will differ because each household has different needs and priorities.

Once you create your roommate agreement, all roommates will need to review, make any changes, and then sign and date the final document.