Choosing the Right Roommates

Obviously, picking a roommate for living off-campus has similar steps to selecting a roommate for on-campus living. You should be looking for someone compatible, flexible, and fun that you can picture yourself living with for extended periods of time in closed quarters. An added facet, however, is that of responsibility: now that the relationship will have legal terms, it is vital to find someone who will uphold their end of the tenancy. Listed below is a comprehensive list of things to look for in a roomie, criteria to stick to, and advice for making sure relationships stay smooth and succesful, all provided by Temple University’s article, “Choosing A Roommate”. A PDF version of this article can be found at

Choosing A Roommate

Living off-campus together with other students is an important part of your college experience, a good way to save money and, often, lots of fun, too. If things go wrong, however, life can become very unpleasant and you may also stand to lose financially.

Here are some things you should know regarding your lease and your obligations as a

  • The roommates who sign a lease together are jointly and severally responsible, which means that one roommate is not only responsible for his/her own share of the rent but for the total rent, in case another roommate cannot pay or moves out. It also means that you are held responsible for complying with all the terms of the lease individually and collectively.
  • When large groups of students look for a house to rent, very often only one, two or three of them sign the lease. The rest make just verbal commitments. Remember that only the people who have signed the lease are responsible for it. The roommates who changed their minds may be morally responsible but legally they are not. Try to get everybody to sign the lease from the very beginning, so the responsibility will be shared.
  • The landlord may accept rental payment with separate checks but may also ask you to pay with one check. Although this is not a frequent occurrence, it may happen and it is not illegal. Make sure you know from the very beginning of you lease how the rent is to be paid.
  • When trying to recover your security deposit after leaving the premises, you should know that your deposit can be used to cover damage done by another roommate. The landlord does not have to establish who is responsible for the damage and will expect you to settle the matter.
  • When the security deposit is returned, the landlord may choose to return the money with a check written out to all the roommates. That can be quite a hassle for you as all the signatures may be needed for the check to be cashed. You may want to designate one person for the return of the deposit and let the landlord know in writing who that person is. That roommate will receive the returned security deposit, break down the amount and distribute it among the former roommates. The landlord does not have to write out a check for each of the roommates.

Making the roommate relationship work for everyone in the house requires planning, commitment, involvement and, sometimes, hard work, both before you decide to room together and after. Rooming with a friend may work out very well but many friendships have been broken as a result of sharing houses or apartments. Even if you decide to rent a place with a friend or several friends it is good for all of you to discuss some basic facts of life style, study habits and the like. You may find you are more compatible with other people than with very close friends, who you may want to keep. When you discuss habits and preferences, define your terms. Do not be vague. “Clean,” “quiet,” and “occasional” can mean different things to different people. Find common definitions. Set standards, develop a list of simple rules, put them in writing and have all roommates sign the form. Your mutual agreement at the beginning can avoid future problems. A written agreement, signed by all roommates, is always better than a verbal one. This will help ensure the agreement is clear and acceptable to everyone and that all the roommates are committed to its terms. Should disagreements arise during your tenancy, you will not have to rely on memory when deciding what went wrong and how you can fix the problem. Finally, if necessary, a written agreement can serve as a basis for legal enforcement.

Here are some suggestions for things roommates should consider and discuss before they
decide to share a place:

  • Study Time. What time of day do you prefer to study? How much noise can you tolerate when studying?
  • Sharing of space and personal items. How will you divide refrigerator space? Which items are you willing to share? Do you want to be asked for permission before an item is borrowed? What can be shared, borrowed or is off limits?
  • Household chores and apartment condition. Who is responsible for cleaning the areas that you share and how often How should you divide up the work? Remember, under Pennsylvania Law, roommates are jointly and severally responsible for damage to the premises and condition of apartment/house.
  • Handling payment of bills.
    • Rent. How will rent be paid – one check or separate? What if someone is late? Can the roommate afford the rent? If your roommate doesn’t pay the rent, you are legally responsible for their portion of the rent.
    • Utilities and telephone bill. How are utility accounts set up? Who is responsible for the payment to the utility company? How do you divide expenses? Will you have separate telephone lines or one line to be used by all? If so, telephone companies can assign special codes to roommates to keep track of phone calls and bill separately.
  • Smoking, Drinking. If you are a non-smoker, make sure you find out if your roommates smoke. If you and your roommates are over 21 years of age, how do you feel about drinking alcohol in the apartment?
  • Quiet Time. What time do you go to bed? How many hours of sleep do you need? How loud do you want your music playing?
  • Mail/Telephone. When is it too late to receive a phone call? How do you want your messages taken?
  • Guests. How do you feel about overnight guests, boyfriend’s, girlfriend’s long-term visits? How about parties? How often are you planning to party? Who will clean up? At what point does a “guest” become an additional roommate? You cannot bring in a friend to live with you if your other roommates do not approve of it, to say nothing of the fact that this may be a violation of your lease.
  • Privacy. What are your needs for privacy and what are the other roommates’ needs?
  • Security. Locking doors, windows when you are at home and when you are away. Will you keep an extra key? Should anyone beside the roommates have a key? Your lease says “no”.
  • Pets. Are pets allowed by your lease? Are you allergic to cats, for example? How many pets are you willing to have in the apartment?
  • Moving Out. Who will clean the apartment at move out time? Will all roommates be here at the end of the lease? The responsibility for cleaning belongs to all roommates.

During your tenancy, communicate with each other. Talk honestly and openly to your roommates. People get on each other’s nerves and sometimes become upset. Roommates are no exception. If you are upset or if your roommate is upset, give each other room and time to calm down and reconsider. Work at your relationship with your roommates. Don’t let anger or discontent pile up and explode. Most roommate conflicts are manageable if communication is kept open, financial responsibilities are met and the established house rules are used as a guide.

Roommate Worksheet

Another helpful measure is to fill out a worksheet or evaluation with your future roommate or roommates in order to cover big issues in an honest manner. A great worksheet is provided by UW Whitewater’s website at