Whether you’re creating a home with some of your besties, shacking up with your sig-o, or simply saving on rent via Craigslist, don’t get burned by avoiding these tricky but important convos. Here’s how to make the most of your investment and your sanity — before you even turn the key.
1. “Are you comfortable with our rent?” Notice we use the word “comfortable,” not “getting by.” It’s important that the person or people you’re splitting rent with are not just scraping by, but in a good position to make their monthly payments. This means their housing costs should be no more than 25% of their monthly income (and the same goes for you, missy!). If they’re budgeting so closely that, should something come up, they’ll be unable to pay their way, you should try for a less expensive place or find a roommate that’s a better financial fit. Because guess what: if one leasee is unable to make her portion, all of you will pay in the form of late fees, a suspended lease, or even eviction.
2. “How are we handling food?” It’s the same story every time: new roommates go grocery shopping together, feeling like domestic goddesses and committed to sharing everything. Then one roommate has a huge snack attack or friends over, and bam: your week’s food supply (not to mention hard-earned money) is kaput. Decide ahead of time how you plan to shop for food (together or individually) and where food will be stored. Are cooking supplies like flour, olive oil, and spices to be shared? Discuss. We like the easy peasy method of initialing stuff you want to keep for yourself with a sharpie. It’s non-intrusive but sends a clear message: “hands off my yogurt.”
3. “Utilities: Who and how much?” The first step is to ask your landlord if utitilies (water, electricity, heat/AC) are included in your rent. If they aren’t, chat with your roommate about who is paying for what. You can either split everything evenly or divvy up the bills; i.e. you pay for cable while she pays for heat/AC. Just make sure you set ground rules on usage. For example, make a household policy that all lights are to be turned off and heat/AC shut down in rooms you’re not using and when you leave the apartment. Make this super clear and commit to following it, so that in the event you end up with an unusually high bill you know exactly who the culprit is — and they can pay accordingly.
4. “What are our visiting hours?” Okay, obviously you don’t need to set up exact visiting hours for friends and sig-o’s to come over. But you do want to set some guidelines to avoid a sticky situation down the road. For example, are you comfortable with her boyfriend sleeping over every night? What’s your policy on having people back to the apartment that you meet while out (ahem, late-night hook-ups?). How are you going to handle friends visiting for the weekend? Your apartment is a shared space, and especially if you don’t know your roommate well don’t assume a laissez-faire attitude. This conversation is also a way to protect yourself, so that in the event that, say, her boyfriend ends up basically moving in you can charge or not charge him for rent.
5. “What happens when we leave?” Inevitably, there will come a time when you move out of your apartment. Avoid any awkwardness by deciding now who will keep shared goods, such as the TV, kitchen appliances, or living room furniture. Write it down and keep the list somewhere so that it’s organized when you need it down the road. Discuss how you will handle moving costs (movers, boxes, cleaning supplies, etc) and how you will divvy up the security deposit. Moving is hard enough; the last thing you need is to leave things on a sour note by a money conversation gone wrong.