Your Guide to Finding and Surviving Life With Roommates

Whether you know your roommate well or they're a complete stranger, there are things to do to make it work.

From having help paying rent each month to just not being alone at home, living with someone else — known or unknown — has broad appeal. There are challenges in sharing a home with someone but there is great joy, as well.

Finding the right roommate, though, is the most important key to having a successful living arrangement, along with taking some specific precautions, setting some rules in stone before you move in and knowing a bit about the person's habits before you sign on the dotted line.

To help you navigate all that living with a roommate can look like, we've crafted this handy guide on finding a roommate, life with roommates, crafting a roommate agreement and more.

In this guide:

Finding a good roommate relationship

To find a roommate who's well-suited to your lifestyle and living situation, you'll want to have some key qualities in mind before you begin your search.

Some things to consider include:

  • Do they smoke, drink too much or use drugs?
  • Are they night owls or early birds?
  • Do they work from home or in an office?
  • What are their social habits? Lots of parties or more low-key?
  • Are they neat freaks or total slobs?
  • Do they have pets? Do they want one?
  • Are they currently involved with a romantic partner?
  • Do they pay their rent and bills on time?

Once you know what you're looking for, you'll be better equipped to start your search and narrow down any potential roommates out there.

Two guys chatting

Where to look for a new roommate

You might find that new roommate someplace unexpected, like in a class or church group, or you might have to reach out a bit wider into the community. Keep an open mind, along with some wisdom on where you might find the right person.

People you already know

Oftentimes, we already know someone looking for a roommate. Of course, unless we reach out, we can't know who those folks might be. The easiest way to start this process is to create some social media posts (set to “friends only") and send out emails to family and friends. If someone responds positively, respond back with more details on the situation, as you feel comfortable. If none of your friends are looking, chances are, one of them has a friend who is. You might get lucky on this first approach and have a roommate lined up within a week. If not, though, there are other places to look.

Be aware that while good friends may seem perfect as a roommate, there are many ways that it can go wrong, and you still want to make sure that the two of you are actually compatible as roommates before moving in, no matter how good of friends you are beforehand.

Joining a “house" for co-living

If you're not attached to your current apartment or are looking to move somewhere else, you can consider co-living with built-in roommates. You'll find lots of listings for these shared houses on multiple platforms and apps. There are also co-living communities that exist, wherein shared housing is the intent for the whole community. This kind of situation provides you with a private room and large shared common areas like living rooms, patios, a kitchen and a dining room. They're often cheaper than splitting rent only two ways and remove some of the hassles of searching for roommates yourself.

Other places to look

  • School, work, church and other social bulletin boards: Many churches, places of work and social organizations offer exclusive bulletin boards. You can use one of these to post a call for roommates, asking for more specific things than you'd put in a more public space.
  • Social media: There are lots of groups online for folks looking for roommates. You'll find Instagram, Twitter, Reddit and Facebook hashtags or groups dedicated to helping you find the right match. Use these with caution, as the groups rarely have any kind of vetting process.
  • Roommate finder apps: There are a number of roommate finder apps out there designed specifically to help you wade through the throngs of other folks looking for great housing situations. They usually provide more specified parameters than standard social media groups, as well. They function sort of like dating apps, too, so you can scroll through lists of people who meet your parameters.

Two friends enjoying wine

Questions to ask potential roommates

Before you say “yes" to a certain person becoming your new roommate, you'll want to ask some questions about possible deal-breakers. Take this first meeting seriously and do your due diligence, like conducting a job interview. Not finding a good match will cause serious problems later on. Remember this isn't just meeting your "potential roomie", but someone who will sign a lease with you, who you will share an apartment with, and whose personal and financial life will be connected to yours. Living with a roommate is a big deal.

Thinking this way and asking these questions will help you get fleshed-out answers to concerns you might have. In the process, be sure to let them ask you questions, as well. You want to both be a good fit for each other, after all. Some of the best questions to ask are about lifestyle and personality, as well as history as a roommate and renter. These are all pertinent to having a reasonable life together in a shared space.

Do you have pets?

One of the first big questions is pet status. Why? Because if you're allergic to cats and the other person wants to bring two into the home, it's most likely an immediate “no." Get the question out of the way to help eliminate candidates early on in the process if you have strong disagreements or diverging needs. This question also eliminates anyone who doesn't meet no-pet restrictions in your apartment building.

Do you smoke?

Another quick eliminator for many is the question about smoking habits. For someone who's allergic to smoke or strongly adverse to the smell of cigarette smoke, this question can result in the immediate answer of “no." This also eliminates anyone who won't fit the guidelines of a smoke-free building. Conversely, if your potential roommate is a smoker and you're not allergic, they might be willing to smoke on the patio or deck only. If you can live with that, you might make it work.

What does your average day look like?

Roommates can have some drastically different schedules. In many cases, this is no big deal. But if one person is a light sleeper and the other works odd hours, it could become a problem. Asking about each other's schedules can help you decide if you'd be a match or not. But do keep in mind that just because one person is a night owl and the other's an early bird, that doesn't mean you can't make it work. You just might have to up the schedule-related content of your roommate agreement.

Included in this is finding out if they work from home or not. Working from home means that your potential roommate will be there a lot, and if both of you work from home, you'll be seeing each other a lot.

Will you have trouble paying rent?

Here's another sensitive but incredibly important question to ask. You need to know whether or not the other person is looking for work, has a steady job or otherwise could complicate your financial situation. Since you both sign the lease, it's important to understand that both parties are equally responsible financially. Your landlord, after all, has the right to demand full payment on a strict schedule to avoid losing money on their rental unit, and since both of you sign the lease for the apartment, you are responsible for rent if your roommate doesn't pay. For this reason, it's OK to turn someone down because they don't seem able to pitch in equally.

Another financial question to ask from the get-go is whether or not your potential roommate has a history of late rent payments. If they're honest and answer yes, you may have to choose someone else, especially if your own budget is tight. Many folks break up as roommates because one or the other has difficulty paying on time. If you can avoid ever moving in with someone who isn't financially reliable, it's definitely better for you and your mental health.

You also need to make sure that your roommate contributes to the security deposit. It's only a one-time expense, unlike the rent, but they need to be good for it when moving in. You'll also want to consider how to split up the portion of the security deposit that you get back when moving out.

Are we on the same page about X?

Fill in X above for any of your own habits you're overly particular about. If you're aware of something that doesn't fall into the above questions that has the potential to really bother you, get that out of the way first. Your roommate should do the same, to prevent some seemingly minor detail from becoming a deal-breaker later down the line.

Women crafting a roommate agreement

Understanding roommate agreements

Now that you've determined what you want, vetted the candidates and made your decision, it's time to sign the lease and draft a roommate agreement. Roommate agreements are an extremely helpful tool for your new living situation. They help establish the house rules in a formalized way and give you legal safety should something go wrong. And the best part is, as time passes, you can update the agreement to meet new needs discovered along the way.

What is a roommate agreement?

A roommate agreement (or roommate contract) is a legally binding contract that you and your roommate(s) sign. You can have this formalized with a lawyer or a notary public or just a handshake. There's no need to involve the landlord – this is your agreement with each other, not a part of the lease.

The roommate agreement directly spells out the established house rules that help you deal with potential issues that may arise during your time living together. They address things like cleaning, shared spaces, shared expenses, quiet hour expectations, courtesies and any other matter that could affect how well you live together.

It's true that no one has to have a roommate agreement. It's a good idea to create an agreement to make sure that you set boundaries and have a shared understanding to keep your relationship — whether you start as a stranger or a best friend — from getting complicated and messy. Many ex-roommates had conflicts that could have been solved by an agreement making sure they were or the same page.

A roommate agreement helps you avoid conflict before it begins and acts as a mediator when issues arise. No one can say, “I didn't agree to that!" if the clause is actually written out in the roommate agreement.

There are a number of things you may want to include as ground rules in your roommate agreement. Some are more personalized than others, but you should include some key points.

Roommate meetings

Not everyone will need to include this one in their agreement. But having occasional roommate meetings spelled out in your roommate agreement may help open the door to discuss a difficult question when the time comes and it's hard to communicate.

With roommate meetings, you can create a specific timeline, such as a one-hour meeting monthly, 2 hours every quarter or even a 10-minute connection time every week. Discuss this kind of schedule before you create your document and decide which timeline works best for you.

Be aware that someone who tends to have higher anxiety, stress or OCD tendencies will likely need to meet a little more frequently to help mitigate those emotions that arise with a lack of open communication.

Cleaning and chores

Just because you're living on your own doesn't mean you don't have chores. And if one roommate winds up doing all the household duties, that's not likely to go well, unless agreed upon by both roommates. There are occasions when it does make sense for one to clean everything save the private living space of the other roommate. But even if it makes sense, make cleaning habits and even a cleaning schedule formalized from the get-go. Otherwise, sour feelings could arise.

Guest rules

Nobody wants to feel like they can't invite friends over for an evening or a sleepover. Setting up rules ahead of time can help mitigate frustrations for all parties, especially if you are each in your own social circles.

Things to consider adding to your guest rules include:

  • Designated nights for guests
  • Limit on weekly sleepovers
  • Use of certain spaces only
  • Shower OK or not?
  • Who's acceptable?
  • How many at a time?
  • Are parties or large groups okay?

Someone's best friend or significant other is OK for anyone in the shared space, but maybe not a stranger from the bar or random, not very close friends. Be sure to set up boundaries but be careful. It's important that everyone feels the freedom to have overnight guests over but everyone else also feels safe when they're there. It's also important to think about when family. Are family members OK to crash on the couch for the week or do they need to get a hotel?

roommates eating
Pets and their care

If your rental agreement allows you to have pets, it's important to set some boundaries and rules around the pet(s) and their care.

  • Spaces that are off-limits for the pet
  • Firm guidelines around cleaning up messes
  • Care for the pet during the day
  • Care for the pet if the owner is out of town
  • Storage space for the pet's possessions

Spend time together

It might not seem like something you have to agree upon, but chances are, you'll have some conflict in schedule and won't see each other much at times. In cases where you discover you don't really get along all that well, that winds up being a good thing and you don't need much more than the occasional hello. No matter how well you get along, making an effort to spend some time together can help you show some interest in each other's lives, which, in turn, can help you resolve conflict more easily and make living with roommates much easier overall.

You can suggest things like parties, movie nights or casual meals together every so often and see how it goes from there. And, of course, you can always amend the agreement at a later date to suit your needs.

Other issues

Here are some more items you'll want to cover in the agreement

  • Shared mealtimes and food: Some people are fine sharing food, others hate it. Set these rules and decide if you want to eat together or separately and when.
  • Temperature: Some people are very sensitive to temperature, so make sure you can find a mutually acceptable way to set the temperature in the apartment. If each room can be set separately, that's great; if not, you have something you need to work out.
  • Personal and communal possessions: Decide what stuff is shared between you and what stuff has to be kept separate. This can vary from big things to small items.
  • Paying for shared items: Who pays for communal possessions? How is the cost split up? Both you and your roommate are benefiting from them, so you should have a way of dividing those costs fairly.
  • Noise levels and sleep schedules: Everyone gets loud sometimes, but coming to an agreement about quiet hours can help make sure each roommate can go to bed at a good time or even just get time to themselves without needing to wear headphones to block out the noise.
  • Logistics of paying rent: For example, can you both make separate payments? Or does one person make the payment with the other sending them their portion of the rent?

How to create your roommate agreement

The best and easiest way to create your roommate agreement is by using this simple template. Create a formalized document, then fill in each portion of the document with the things you've agreed on together.

You can also use the template to help you make some decisions on your agreement, in case you're feeling stuck.

Roommates unpacking

How to consolidate possessions with roommates

Once you agree on the roommate agreement, it's time to move in. Unless you're both completely starting from scratch, chances are you and your new roommate have some duplicate items in your possession. But most apartments don't have room — or need — for two waffle makers and two tea kettles.

Here are a few tips on how to consolidate your possessions in a reasonable fashion so everything will fit and you'll both feel you've got personal space and shared space appropriately created.

  • Take inventory: Before you haul everything to a new place, ask about common items you're likely to both have. Create a shared document like one on Google Docs or in some cloud program that you can both update with items you're willing to share with the household.
  • Make decisions carefully: Once you have that list compiled, look through possessions and decide which duplicates to donate, sell or toss and keep the item you prefer most. Don't keep an “in-case" double of an item. You'll wind up with too much stuff!
  • Be willing to compromise: Roommate A may have a vibrant blue tea kettle that they simply adore. But what if you've got a great one, too? Decide if your tea kettle is worth the battle or if you're OK with compromising on that one and asking that you keep something else more important to you. And if certain things are non-negotiable and you wind up with a few duplicates, that's OK, too. This isn't a sell-all to live sort of situation.
  • Measure, measure, measure: Before eliminating duplicate furniture pieces, measure all your spaces and figure out which ones fit best. You'll save yourself a lot of grief and moving costs.
  • Understand your storage space: Before you start moving in, know what spaces are yours, what's your roommate's and what you share. You can do and keep whatever you want in your own space, but your roommate might object to half the living room taken up with fitness equipment. Figure out where to keep that treadmill in your own space or agree together where it fits.

Roommates paying bills

How to split bills with your roommate

Next, it's important to figure out ahead of time how you'll split and pay bills as roommates. That means knowing who's paying what, who's responsible for making payments and how much those costs are going to run you.

Initially, you'll want to compile a list of all your shared bills. This will likely include any or all of the following:

  • Rent
  • Renters' insurance
  • Electricity
  • Wi-Fi
  • Water
  • Gas
  • Streaming Services
  • TV (if you opt for cable or satellite)
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Shared food
  • Building or maintenance fees (if any)

Once you've compiled the list, determine the overall amount and how to pay each. You can pay some automatically out of one bank account, so know whose account it will clear. For those that can directly split, you may wish to do this or you may want to have one person responsible for it to make things more balanced.

We recommend not having one person be in charge of all financial issues in the apartment, though, as that may cause contention, especially if the other person tends toward procrastination. Split responsibilities equally to reduce stress and anxiety over bills being paid on time.

Then, for the bills that one person is covering, determine how you will transfer money. You may both have Zelle, Venmo, PayPal or some other personal payment app that works for you. If not, you may opt for cash.

Finally, be sure to always set a due date for all payments to ensure that nothing gets paid late.

Couple moving in together

Tips for moving in with a significant other

If your new roommate is your significant other, most of the things we've already talked about still apply. Discussing things ahead of time things about finances (who's paying, how it's being paid, etc.) is necessary, as are certain agreements between you before you move in together.

Here are some additional tips for making the transition as smooth as possible.

  1. Make a conscious decision to move in together, rather than just letting it happen. Intentionality can make everything much smoother and happier.
  2. Decide whose apartment you'll live in or if you'll move somewhere new together. If you can't decide because you both love where you live, your best plan is to move somewhere new to avoid one person feeling nudged out.
  3. Don't forget to create some personal, private space! As you learn to live together, you'll still need some “me time" and your own personal space.
  4. Expect mishaps and less-than-flattering moments. Living together is a whole new game. Be sure to anticipate moments of imperfection, conflict and challenge.
  5. Make communication central in your relationship. Before you even move in, decide together that if you have any conflicts or concerns, you'll talk about it. Some ways to soften tricky conversations are prescribing specific language to help, like “I'm not going to say this well, so please help me get to what I really mean."

Additional resources for your new living arrangements

If you're not sure where to find documents like roommate agreement templates or the best roommate finding apps, we're here to help!

Easy-to-use roommate agreement templates

Roommate finder apps

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional legal or financial advice as they may deem it necessary.