Roommates: A Guide for Rental Housing Professionals and Renters

For many Americans, roommates are a necessity. High costs of living coupled with low wages and debt have made it difficult for people to meet all their financial responsibilities in many areas of the country. Unfortunately, this trend shows no sign of slowing; if anything, it’s likely to increase with the economic fallout from job loss due to COVID-19 – and the anticipated wave of evictions expected to follow. As a landlord or property manager, this means you may see an increase in tenant questions or requests regarding roommates. As a renter, you may be considering a roommate yourself.

Regardless of whether you’re a renter or a rental housing professional, the goal is ultimately the same when it comes to roommates: find someone who is reliable, responsible, and who will treat the property with care. Just as no landlord wants to deal with a troublesome tenant, no renter wants to deal with a troublesome roommate. This guide is designed to help both renters and rental housing professionals navigate the roommate situation with results that are mutually beneficial to both parties.

Renters: How to find a good roommate

Roomates A Guide For Rental Housing Professionals and Renters

The best way to prevent problems with your roommate is to find the right one from the beginning. Even though it might sound fun to live with your best friend, they may not be a responsible, reliable roommate – and that could cause trouble with your friendship. Here are a few ways you can make sure you’re finding the right fit:

  1. Ask your friends and family
    Living with a friend may be risky, but you may not feel comfortable living with a complete stranger, either. One way to solve this issue is to ask people you know and trust if they know anyone who’s looking for a roommate. Once you begin asking around, you may find you have a large pool of potential roommates to choose from. Although you won’t know them personally, you’ll be able to trust the recommendations of your friends and family members.
  1. Conduct multiple interviews
    It’s always recommended that you do multiple interviews before offering someone a room. Talk to different candidates, and then have a second meeting with the ones that seem the most trustworthy. It’s best to meet the candidates you’re considering in person, so you can get to know them a bit better and develop a rapport – or spot red flags.
  1. Ask the right questions
    When interviewing candidates, you’ll want to get to know them a bit to make sure you’ll be compatible roommates. Knowing about their likes, dislikes, and lifestyle can tell you a lot! However, you should also ask the following questions to get a fuller picture of the type of roommate they would be:
  • What do you do for a living? If they’ve had a consistent job, they’re likely fairly reliable. If they dodge the question, have switched jobs a lot, or don’t seem like they have one, this could be a red flag. If they’re a student it’s not necessarily a red flag, but it’s important to make sure they have some form of income to pay for the rent and bills.

  • Tell me about your recent living situation. Why are you looking for a new place to live? Find out whether they had roommates before and whether they got along with them. Maybe they’re searching for new housing now because their lease is up, or they could have conflicts with another roommate. Pay attention to their answers – and your intuition – to decide whether they’re giving you honest answers.
  1. Be upfront about costs
    Part of finding a good roommate depends on whether they’ll be able to pay for rent and bills consistently – so be upfront with costs so candidates know what they’re signing up for. Create an estimate of what they can expect to pay monthly and let them know what your expectations are in terms of splitting bills or food costs.
  1. Ask for references
    Landlords and property managers ask for references, and so should you. Ask if you can talk with their previous landlord or roommate. If the person seems reluctant or unwilling to give you a reference to contact, this is a red flag that there could have been problems with their last living situation.
  1. Get everything in writing
    No matter how trustworthy your future roommate seems, it’s important to make sure they’re on the lease agreement. That way, they are legally responsible if they can’t pay rent, cause damage to the property, or violate other terms of the lease.

Landlords and Property Managers: Renting to roommates

Renting to co-tenants can be confusing territory. How do you handle leases, security deposits, rent collection, and screening? Here are some tips for best practices when managing co-tenants:

  1. Make roommates jointly liable on the lease
    One of your first questions may be whether or not to allow subletting. To protect yourself and your property, subletting isn’t recommended. This is because subletters don’t actually sign the lease, so they aren’t legally jointly liable for rent or upholding the stipulations of the lease agreement.

    For this reason, you should have all tenants’ names on the lease and have each party sign it. Make sure your lease states that tenants are “jointly and severally liable.” This essentially treats all the tenants like one person, so if one of your tenants violates the lease, the other roommates share equal responsibility. Although it may not seem fair from the standpoint of the tenants, it’s a standard provision that gives everyone greater incentive to follow the terms of the lease.
  1. Screen co-tenants
    All tenants should be screened with a credit check and background check before taking up residence at your property, regardless of whether they’re the original tenant or co-tenant. RentalConnect may be a good option for you, as it allows you to defer the cost of the screenings onto the tenant.
  1. Don’t divide security deposits
    Security deposits should only be returned when all the occupants have moved out and you have the chance to fully inspect the property for damage. Co-tenants should work out between themselves how they’d like to handle the security deposit if one of them moves out. One suggestion you could offer is to have the new tenant pay the original tenant their share of the security deposit. If the co-tenant moves out before the original tenant, the original tenant can return the security deposit to them. If the original tenant decides to move, they can keep the co-tenant’s share, and you can return the full security deposit to the co-tenant after they move.
  1. One check for the full amount of rent
    In being consistent with treating all tenants like one person, you should request that the rent be paid in full with a single check. This makes it less likely that you’ll be drawn into any financial issues between the tenants and it will limit your involvement with individual tenants. If one of the tenants is having difficulty coming up with rent money, it’s something they will have to work out with their roommate.
  1. Suggest a co-tenancy agreement
    A co-tenancy agreement is only between co-tenants, but it sets clear expectations on each tenant’s responsibility. They typically include things like who will be responsible for writing the rent check, how much rent will be, how bills will be divided, household responsibilities, noise, overnight guests, and move-out obligations.
  1. Ask for a tenant representative
    Ask your tenants to designate one person to be your point of contact. The tenant representative will be responsible for communicating with you on all issues related to the property. This eliminates separate conversations with individual tenants, which will save you time and simplifies things like scheduling maintenance and repairs.

Keep in mind that state and local laws differ; it’s always recommended you check the rules in your area before making any changes to your lease. Hopefully, this guide has made how to handle roommate situations clearer from both a renter and rental housing professional perspective!

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