Whenever you enter into a relationship with someone that involves money, it's good to get your agreement in writing. When you're living together as well, having an agreement in place becomes even more important.
In the past, such agreements dealt mainly with transient relationships. Today, they often serve as "pre-nups" defining long-term relationships between couples who choose not to marry. Even when roommates all sign the lease, the lease only relates to your relationship with your landlord. It doesn't govern your relationship with each other.
Set Financial Responsibilities
The most important part of a roommate agreement defines who is going to pay for what. Figure out how you're going to divide the rent. Some states have laws that limit roommates to paying no more than their proportionate shares. This means that if there are four of you, each should pay 25 percent.
An agreement that one tenant must pay 40 percent might not be enforceable in court. Financial issues to be addressed by a roommate agreement should also include utilities. It should include food issues.Will food be purchased jointly and be shared, or separately and be exclusive?
Decide Rules of Behavior
Personal relations are important as well. A good roommate agreement will detail a code of conduct, such as responsibilities for chores, pet ownership, and keeping the dwelling clean. It will address nuisance behavior. What happens when someone plays music loudly when others are sleeping or trying to study? What happens when a boyfriend or girlfriend sleeps over on a regular basis?
Plan for Disputes
Decide in advance what you want to do if a roommate repeatedly breaks the terms of your agreement. You might want to elect a third party to mediate disputes. The agreement might state thata roommate who breaks the rules a certain number of times will have to move out.
Courts Might Not Enforce All Terms
If you have to go to court to enforce your roommate agreement, a judge will most likely address only financial issues and not relationship or code-of-conduct issues. An exception might be if a roommate has agreed to move out if the terms of the agreement are broken repeatedly, then refuses to do so.
Your Agreement Does Not Affect Your Landlord
The roommate whose name appears on the lease is usually the only one legally responsible to the landlord. Even if you all sign the lease together, many leases include language that each of you is responsible for the entire rent if the others don't pay.
If only one of you signs the lease, and then breaks the lease and leaves, the other roommates generally have no legal right to stay on - unless the landlord decides to enter into a new lease with them.
A Real Estate Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding roommate agreements can be complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a real estate lawyer.