Grab a FREE room rental agreement sample and read further about what fields and disclosures should be included in a room rental agreement. Additionally, find out what legal rights and responsibilities a roommate has after signing.
What is a Room Rental Agreement?
A room rental agreement (“roommate agreement”) is a legal contract used between two or more tenants to sublet a rental property’s bedrooms while sharing its common (communal) areas.
These tenants, often referred to as cotenants, are liable to each other for the rent, utilities and other agreed-upon charges related to the property. While written house rules and contingencies are not typically legally binding, any financial arrangements in the agreement are. Common areas may include a property’s living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom(s), yard, and garage. Additionally, if there is damage to a common area all of the cotenants are liable to correct it.
Roommate agreements do not take the place of a lease or rental agreement. Leases and rental agreements are made between the landlord and cotenants. The roommate agreement defines how the cotenants plan to occupy and oversee the property during the contractual term with their landlord. It is important to write and sign a roommate agreement in addition to the lease or rental agreement with the landlord. This document will specify general house rules as well as how the rental property’s rent and utility expenses will be divided among the cotenants.
Who Are The Parties in a Roommate Agreement? All members of a single household are the parties of this type of agreement. Landlords are not a party in the agreement unless they reside in the home with the other cotenants.
Roommate agreements can be used between cotenants in an apartment, house, dorm room or any other type of shared living space. A roommate agreement is also referred to as a:
- Room Rental Agreement
- Joint Lease
- Roommate Contract
For anyone looking to share a rental property with one or more roommates, they should consider discussing and documenting their shared living arrangement plans prior to moving in together. Sharing a rental property can inherently save you money on rent and utilities. And, as appealing as that may sound, it is incredibly important to select roommate(s) wisely. Do not assume that you and your roommates are on the same page with house rules or the division of rent, utilities, and responsibilities. Even though you may get along well with a person, you might not make compatible roommates, especially if you don’t share the same standards or priorities. The safest way to protect you and the relationship with your fellow roommate(s) is to determine house rules or other agreed to responsibilities prior to moving in. By documenting these agreed-upon house rules and division of rent prior to moving in may reduce the chance of future confusion about these rules later on. Additionally, if a cotenant conflict leads to court, a roommate rental agreement will provide proof of the agreed-upon rules to the judge.
Put Your Roommate Agreement in Writing
Even though most of the mandates in a roommate agreement are not legally binding, the contract can encourage cotenants to take their responsibilities seriously. The financial responsibilities addressed in a roommate agreement can be legally binding. A judge might enforce all of the financial agreements included in the document, such as the rent and utility payments. Additionally, it may help roommates avoid misinterpretations derived from oral agreements.
The Importance Of A Roommate Agreement. A roommate agreement is a written document of the duties and responsibilities of each tenant residing in the rental. It provides each roommate with a clear understanding of their duties each month, such as when and how much they agreed to pay for rent and utilities. Additionally, the document defines their obligations as a cotenant, such as keeping the noise down during specific hours or cleaning up after themselves. If a dispute between you and a cotenant occurs, the roommate agreement will serve as proof of the agreements each of you made to perform specific duties.
Is a Roommate Agreement Different From a Lease?
Yes. Leases and rental agreements are different from roommate agreements. Here are the differences:
A rental agreement secures a tenancy for a short period of time, typically a month. Month-to-month rental agreements automatically renew each month unless the landlord or tenant provides their notice to terminate. Landlords can typically increase rent, change the terms of tenancy, or terminate the agreement on short notice. Landlords in steady rental markets often prefer month-to-month agreements. However, month-to-month tenancies mean tenant turnover which involves more work to keep the property full.
A lease secures a tenancy for a longer period of time, typically a year. During that time, the landlord is not allowed to raise the rent, change the terms of the tenancy or terminate the lease on short notice unless the lease allows for modifications or the tenant agrees in writing to the changes. Landlords in high vacancy areas often prefer leases.
A roommate agreement binds the tenants that are collectively renting from a landlord. A roommate agreement is when more than one person lives in a residence together while sharing the common areas. The agreement can be constructed in two ways:
- Among roommates. This agreement is between the roommates and establishes any items to create a happy living atmosphere.
- Among roommate(s) and landlord. This agreement is between the roommate(s) and the landlord allowing the roommate(s) to rent a room from the landlord and share common areas.
Roommate agreements put the obligations of each cotenant into writing, these include:
- Rent. How the cotenants plan to divide the monthly obligations owed to the landlord.
- Food and Utilities. How the cotenants plan to divide additional monthly expenses.
- Cleaning. How the cotenants plan to keep the property tidy and clear of garbage.
Should A Roommate be Added to the Lease?
This entirely depends on how your lease is structured and how you or your landlord prefers the lease to be executed. It is common for each tenant that is financially responsible for the property’s rent and utilities to be listed on the lease. If a non-primary roommate(s) wants to be listed on the lease, they can be included with an addendum (to the lease) which would need to be signed and authorized by the landlord and primary roommate.
Topics To Discuss With Roommates (Prior To Moving In)
Anyone looking to share a rental property with a roommate(s) should consider discussing and documenting their planned living arrangements prior to moving in. A good roommate agreement specifies the “house rules.” There are many potential concerns to tackle, but common ones include:
- Rent. How will the rent be divided among the roommates? When are the rent and utility payments due? In what form are bills and rent to be paid? If the landlord requires only one payment, who will be responsible for getting it to them? When will all of the other cotenants provide their share of rent to the responsible roommate? What happens if a roommate does not make their payment on time?
- Utilities. How will the internet, electricity, water, and other utility bills or household services be divided among the roommates?
- Space. How will the bedrooms be divided among the roommates? Which bedroom will each roommate occupy? How will the common spaces, such as the living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom(s), yard, and garage be shared? Who will provide furnishings and decorations? Is there a drinking or smoking policy?
- Chores. Who is responsible for keeping the common areas clean and on what schedule? Who takes care of the trash and recycling?
- Food. How will the food, shopping, and cooking responsibilities be shared? If shared, how will the costs and jobs be divided? If not shared, will each roommate have separate storage areas for food and other kitchen items?
- Noise. When should TVs or music be turned off or down low? What is the policy about parties? Keep in mind, a landlord might impose noise ordinances as well.
- Overnight guests. Are roommates allowed to have overnight guests? If they can then how often? What are the rules about guests using common spaces such as the living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom(s), and yard?
- Dispute resolution. If a problem between the roommates arises, how should they address it? What happens if a dispute can’t be settled?
- Security deposits. In the situation where the landlord does not return the entire security deposit, how will the roommates split what is returned? What if one of the roommates has caused damage and the landlord uses part or all of the security deposit to cover them? Will each roommate provide a security deposit for incidental damages? What are the terms?
- Moving out. How much notice will a roommate need to give the others prior to moving out? Should the departing roommate find an acceptable cotenant? When (if at all) will the cotenant receive their portion of the security deposit back?
The above topics are frequent sources of strife amongst roommates, however, every living situation is unique—you might want to include additional points to your agreement that are unique to you, the property you are renting or the roommate(s) you plan to share the space with. For example, if the rental property has a garage, which roommate will be allowed to park in it? Or how will storage space be divided? Additionally, if one of the roommates has individual preferences, those should also be addressed in the agreement.
A Note On Dispute Resolution. A dispute resolution clause can be added to your roommate agreement—this condition requires roommates to participate in mediation prior to terminating their rental agreement (when caused by conflict). Mediation is less expensive than hiring a lawyer or going to court to get out of a lease. Some universities offer roommate mediation or counseling for their students. For non-students, local housing groups offer low-cost (and sometimes free) mediation services.
Topics To Discuss With The Landlord Prior To Moving In
Renting to multiple tenants can affect the way a landlord writes your lease or rental agreement since they will need to manage multiple security deposits and rent payments. Landlords do not want to get caught in the middle of a roommate dispute. It is common for landlords to protect themselves with a few additional lease clauses that define each of the tenant’s responsibilities. Here are a few common issues to discuss with your landlord:
- The lease or rental agreement. Lease or rental agreement terms are a top priority for landlords. The lease or rental agreement should (at a minimum) outline when and how much rent is due, tenancy terms and rules, and the landlord’s expectations for maintaining the property. It is common for each tenant that is financially responsible for the property’s rent and utilities to be listed on the lease. However, in some situations, a landlord or tenant may want something different. These unique conditions should be discussed with your potential landlord (and included in the lease) prior to signing.
- Subleasing arrangements. If one of the roommates wants to move out before the lease term ends, the remaining roommate(s) may want to secure a sublease agreement with a new tenant—this allows them to find a new roommate to take on the rent and utility responsibilities of the previous tenant. Not all landlords allow their tenants to sublet. Check with your landlord prior to signing your lease to make sure that you are able to do so. Additionally, what steps are required by your landlord to onboard a new tenant? Do you need to screen them? Does the landlord need to interview them? Should a new lease be written or will an addendum be sufficient?
- Rent payments. Check with your landlord to see if they want or are willing to collect multiple rent payments (one from each cotenant) or if they require one payment for the full rent amount. If your landlord requires one rent payment, you will want to determine who is responsible for collecting and delivering payments to the landlord and include it in the rental agreement.
- Security deposits. Since each roommate is jointly liable (if they have signed the lease or rental agreement), they are jointly responsible for damages. Ask your landlord how they plan to handle distributing the security deposit if an issue arises. For example, will they return a portion of the deposit mid-tenancy if a roommate decides to terminate their tenancy early? Or what if one of the roommates damages the property, will the other roommates still receive their portion of the security deposit?
Keep in mind, landlords have the final decision on what can or cannot be included in their rental property’s lease—as long as they are following federal, state and local laws. It is important to find out how the landlord plans to deal with you and your roommates prior to signing a lease with them. That way, if you are not in agreement with their terms, you can look elsewhere.
What Happens If The Agreement Is Breached?
Remember, roommate agreements are not leases or rental agreements. Rent, lease terms, pet rules, policies, and other clauses are set by the landlord in the original lease or rental agreement. The original agreement with the landlord takes precedence over any other agreements made between cotenants. When two or more people sign the same lease or rental agreement, they are cotenants and share the same legal responsibilities to the landlord. However, if one of the cotenants stops paying rent, the entire tenancy can be affected.
- When one roommate doesn’t pay rent. Roommates can split the rent whatever way they want however any rent agreement made between roommates is not binding to the landlord. If a roommate does not pay their share of the rent, the other roommates (listed on the lease) are still responsible for paying the entire amount. As mentioned earlier, the original agreement made with the landlord takes precedence over any agreements made among roommates. Landlords typically include a lease clause stating that all of the cotenants are “jointly and severally” responsible for paying rent and following the terms of the lease agreement. If one of the roommates does not pay their share of the rent, the other roommate(s) still need to pay the rent in full.
- When one roommate causes damages. Landlords can legally hold all of the roommates responsible for the negative actions of one roommate. They can also terminate the entire tenancy as long as they follow their state’s notice requirements.
Ultimately, it is up to your landlord and how they want to handle the situation—whether all tenants are equally liable for lease violations or if they only want to penalize the roommate in violation.
Written roommate agreements are not required by law, however, they can be very helpful in establishing house rules by ensuring that you and your roommate have a solid understanding of the responsibilities. Additionally, if a dispute between you and a cotenant occurs, the roommate agreement will serve as proof of the agreements each of you made to perform specific duties.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a roommate agreement different from a lease or rental agreement?
Yes. Leases and rental agreements are different from roommate agreements.
A rental agreement secures a tenancy for a short period of time, typically a month. A lease secures a tenancy for a longer period of time, typically a year. A roommate agreement binds the tenants that are collectively renting from a landlord.
Are roommate agreements legally binding?
Typically no, most of the mandates in a roommate agreement are not legally binding, however, the financial responsibilities addressed in a roommate agreement can be legally binding. A judge might enforce all of the financial agreements included in a roommate agreement, such as the rent and utility payments.
What should be included in a roommate agreement?
Anyone looking to share a rental property with a roommate(s) should consider discussing and documenting their planned living arrangements prior to moving in. A good roommate agreement specifies the “house rules.” There are many potential concerns to tackle, but common ones include the division of rent, space, utilities, food, and chores.