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Important Questions to Ask Before Deciding on a Roommate

Roommates hanging out in the kitchen
Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

You’ve used that college degree you just got to land a job in a new city, which means you have to find a place to live. But after looking through apartment listings, one thing becomes obvious. The apartments you like cost more than you want to pay. That means you’ll need at least one roommate to share rent — and your life.

But finding a roommate doesn’t come easy. Start at work and see if anyone is interested. If you have friends in the area, check to find out if they need a roommate or know someone who does. Meetups can be ways to find people with jobs similar to yours and you might ask around at one. If all else fails, take to social media.

Regardless of how you find roommate candidates, interview them carefully.

Ask the following 11 questions when interviewing a potential roommate:

1. What name will be on the lease?
2. What name will be on the utilities?
3. How will bills be divided?
4. Do your schedules work?
5. What’s the policy on overnight visitors?
6. Who’s responsible for cleaning?
7. What’s the food policy?
8. Will there be pets?
9. What about alcohol and drugs?
10. How much notice must either of you give before moving out?
11. Do you need a written roommate agreement?

A rental agreement with keys on top

Alexander Raths / Shutterstock

Whose name is on the lease?

In a perfect world, both names should be on the lease so that you’re both responsible for paying deposits and rent and so that you’re both equally vested in getting that deposit back. If not, the roommate not on the list could have little incentive to avoid damaging walls and cleaning and other problems that could come to light when you move out.

What name will be on the utilities?

Only one name likely will be on the utilities like electricity, internet, and maybe water if your landlord doesn’t provide it. That should be the roommate with the best credit score. Why? Because you could escape having to pay a deposit if one of you has good credit. That can lead to big upfront savings.

Do your schedules work?

If one of you works at night and the other during the day, it can put serious stress on a roommate relationship. In such a situation, both (or all) roommates will lose a lot of sleep and ultimately become frustrated. You don’t have to have the same schedule as long as the work hours are within a couple or so of one another.

What’s the policy on overnight visitors?

This includes family members and friends as well as romantic partners. If one roommate is always having company, it won’t take long for the apartment to feel like it’s becoming awfully crowded. This doesn’t necessarily mean a hard and fast policy against guests — just some discussion and general guidelines.

How will bills be divided?

A woman paying her bills on a smartphone

Stock-Asso / Shutterstock

The most common way to do it is to just split everything down the middle. But if one bedroom is bigger or one of you wants faster internet, sometimes some adjustments must be made. Things usually go smoother if one of you is responsible for actually paying the bills, but that only works if there’s a firm deadline each month for the other roommate to pony up his or her half of the expenses.

Who’s responsible for cleaning?

Someone has to do it. You might as well decide before you get too far along. Most roommates will keep their own bedrooms at least tolerable, so common spaces to discuss include:

  • The kitchen.
  • The bathroom, including the toilet and tub.
  • Common areas.

What’s the food policy?

Do you plan to share food, or is it every roommate for himself or herself? If you’re sharing food, who’s going to cook? Or will you alternate? Who gets any leftovers? And what about that half-eaten bag of chips in the cupboard — who finishes it off? Talk about it now before it becomes an issue.

A dog laying on it's back on a couch

Soloviova Liudmyla / Shutterstock

Will there be pets?

Everyone loves pets, right? Well, not everyone. Enough people are allergic to dogs and/or cats that you need to talk it out before you sign the papers. If you get a dog, who walks it? Feeds it? What about when you’re on vacation or gone for the weekend? If you get a cat, who feeds it? Who scoops the box? What about when you’re gone for the weekend?

What about alcohol and drugs?

Again, this shouldn’t be a problem as long as you address it before consummating a roommate deal. Things usually work better if you both do or don’t. Talk about cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and vapes, too.

How much notice must either of you give before moving out?

Again, now is the time to set the policy on how to give notice when moving out. The roommate left behind needs to have an opportunity to make arrangements – whether staying in the apartment or moving out, too. What happens to the deposit? Does the person moving out get a refund?

Do you need a written roommate agreement?

Obviously, there’s a lot to consider when picking a roommate — even one you think you know. And a lot can go wrong. So should you put everything in writing and sign it and notarize it and make it official? Not necessarily. Is a pinky swear good enough? Not necessarily. That’s a decision you and your new roommate will have to make on your own.

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