How to Choose a Good Roommate and What to Avoid

Sharing your home with a roommate has many benefits, can be fun, and may seem like a great idea. Getting a roommate typically means you can get a bigger place in maybe a more desirable area and pay less than if you got a place on your own. Other benefits include having someone to split household chores, watch your pets when you’re out of town, and socialize with. But there are downsides. 

Many people do a very brief interview with someone and if the person doesn’t seem completely crazy, offer to pair up and be roommates but it’s a little more complicated than that and more care should be taken for many reasons. You should first consider, are your living styles similar?

  • Are you clean and neat and the person you’re thinking about sharing with thinks leaving dishes in the sink for a month is okay? 
  • Do you like peace and quiet but your potential roommate has a significant other who will be living there half the time? 
  • Is the person you’re considering to be your roommate considerate, and will they take out the trash when it’s full or leave it for you? If you set up a chores schedule, will they abide by it?
  • Do they go to bed at 10 pm and do you like to stay up until 4 am?
  • Are they studying for their graduate degree, and do you like to have friends come over for small parties every weekend?

Some things are difficult to know and if you don’t know the person personally already and are interviewing strangers, people may not always be upfront about their shortcomings if they really like the place and want to be your roommate.

One thing that you can check is credit. If you pay your bills and have excellent credit, then you may want to steer clear of roommates who don’t since you could end up being stuck with all the bills. Worst case scenario, they don’t move out and you must evict them while you’re living with them. Awkward! 

Whether or not you can evict them will also depend on how the lease is structured. Are you the primarily lessee and rented a room to them or are they on the lease as well? If they are on the lease, they have the same rights you do even if they’re not paying their share of the rent. 

Many landlords require all residents to be in the lease so they may not qualify to rent with you even if you mutually agree to be roommates. If you let them move in without your landlord’s permission, then you can be in violation of your lease agreement. If an unauthorized resident doesn’t move within a few days of you receiving a formal notice, you could be evicted.

Leases typically have a clause that says residents are “jointly and severally liable” which means you can both be held responsible or individually. For example, if your roommate has bad credit and moves out early, you can be stuck paying the full rent and the remainder of the lease. If the landlord knows your roommate isn’t working and is less likely to pay, then she can also come after you for any unpaid rent or damages to the property when you move out even if your roommate is the one that caused the damage!

Netflix recently released a documentary titled “Worst Roommate Ever,” which is a documentary based on true roommate situations gone very wrong. While not common, they can happen and are cautionary tales. Something to consider when you’re trying to decide whether to have a roommate. 

Like with any major decision, if you do decide that having a roommate is the best decision for you, make sure you do your due diligence when choosing your future roommate. A poor roommate choice can cost you a lot of money and potentially damage your credit and references for future landlords.