Roommates & You

Check Out Potential Roommates

Roommates significantly affect each others' lives emotionally and financially. Choose your roommates carefully and work with them if problems occur.

If you will be living with roommates whom you do not know, ask the landlord to let you sign a separate lease. The lease should make you responsible only for your share of the rent and for damages caused by you or your guests. Landlords may, but do not have to let you and your roommates sign separate leases.

Do not assume that a best friend will make a great roommate. After you have signed a lease you may discover that you have different ideas about cleaning, parties, bills or other issues which could become major problems. By then your only options will be to negotiate some compromises, sublet or wait until the lease ends.

To prevent roommate conflicts, you should discuss the issues described below with all prospective roommates and sign a roommate agreement.

Roommate Agreements

Since roommates who sign one rental agreement are jointly and severally liable under that agreement, it is a good idea to spell out some basic rules in a roommate agreement. "Joint and several liability" means that any or all roommates can be held responsible when any roommate fails to meet obligations under that rental contract, such as not paying rent, violating a lease clause or damaging the apartment.

The roommate agreement should establish each roommate's obligation to the others. All roommates should sign and date the agreement. Some items to include in a roommate agreement include the following:


Will one person pay the rent or will each roommate send a separate check to the landlord?

What will happen if one person cannot pay the rent one month?

Will one roommate pay extra for special privileges such as a parking spot or a bigger room?

If the landlord only wants to accept one check, then work out a payment plan. Make sure the plan is in writing and keep good records.

Phone Bill

Whose name will be on the phone bill?

How will you decide how much each roommate pays for both local and long distance?

Will you pay with separate checks?

Will other people on the lease pay directly to the person whose name is on the bill or to the phone company?

Some phone and utility companies let you put several names on the phone bill. This may encourage all roommates to pay their bills on time.

Utility Bills

Whose name will be on the utility bill?

How will you decide how much each roommate pays?

Does one person have a water bed? An extra air conditioner? Like it warmer in the apartment? Will they then pay more?

Will roommates pay by separate checks to the utility company or pay the money to the person whose name is on the utility bill?

Who will pay any late charges?


Will the apartment have cable?

In whose name will the cable bill be?

Will you pay the money to the cable company or to the person whose name is on the bill?

Household Duties

Who will be responsible for the following duties:

taking out the garbage?

doing the dishes?

cleaning the bathroom?

vacuuming the living room?

other cleaning chores?

How often will the apartment be cleaned?

Other Important Questions to Consider...

Dispute Resolution

How will you deal with problems if any occur?

Destruction of Property

What will happen if property in the apartment is destroyed?

Will everyone be equally responsible or will you agree that the person who broke/destroyed the property will be responsible?

Security Deposit

Who paid the security deposit and to whom will the security deposit be returned?

What happens to a roommateas security deposit if they sublet?

In the City of Madison, the landlord must disclose in writing how the security deposit will be returned to roommates.


What policy do the roommates have regarding subletting?

May roommates sublet only with the consent of all other roommates?

Do the roommates agree not to withhold their consent unreasonably?


Are overnight guests allowed?

When, how often, and for how long may guests visit?

Where will overnight guests sleep?

Quiet Hours

What hours, if any, will be designated as quiet hours?


Will parties be allowed?

Will alcohol be served?

What size, when, and how often?


What bedrooms will the roommates occupy?

Will roommates be switching bedrooms at any point during the lease?

Will those with larger rooms pay more rent?

Will those sharing a room pay less rent?

Shared Belongings

Will any of the following items be shared: food, clothing, CDs, books, dishes or any other property?


How much privacy do all roommates want in their bedrooms?

What about in the rest of the apartment?


Will smoking be permitted in the apartment? If so, when and where?


Will any of the roommates have pets?

What types of pets are acceptable?

Who is responsible for taking care of any pets?


Where will you leave phone messages and mail?


Are there any other issues that are important to you and your roommates?

If you have any further questions, please call the Tenant Resource Center.


No part of this information should be regarded as legal advice or considered a replacement of a tenant or landlord's responsibility to be familiar with the law. If legal assistance is required, the services of a housing attorney should be sought.