Dirty dishes, late-night noise, unwanted guests: These roommate conflicts pale in comparison to disputes over paying rent. When you first move in to a new apartment, or if new roommates join you in your current place, you’ll have to work out the best way to split the rent among all the tenants. Resolving this issue amicably and openly sets the stage for good roommate relations in the future. Unfortunately, there is no blueprint for how rent should be split. The lease given to you by your landlord will usually indicate the total amount of rent due each month but will not provide guidance on how to split the rent. Here are some typical ways tenants divide rent and some other factors to consider.
An Even Split
This is a simple and easy solution, appropriate when each bedroom is approximately the same size and each tenant is using a comparable portion of the utilities. However, complications can arise if, despite equal-sized bedrooms, one room is perceived as more desirable. An exposed brick wall, the presence or absence of a fire escape, a nicer view, or the amount of daylight a room receives can make one room seem like a much better deal than another of the same size or shape. Be sure to discuss any of these issues before determining how rent is split. You won’t want a small issue to grow into a source of simmering resentment.
Split by Size, Shape, and Other Factors
In many apartments, one room is considerably larger or better shaped than the others. If this is the case, or some other quality about a room makes it preferable to the others, you may want to raise the rent share that the room occupant will pay. If all the tenants are new to the apartment, it may be preferable to set the rents for each room before the room occupancy is assigned. This way, the roommates can have an impersonal discussion about the merits of each room and then choose rooms based on their personal finances. If possible, speak with former tenants to get a sense of how rent was split in the past.
If utilities are not included in the rent, tenants will need to decide how to split the cost. Utility bills can be a source of conflict, but they can also provide an opportunity to create a more equitable arrangement among roommates. Before deciding how utilities will factor into the rental arrangement, consider whether the utilities are being used equally. If one roommate has an air conditioner in his room while the others do not, it may not make sense to split the electricity bills equally in the summer. The same thing applies with cable bills: one person may not be able to live without HBO while the other barely watches television. In apartments where rooms are comparable but not of equal quality, some roommates use utility bills to level out inequities. A roommate with a slightly better room may pay the cable bill for the apartment on top of his rent, especially if he uses the TV more than everyone else. In other cases, each roommate is responsible for a separate bill; one person pays the gas bill, another the cable bill and a third the electric bill. Some roommates even agree to a discount for the person who actually administers the bill paying. When several bills arrive each month, someone needs to calculate each person’s share, mail the payments and ensure that bills are paid on time. A discount on utilities or some other special incentive may motivate one of your roommates to step up to this task.
Moving into an Already Occupied Apartment
If you are moving into an apartment where the other tenants have been living for a while, you may find that your share of the rent has already been established for you, either by the former tenant or your new roommates. Before you agree to live in the apartment, find out what the apartment’s total rent is and calculate what your roommates are paying. Rental increases, broker fees and other costs are often passed on to new tenants while the older tenants pay less. While such arrangements are perfectly legal (and acceptable to the landlord), you may want to make sure your roommates aren’t ripping you off before you move in. It may seem a little awkward, but feel free to ask your roommates what they pay in rent and utilities. If they are hesitant or unwilling to give you this information, you may want to look elsewhere.
Other Things to Consider
No matter what you and your roommates decide about paying the rent, remember that as long as you are on the lease, you are responsible for the rent if your roommates can’t or won’t pay their share. Look at your lease. It probably includes a clause stating that all tenants are “jointly and severally” liable for the rent. If a roommate leaves unexpectedly, loses his job, or otherwise defaults on the rent, you will have to pay unless someone else can. A rental agreement among roommates, whether it is written as a binding legal document or not, may help define responsibilities and expectations among roommates.
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