What if Your Roommate is a Deadbeat?

Sharing with roommates is a classic money-saving plan for college students, but in today's economy, people from all walks of life are thinking about sharing their Houston apartments. In the best roommate situations, there are even more benefits, like built-in pet sitting, saving money on community dinners and household supplies, and even the chance to meet lifelong friends. In the worst of cases, though, things can get downright ugly. There are a few simple things you can do now, while you're shopping for your roommates and your Houston apartment, to make even the worst possible outcomes more manageable. Here's how to make sure even a roommate breakup would be relatively painless:

 

The Worst-Case Scenario

This week, the Lifehacker blog posted “How to Evict Your Crappy Roommate,” a collection of helpful hints and “who knew?” information on what your options are if you should find yourself living with a deadbeat—or worse, dangerous—roommate. This post can help you find out what your rights are, stay on your landlord's good side, and keep yourself (and your stuff) safe. Good things to know if the worst should happen, but the best way to minimize the damage is to plan well now, before you sign the lease.

 

Know Your Lease—and Your Landlord

We've told you before how important it is to read and fully understand your lease before you sign. In fact, shopping around for a landlord you can communicate with and a lease whose terms make sense to you is as important as finding a space you'll love—and even more so when you have roommates. The key point to consider is who is responsible for what fraction of the rent. This isn't always obvious when roommates sign the lease, and gets murkier as some roommates move out and others move in, but it's a vital if you ever have problems collecting everyone's rent. The key terms to know are “joint liability,” “several liability,” and “joint and several liability.” Most landlords will try to get you to sign a lease with joint liability, which means that any one person on the lease (This means you!) can be held liable for 100 percent of the rent if any other roommate won't pay. Several liability is the best deal for you, since it means that each of you is liable only for your share of the rent: If you have two roommates, the most any one of you can be asked to pay is one-third. Joint and several liability means that you can be held liable for all of the rent, but you have the right to sue your roommates for their share. Negotiate this point before you sign the lease, and think carefully before you sign up for joint or joint and several liability with roommates you don't know well.

 

Lay Out Expectations at the Start

Discussing your expectations with your roommates at the beginning is the very best thing you can do for every aspect of your roommate relationship, from cleaning to space sharing to finances. Whose name will the utilities be in? Will the electric bill be in one roommate's name, and the cable bill in another's? What happens if someone can't pay their share? If you have a plan for communicating and working around short-term financial problems, even a month when one of you can't pay his or her share doesn't have to be a major problem.

 

Choose Your Roommates Carefully

The best plan of all, of course, is to start out with roommates you can trust. Check out our post, “Resources for Great Roommate Relationships,” for ideas on finding the people you'll be happy to share your Houston apartment with.

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