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Signing a Roommate Pre-nup
You're just graduating from college. You and your new roommate are moving into your first off-campus apartment. Now you can just kick back, relax, and enjoy the real world. Right? Wrong! The real world walks hand in hand with real responsibility. Just as there are new freedoms and new opportunities, there are also new things to consider. One thing that's incredibly helpful, but generally overlooked, is knowing how to lay some ground rules with your new roommate.
So you're thinking "Hey! I'm moving in with my best friend since 1st grade! We've never had any problems getting along. We'll have a great time!" Well, maybe so... but you can never predict what might happen once you start sharing everything from the same kitchen to the same bath tub. Maybe your great friend won't seem so great after she's "forgotten" to pay the rent for the past three months. If you merely talked about who would pay what when, and didn't write it down, you're legally up a creek. Verbal agreements are worthless. Just watch an episode of Judge Judy. Before you end up in small claims court, you need to make sure you have an agreement in writing so that everyone understands what his or her responsibilities are supposed to be, even if he or she chooses not to live up to them.
You want to make the move from campus to the real life as smooth as possible, and one step towards smoothness is to check out Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart's book: Quick & Legal: Renters' Rights, Nolo Press. Not only does it have great tips on dealing with roommates, but it also "gives the bottom line on your rights as a renter, including your rights to privacy, a livable home, the proper use of your security deposit and fair, nondiscriminatory treatment from your landlord."
Here is what the authors suggest you put together in a written contract before you move in with your lifelong friend: The contract should discuss:
Be careful how you present the idea of a written agreement, because it can be misconstrued. Example:
"Hey, Before we move in I think we should have a written agreement laying out some ground rules." (Smile.)
"What? You don't trust me? WRITTEN AGREEMENT?? I can't believe this! Isn't my word good enough for you? Forget it, I'm not moving in. You'll have to get another roommate because I'm never talking to you again!" (slams the door on the way out. )
Hopefully, your new roommate won't go this ballistic, but to avoid the possibility, stress that this contract is all about equality. Reassure your roommate that the agreement protects her just as much as it protects you. You and your roommate(s) should contribute equally to both creating the agreement, and also following through with the rules.
So if you're planning on moving in with a roommate, understand you're going to have plenty to worry about - from who buys the small stuff like dish washing detergent and toilet paper to which one of you is going to shell out for the vacuum cleaner. So, save yourself some stress, pick up Quick & Legal: Renters' Rights, and avoid many of the roommate issues before they become a case for Judge Judy.
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