Why You Need a Roommate Agreement and What to Include

If you've lived with roommates, chances are you have some roomie horror stories. Even if you haven't had the experience yourself, you've likely heard about roommate scenarios you'd rather avoid.

The best way to help ensure that you and your roomies have a good experience is to draw up a roommate agreement. Such a document outlines expected behaviors and responsibilities and helps keep everyone accountable.

What Is a Roommate Agreement?

Unlike a rental agreement, which is between you and the owner of the property, a roommate agreement is a contract between you and your roommates. This agreement spells out exactly what is expected of everyone while you live together.

A roommate agreement will include how you will split the utility bills, rules for the use of common areas, and whether you share food and supplies. By signing the roommate contract, everyone agrees to abide by the rules and begin a discussion if something isn't working out.

Why a Roommate Agreement Is Important

A roommate agreement makes the obligations and responsibilities of everyone living on the property clear, in writing. The intent of the document is to avoid potentially problematic issues, such as dirty dishes piled up in the sink, noisy late nights, and overdue rent payments. When every roommate knows what's expected, they're crystal clear on acceptable and unacceptable behavior and actions.

If you'll be moving in with someone you don't know well, a roommate agreement is vital. However, even when moving in with family members or friends, it's a good idea to spell out the expectations of all parties involved. That way, you avoid any unwelcome surprises and disagreements.

A roommate agreement can also protect you financially should circumstances go sideways. The roommate contract is legally binding. If you end up having to go to court regarding your roommate not making rent payments as agreed, the judge can order them to pay up. By signing the contract, you all agreed to pay the rent on time.

What to Include in a Roommate Agreement?

Use a roommate agreement to cover financial, behavioral, and circumstantial scenarios that will affect your living arrangements. While certain items should be on all roommate agreements, living situations do vary. If there is something you feel could be an issue when living with others, stipulate that concern in your agreement.

The following items should be included:

Rent amount and regular payment due date

No doubt you're living with roommates to help foot the bill. That means your roommate's rent payment is vital. Use the roommate agreement to iron out all the particulars of paying rent. This includes how much each roommate pays and who is responsible for making an on-time payment to the landlord.

Consider using rent receipts for all renters and the landlord. The receipts will show when and how much each occupant paid. This will ensure good record-keeping should you need proof of payment.

Who pays utilities, and how are they split?

As with rent, you want to be specific about who is responsible for paying the utilities, as well as how you'll divvy up what's due. Utility payments, including internet and cable bills, are often split evenly.

There may be circumstances that could affect this, however. For instance, one of the roommates may work from home and use substantially more utilities than the others. You can stipulate in the roommate agreement that the work-from-home renter pays a larger percentage of utilities each month.

Security deposit responsibilities

If you're moving into a place with your roommate, chances are you'll need to pay a security deposit. The roommate agreement can spell out how much each of you will contribute to the security deposit.

It's also a good idea to stipulate what happens if part or all the security deposit is withheld at moveout due to damages. For example, if the entire security deposit is needed to cover a hole in the wall, the person who caused the damage could owe the other renters security deposit money.

Rules regarding guests

Many roommate horror stories involve guests, such as the boyfriend or girlfriend who seems to move in and never leave. You might be OK with occasional guests, but it's best to be clear about the rules regarding visitors.

Consider stipulating a limit on how many nights a week guests are permitted to stay or how many days in a row. If one of you has guests visiting from out of the area, are they allowed to stay in the living space when no one else is home? Also, consider rules regarding parties and the number of guests allowed at one time.

Noise expectations

Noise can be a huge point of contention for roommates. This is especially the case when one person tends to like a quieter environment than the other. Differences in schedules also tend to create problems around noise. 

The best way to deal with noise is to have a quiet hour clause in the roommate agreement. Consider putting in the contract that there will be quiet time during certain hours of the day, such as from 10 pm to 6 am, or whatever works for your schedules.


If you live in a pet-friendly apartment and one of you has a pet, it's vital to set up some ground rules. For example, a rule that the person who owns the pet must be completely responsible for the animal's care and any damages the pet inflicts on the property.

Cleaning and upkeep

Many roommate disagreements stem from housekeeping differences. Rather than having a blowout when your roommate leaves dirty dishes piled in the sink, stipulate in the contract what is expected. The fact is the apartment will need cleaning. Assign chores to each roommate to ensure that everyone does their part and the apartment remains livable.

Include a cleaning and maintenance schedule in the roommate agreement. Outline the various tasks that need to be done on a regular basis and who is responsible. This could include taking out the trash and cleaning communal areas such as the kitchen, living room, and bathroom.

Shared items

Be very specific in the roommate contract as to which items in the house are communal and which are private property. For example, paper products and cleaning supplies may be used by everyone. You may also want to share certain food staples, like salt and pepper. In that case, include in the contract how everyone is responsible for paying for their share and how you'll do the accounting.

Will you allow your roommate to borrow your belongings, such as a hairdryer or blender? Although it seems like overkill, it's best to outline the rules surrounding borrowing. You could require that each of you ask for permission before using each other's property and return the items promptly.

Parking spaces

If your rental comes with one or more parking spaces, determine who will be using them and indicate that in the agreement. If there is only one dedicated space available, consider rotating its use or have the person who gets the space pay more rent.

Moving out specifics

No doubt you and your roommates are moving in together with the intention of living there for the duration of the lease. Life happens, however, and one of you may find it necessary to move out early.

It's a good idea to include in the roommate agreement a clause about early moveout. In this clause, indicate how much notice the roommate must give before leaving. You could be in quite a bind if your roommate suddenly says they need to move out next week.

You may want to include in the roommate agreement that the person needs to continue to pay rent until a replacement roommate is found or for a specified period, such as a month. Determine ahead of time whether the person moving out is responsible for finding a new roommate replacement.

You may need the new roommate to sign a residential sublease agreement, as they won't be on the original lease. If the landlord doesn't allow subleasing, a new lease will need to be drawn up to include the replacement roommate. The landlord will likely do a background check on the person before allowing them to move in. It's also a good idea for you to draw up a new roommate agreement.

Responsible Roomies Are Fun Roomies

Living with roommates can be a fun adventure made even more enjoyable when all are aware of expectations in terms of conduct and responsibilities. Although a roommate agreement isn't a legal necessity, it can make things run much more smoothly and help avoid unpleasant misunderstandings.

In addition to using a roommate agreement, you may find that you need other agreements as a renter. Check out 360 Legal Form's many helpful forms designed to protect your interests. Take advantage of our free trial today.

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