How to find a (reliable, sane) roommate
Whom you choose to live with can have a dramatic effect on your quality of life. Here are some of the better screening tactics to head off trouble.
In this tough economy, finding people to share housing and expenses is easy. Finding a roommate you can live with is much more difficult.
Everyone's got a horror story about a seemingly nice person who turned into the "roommate from hell," trashing the place, refusing to pay his or her share of the bills and bringing home an endless parade of strangers.
Roommates like this not only can wreck your credit, they can make each day seem like an eternity. So how do you avoid these walking disasters?
In a word: Research. You need to ask a lot of hard questions before you sign on the dotted line, experts say, and make sure you both agree on the big money issues as well as the lifestyle you're looking for.
"You have to be thorough," says Marcia Stewart, co-author of "Every Tenant's Legal Guide." "Take a little more time, even if it means you have to stay at your parents' house a little while longer."
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Know your limits
Before you start calling on ads, hitting up your friends or posting your own ad on Craigslist, you need to ask yourself a few questions.
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"You need to know what can you can live with, and what you can't," says Dan Ross, manager of Roommate Express, a 20-city roommate matching service. "The compatibility issue outweighs everything."
- Do you want a quiet atmosphere at home, or are you looking to have one foot back in the frat house?
- Do you mind if a roommate has his girlfriend spend the night several nights a week?
- Are you looking for a buddy or do you prefer more privacy?
- How will you handle drinking or drug use?
The answers to these questions can help you determine the best place to look for a roommate. If, for instance, you want a quiet place with inexpensive rent and don't mind taking on a few extra errands, you might be able to find a home share with a senior in a desirable area through the National Shared Housing Resource Center.
If you want a roommate with a similar lifestyle or interests, you might try roommate-matching services such as Roommate Express or Roommates.com. If you can't stand the thought of meat in your refrigerator, you could try a site such as Veggieroommate.com.
However, if you're willing to ask the tough questions and screen applicants carefully, you'll probably attract the biggest pool of qualified people by placing an ad on Craigslist.
You also can check with your alumni association or send e-mails out to all of your old college buddies. But, Stewart says, don't assume that because someone is a friend, that person will make a good roommate. "You might have shared a dorm room together, but that's a lot different and there's more money at stake" with an apartment.
Screen for reliability
Once you've narrowed your search and found people you think you can tolerate, you need to make sure you can count on them.
"The future will be dictated by the past," Ross says. "Look at their work history for the last year. If they bounce from job to job, that's bad. If they've lived in four or five places in the last year, that's bad."
- Run a credit check if you've already got a place and are looking for a roommate, advises accountant Patricia Bernero, who shares her house in the Rogers Park area of Chicago with a couple of roommates.
- Try to substantiate their job and title by calling their current employer.
- Ask for the names and numbers of former roommates who can serve as a reference, Ross suggests. "If they don't give it to you, that's a red flag that there's something there."
- Do an Internet search for your potential roommates’ name and e-mail address. This can turn up scams or warn you about distasteful or dangerous things they do in their spare time.
- Likewise, check out their MySpace and Facebook pages. If they seem too good to be true, it will probably be revealed here, Stewart says.
Agree on the big stuff before you sign
Once you've picked out a roommate or two, you need to make sure everyone's on the same page with the big issues, Stewart says. Here are her suggestions for the must-ask questions that must be answered about your living arrangements before anyone signs on the dotted line.
- Rent: What is everyone's share? Who will write the rent check if the landlord will accept only one check?
- Space: Who will occupy which bedrooms?
- Household chores: Who's responsible for cleaning, and on what schedule?
- Food sharing: Will food, shopping and cooking responsibilities be shared? How will you split the costs and work?
- Noise: When should stereos or TVs be turned off or down low?
- Overnight guests: Is it OK for boyfriends/girlfriends to stay over every night?
- Moving out: If one of you decides to move, how much notice must be given? Must the departing tenant find an acceptable substitute?
How can you protect yourself?
Once these questions are answered to your satisfaction, you should spell them out in a roommate agreement letter that is signed by both (or all) of you sharing the house.
"It's a good way to handle problems before they come up," Stewart says, especially if you are living with someone who hates confrontation.
If you are renting a place with someone new, having both of your names on the lease and splitting the deposit is a good idea. But don't think this will keep the landlord from coming after you for the full rent if your roommate skips town. It will merely ensure that you can go after your roommate for the money owed you.
|Get a background check on potential roommates|
Because so much money is at stake, most experts advise asking for a month-to-month or other short-term lease until you can be sure the situation will work out.
There are also compelling reasons for having only one name on the lease. If you're just starting out, you might want to share space with someone who already has a lease, because then your implied lease commitment is month-to-month. Longtime renter Bernero says she prefers having only her name on the lease. In her 20 years of co-habitation, it has made it easier for her to get rid of a parade of tenants who turned out to be slovenly, dangerous, addicted to drugs or simply unreliable. "It just gives me more control," she says.
Likewise, she prefers to keep the utilities in her name and build the cost into the rent, with additional money being charged if they exceed a maximum amount. This came about after one roomie left her space heaters, lights and air conditioning on around the clock, even after repeated requests to turn them off when she wasn't there.
Lastly, Ross suggests installing $10 key locks on each person's bedroom door as an additional measure of protection. That way, he says, there is no cause for suspicion about lost items or privacy.
"Communication and awareness are key. You just don't go in with your head down and eyes closed. A lot of (renters' troubles) are just naiveté on their part," he says.
The question is really difficult. If you are renting with your friend, soon your friendship can come to the end or you will be even closer than before (depends on relationship). If you are renting with someone from family or relatives (he same situation) You know these people and maybe you are ready to live with them, because you know what to expect and share their lifestyle. But if you are renting with someone whom you don’t actually know, it’s the other thing. But, I tell you everything depends on a person and even with your close people you can face a lot of problems. Every time make an agreement that each part should follow to avoid problems in future.
Great blog post. Finding a good roommate is extremely hard especially when you need to find one in a hurry. I have found that living alone is the best option for some people but everyone has to endure living with a roommate at least once in their life.
Your blog post is so thorough and offers so much helpful advice. I also found this one helpful: It’s more of a checklist for things to look for when searching for a roommate.
I've had the good fortune to have great roommates. Every roommate I've had from my Church has been great. But beware, don't always believe someone because they say they are a "Christian" - there are plenty of fakes in sheep's clothing. I will never go thru Craig's List again! My last one really took advantage and ended up owing me money. Learned my lesson.
Whether it's a roommate, bf/gf, husband/wife --- people will always have to learn to live together. Honest clear communication and humble pie are the key to a good relationship. I have empathy for all those with horror stories, I guess I'm very fortunate.
And as for the bipolar stigma - there are plenty of educated, successful and even famous people who have been plagued with this disorder. Compassion and understanding is necessary. Get educated - Get a heart.
I am a roommate paying rent towards a household that DOESN'T have to pay rent. I will be the first to admit I'm messy, but I keep my mess to my room only. Any time I use a cup, a plate, fork, knife or spoon, I wash it right away. Nothing of mine is anywhere else in the house. I never have any visitors, and I don't crank out music or tv. I pay on time, and pay towards gas and food.
I don't really feel like I'm at home, but it beats being homeless any day of the week.
I've had several roommates over the years and frankly only one of them turned out to be a good roommate. I've had several who paid their share of the rent on time and even had one ask for the very first month to delay paying his share. There was one who miss-used the phone and racked up $1000.00 of assorted long distance charges and I had a 900 block and he even tried to have that removed. Another roommate would leave and stay at his girlfriends house and I was left taking care of his dog which I didn't mind because I like the dog. One roommate continually violated the lease by bringing in pets on a no pets lease. I even had one roommate who bounced their check to me for the rent. Then there was on that allowed family memebers and friends to come over and remove items from the apartment that didn't belong to them. I've tried the food sharing and that was very costly for me and most of the time I never got to eat any of the food. One of the roommates even used friends and family to give references as supposed ex-roommates. NEVER allow a roommate to use your car...never, never, never!
If I can live without a roomate I will, they have proven to be alot of trouble and very costly. Even if you have in writing when rent is to be paid, shared utilities, or specifics of what they can or can't do and they decide to break the agreement theres not much you can do except kick them out.
WOW all those stories about roommate are making me think about not getting a roommate.
Well i do know someone who had a roommate. Man the roommate was terrible because he would always bering home every night a bunch of really hot girls and would have (you know what) on his bed. man my friend got so sick and tired of it and she called police and had them all arrested.
Protection orders = hundreds of dollars in lost wages, filing fees, damages and medical bills....
A fully loaded semi-automatic pistol = priceless...
I was in bed one night just 1 month after he'd moved out of my place, when he came over, drunk and probably on crack (I'll never know for sure). He didn't ring the doorbell, but just kicked in my door. I immediately phoned 911, but he grabbed the phone out of my hand and broke it, claimed this was HIS house, & beat the crap out of me! I obtained an order of protection in criminal court (actually, for some reason I was issued 4- all against this same guy for this same incident, yet with 4 different expiration dates!). The DA refused to ask the judge for restitution so I could recover damages to my property and recoup what he owed me for outstanding utility bills and such. Ok, but when I tried to get his new address from the DA- something the court had on file- so I could sue for those expenses in small claims, the DA told me that due to confidentiality issues, he couldn't disclose to me this guys whereabouts. Lovely. In the first 8 weeks that followed his attack on me, this ex-housemate violated my orders of protections 6 times, stalking me all throughout my neighborhood nearly every time I left my house! Each time I called the police to report it, they never came. The detective who'd promised to personally arrest this jerk, after failing to do so, told me 9 months later that he'd never really intended to arrest the guy because "it wasn't as if he'd robbed a bank"! ARGGGHHH! I later learned that I am at least the 3rd woman he's assaulted in the last 10 years, but because of plea deals (offered without my knowledge) in which a variety of charges were bundled together, there is no lasting record of this guy ever breaking in, or of his having assaulted me. My housemate failed me, the cops failed me, my representative at Victims Assistance failed me, and the DA failed me. Get whatever you want to in writing, but realize that paper won't protect you- and neither will those whose job it is to do so. I wish you all the best of luck.
"sham-wow" guy?", I do believe I may have sold soap with that dude in the early '90's. I really dunno but he looks so like a dude I used to sell soap with.
I've had roommates most of my life, I always pay my rent and bills on time, eat my own food, clean up after myself and I've never peed on the floor. I do, however, have a rather nasty mental disorder. In other words, I'm considered insane.
I do not take meds, with the exception of valium or one of it's derivatives when my problem begins to become severe, as I have learned to deal with MY problem on my own. The meds cause damage to vital organs.
I have always been an awesome roommate and previous roommates call me to let me know they have a room available. I am VERY offended by the title of this article, it just adds to the stigma that is mental disease.
Many of you do not know what it feels like to have such a problem, it is not a good feeling. It makes a person feel like an outcast. If a good friend finds out they will often separate you from their "normal" group of friends for fear that their reputation will become damaged through their association of you.
The title of the article is really messed up, it first made me feel very small then very angry. I can't believe a major democratic (liberal?) organization would post an article implying that people with mental disorders are "BAD".
The article has no reference to insane individuals, therefore, I don't think the article itself should be pulled, it should just have it's name changed. To not do so would be callous and insensitive!