THE ROOM-MATING GAME: Avoiding the Pitfalls of a Bad Match by Sheri Warren Sankner

Avoiding the Pitfalls of a Bad Match

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” wrote Charles Dickens. He could have been talking about living with roommates, college or otherwise. Everyone has at least one bad roommate story.

Perhaps, you have the roommate who brings a different partner home every night, engaging in noisy drunken trysts till dawn. Maybe you shared a place with a psycho who took a pair of scissors to all your clothes one night. Then there’s the sloppy mooch who eats all your food and thinks you’re the parent when it comes to paying bills and cleaning up.

Living with another adult can be an emotional, physical and financial roller coaster. Adults sharing apartments continue to rise with economic necessity playing a big role. In 2002, only 25% of adults in the U.S. lived with roommates. By 2012, it rose to 32%. Los Angeles, where a one-bedroom apartment averages $2,229 a month, has the highest percentage of adults living together at about 48%. New York City has also seen steady increases from 37% in 2002 to 42% in 2012. A 750-square foot apartment in Manhattan rents for about $3,000 a month, quite a hefty expense for one person unless you have a high paying job.

Working adults who share living spaces earn less money. Sharing space enables them to afford better housing. Urban areas with the largest percentage of shared households are in the costliest markets. Zillow found Honolulu, Los Angeles, Riverside, Calif., Miami, and New York all have 42% or more of households with roommates.

With such a need and demand for shared living space, what can you do to ensure you won’t get a bad match? Most colleges and universities now let students control roommate selection through targeted social media apps and online sites like Roomsurf and RoommateClick. University of Florida and New Mexico State University students use RoomSync, which takes data from students’ Facebook profiles to find potential matches.

Personal connections or friends can be sources for prospects. Many online resources can also help you find and keep roommates. Here are five keys for successfully navigating the murky waters of roommate selection and apartment sharing:

Screen prospects thoroughly  
Having similar lifestyles and common interests often leads to a healthier living situation. Ask the right questions to ensure your compatibility and common housing goals. Do they have employment? Do they smoke, drink, or use drugs? Do they have significant others who will be staying over? Have they ever been late on rent or credit card payments? Do they remain in touch with previous roommates? You may want to interview a promising prospect twice in different settings before accepting.   

Check references and look for red flags  
Use the web to access public records and conduct background checks. An irresponsible roommate can ruin your credit score and leave you homeless. According to Investopedia, “When two or more people sign a lease or rental agreement together, they become co-tenants and share the same legal rights and responsibilities.” Each roommate is independently responsible for the entire rent – not just his or her share. “A landlord has the legal right to hold all co-tenants responsible for the negative actions of one, and he or she can evict all tenants even if only one violated the lease or rental agreement.”

Communicate verbally, digitally and in writing  
Go over ground rules and responsibilities before a roommate moves in. Outline in writing each individual’s financial and physical responsibilities. Ensure everyone knows what has to be paid each month in utilities and expenses, especially if bills are in one tenant’s name. The app Splitwise can help you keep up with who owes whom, and gives a clear picture of everyone’s financial standing. Similarly, Roof shares the bills and divides chores among roommates with scheduled notifications.

Develop house rules with tools that keep everyone synced
You want someone who respects you, your values, and your lifestyle. Cooperation is key, so together, set up rules that everyone can live with regarding noise levels, frequency of guests, spare keys, grocery shopping, meal preparation, food sharing policies and home cleanliness. Develop a replenishment system for common goods like toilet paper, paper towels, garbage bags, dish soap, etc. Create morning routine schedules so everyone has ample time to get ready for work or school. Organize household chores with a chart or app, so that everyone knows what they are responsible for and when. Chorma makes household tasks hassle-free, by allowing app users to assign a task, with a time for completion and the person responsible. Once it’s done, mark it off, and the person receives rewards.

Compromise and work out differences 
No two people are exactly alike. A new roommate doesn’t know how your place functions or how you like things done. Don’t let arguments or misunderstandings fester. Respect each other, find common ground, and share your feelings to minimize problems.

Following this advice should lead to peace in the shared space, so  roommates will share more of the best of times together.

Information –Rent Trend Data in Los Angeles
The – Bad Roommates Ruin Your Grades
The Washington Post – The College Roommate Pairing Isn’t So Random Anymore

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