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What are the risks of moving in with strangers?

When you move in with someone you do not know, there is risk involved. Despite looking good on paper, or during an interview or first meeting, roommates can look a lot different after you move in together. Some of the biggest risks include:

  • Financial instability.
  • Social instability.
  • Reckless behavior.

When meeting potential roommates, you often do not have time to really get to know them well. If you are the one who is looking to fill a room in a unit you already rent, consider using a Rental Application to gather information about any potential roommate. If only you are named on the lease, then one of the biggest concerns is whether your roommate will pay their portion of the rent on time or at all. If you are subletting a room, it can be worthwhile to at least run a credit check on your potential subletter. 

If you are subletting a room from someone else, the same risks apply. If your roommate is not financially stable and does not pay rent, or behaves recklessly, you may still be evicted even if you paid your rent on time.

How can I set up a rental agreement to protect myself?

There are several steps you might take to set up a Lease Agreement that helps protect yourself. Having a signed agreement in writing is critical, and you may want to exercise caution if your prospective roommate or roommates do not want to sign a written agreement. It is important to include the following in your agreement:

  • Every tenant's name and signature. You might also want to see each person's government ID to confirm their identity.
  • Each tenant's financial responsibilities. Rent may be an even split, or if rooms are different sizes or otherwise more desirable, it is common to adjust the share of rent according to those differences.
  • Each tenant's right to use the space, have overnight guests or pets. 
  • Whether each tenant may sublet their space, or vacate before the end of the lease.
  • A process for resolving disputes. 

These are standard terms in Lease Agreements and Roommate Agreements. When signing a Lease Agreement with someone you do not know, you may be able to negotiate with the landlord to make sure you are not responsible to your landlord for your roommate's share of the rent. Some landlords are willing to sign separate agreements with each tenant, while others insist on a single agreement. If they insist on a single agreement, you may still be able to include a section on how much rent each tenant is required to pay.

If you are renting a property as a primary tenant with the intent to get roommates, you might want to have it in writing from your landlord that you are allowed to offer a Sublease Agreement to another roommate. Being able to sublet can be beneficial if it is necessary to add another roommate or find a replacement roommate.

Roommates also typically want to agree on rules like how long overnight guests can stay, how utility and other bills are divided, and how certain spaces may be used. Including a section in your agreement on how to resolve disputes can also be helpful if things do not work out. After all, if you are having problems with a roommate, you cannot just kick them out. They are tenants with rights as well. You may want to include language about eviction in your agreement. For example, it might say if a roommate does not pay their rent, the other roommates have the right to give them an Eviction Notice.

How can I protect myself when renting a room to or from someone?

If you are renting a room to or from another tenant, you might want to consider using both a Sublease Agreement and a Roommate Agreement. In addition to the standard terms, you may want to include information about the following:

  • Living arrangements.
  • Cleaning schedules and expectations.
  • Rules about overnight guests or pets.
  • The rules set by the landlord.
  • What to do if there is a dispute. 

Living arrangements might include things like who gets what bedroom, quiet hours, and use of the common areas. If the entire property is not open to everyone, you might want to have that in writing. You may want a schedule covering shared cleaning duties for common areas, or yard work if it is required in the lease. This can include rotating tasks or assigning roommates to specific tasks.

All too often, a roommate's significant other may move in without permission, or be there so much they essentially become another roommate. An additional person living in a home typically causes utility bills and other expenses to go up. Your agreement may want to cover when this is allowed and how the split of chores, rent, and other expenses may change. On the other hand, sometimes a roommate may want to move out before the end of a lease. You may want to include terms that hold that roommate responsible for their share of the rent until a replacement roommate is found.

It is smart to discuss anything else that may be important to you beforehand, such as your landlord's rules, how to resolve disputes, or rules about pets. Roommates with uncommunicated expectations might cause issues. Consider putting anything you think is important to being able to relax and feel comfortable in your home in a written and signed agreement. Keep in mind, however, that these rules and terms may apply to each roommate.

How can I screen a potential roommate?

Whether they are moving in with you, or vice versa, there are several ways you can screen a potential roommate. Using a Rental Application can help you evaluate and screen potential roommates. The most common forms of screening include:

  • Credit checks.
  • Background checks.
  • Reference checks.
  • Reviewing social media accounts.

Many commercial services allow you to run credit and background checks online. This typically requires each roommate's consent and some basic information. These checks can show a person's credit history, eviction history, criminal history, past addresses, employment history, and more.

Consider asking a potential roommate for references that include past roommates and landlords. You might want to check with their old landlord and roommates to see if they left on good terms. Old roommates may be able to tell you how they are as a roommate.

Social media can also provide a lot of information about potential roommates. For example, if they post pictures showing that they party all the time and you want a quiet roommate, you may decide that it is not a good fit.

If you have questions about your rights, creating agreements, or dealing with a roommate problem, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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