As a tenant, you have certain rights and duties. If the landlord lists your roommate on the lease, your roommate is a co-tenant, with the same rights you have. If, however, you take on a roommate with a lease that only you have signed as tenant, then that person isn't a co-tenant, and you're actually in a landlord-tenant relationship with your roommate.
Even if your roommate is a co-tenant, having a roommate agreement is wise because it explains what's allowed, what's not allowed, and who's responsible for certain payments. A roommate agreement is also important because, if your roommate vacates early, it can help you avoid having to pay all of the rent and utilities.
A roommate agreement, also known as a roommate rental agreement, is a contract between you and your roommate. If the lease allows you to add a roommate without the landlord's consent, then you can do so. If not, get permission from your landlord or you both risk eviction for breaking the lease.
Assuming you can add a roommate, a roommate agreement can prevent future lawsuits. While a court won't enforce your cleaning schedule, it will likely uphold standard contractual promises in the agreement, such as what the roommate is responsible for if they vacate early.
How to Write a Roommate Agreement
Standard roommate agreements are legally binding, and you can tailor them to your specific situation. Their contents can include:
- Names of both tenants. Specify whether you're co-tenants on the lease, or whether you're the primary tenant and the other is a roommate.
- The property address. Include the apartment number.
- The dates the lease begins and ends. State that the roommate agreement ends when the lease ends. Also state that you, as primary tenant, and the roommate, may not violate the lease, which presumes you're not violating it by adding a roommate.
- The amount of rent each person pays. Decide who pays the rent and how the other occupant reimburses the payer so that the landlord receives only one check.
- Who pays for utilities. List each utility and who pays what amount.
- Who pays the security deposit. Include what happens to the deposit you paid if your roommate vacates before the lease ends.
- Which bedroom each person occupies. Include that each person must clean their own area, and list how many days a week each person must clean.
- Who buys food, or if you're each buying your own food. You can list other similar clauses, such as a cooking schedule and who buys laundry products. This clause will probably not be enforced by a court, but you can include it anyway.
- Location of parking spaces and who pays for them. If there's only one space for you, then your roommate must find their own parking.
- Quiet hours in the apartment. List the days and times.
- Prohibition of drugs. Specify what happens if one of you violates this provision.
- Deciding to allow pets. If the landlord allows them, and if you don't mind them, limit the number of pets and list the owner's responsibilities. Require each person to remove their pet after a specific amount of time if the pet is a nuisance.
- Rules for parties. Specify exactly what rules you want regarding parties, including what time they must end, that you don't allow excess noise or any drugs, and that the party will end early if someone violates this clause.
- Rules for overnight guests. If they're allowed, say how many nights they can stay.
- What happens if anyone moves out early. State how much notice each occupant must give the other before vacating. Decide whether the person staying keeps the entire security deposit, and state whether the departing person is responsible for rent and utilities. If so, list an end date for payments.
- That each person is responsible for damages they—or their pet—cause. If both occupants cause damage, then both share the cost of repairs.
- What happens if there's a dispute. Require mediation before anyone brings a lawsuit.
- When the roommate must move out. Put in as much detail as possible, such as violation of the overnight guest provision, or violation of the cleanliness clause.
- Which state law will govern. The law where the property's located governs interpretation of the contract. Add this at the end.
- Signatures of occupants and the date signed. Many roommate agreements have the landlord sign as well, although that's not required in all cases. Sign in the presence of a notary.
If you include all or most of these clauses, you're helping resolve issues before they arise. You can draft a roommate agreement yourself, have an attorney draft one, or download a roommate agreement template. A well-written roommate agreement can go a long way to protect your rights and to help ensure a happier living situation.