A roommate can provide a great way to save on living expenses. It can also produce a lifelong friend — or a sworn enemy. You can never be sure how any roommate arrangement will turn out, but with some planning, you can tip the scales toward the former and avoid the latter.
The necessary planning can be summarized in one phrase: lay out the rules before you start. This does not have to be a Sheldon Cooper roommate agreement (for you fans of The Big Bang Theory), but it should be reasonably comprehensive and consider the following issues.
Rent and Expenses – The easiest thing to do with rent is share it equally, but that may not be fair depending on the amount of floor space and other amenities involved. Perhaps the roommate who gets the bedroom with the attached bathroom pays more than the other one. Whatever rent rules you agree to, enforce them rigidly. Letting rent slide usually leads to collective unhappiness.
Lay out the guidelines for other pooled and separated expenses. For example, you could put together a kitty of equal contributions for cleaning supplies and let everyone buy their own food items. For monthly-billed items such as utilities and cable TV, elect the most responsible of the group to keep the bill in his or her name.
If you are renting out a room in a house you own, it is even more important to lay out the rules in detail since not all parties are equal in the relationship.
Privacy/Guests – Behold the naked roommate! Or worse, behold the naked roommate with his or her naked friends. Prevent this eye-scorching event by being upfront about privacy rules beforehand. Include your policy on overnight guests and boy/girlfriends, as well as designating off-times when you cannot handle extra people in the house.
We suggest agreeing to periodic times when one or more roommates agree to be elsewhere to give another roommate the privacy he or she needs, whether or not nakedness is involved.
Cleaning – Letting the garbage pile up until one of you finally cracks is not a good idea. Who knows how long you could all hold out?
Whether you go with a rotating schedule or divided weekly responsibilities, find an equitable way to divide the cleaning workload and set up a reasonable schedule that falls between OCD and slob on the cleanliness tolerance scale.
Animals – As a rule, animal people should not live with anti-animal people or those who have allergies, and within that subset, cat people should not live with dog people. You know who you are.
In general, your pets rank higher in your hierarchy than they do with others – and that is perfectly fine, as long as roommates think alike in that regard. When shared pets are involved, be sure to divide the feeding, cleaning, and walking chores suitably.
Deal Breakers – Absolute deal breakers, such as an inability to tolerate a smoking roommate, must be brought out up front. There is no use deceiving your roommates and expecting things to change later.
Living together as a couple takes shared living to a whole new level. Part of what you are doing is figuring out if you love your roommate enough to put up with his or her odd traits for the rest of your life. For now, they are cute, but in twenty years, they will be merely annoying.
It is wise to define the rules as outlined above, and it may even be more important for couples, because it is doubly awkward to bring up these issues after the fact.
In the end, the important thing is to outline expectations to the extent possible, agree to them, and be considerate enough to live by them. If you cannot handle those simple steps, you probably are not ready to deal with a roommate. If your current roommate cannot handle these steps, then it is time to find a new one – whether the relationship is romantic or platonic.