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Roommates: A (possible) Financial Nightmare

   Posted On: February 19, 2014  |    Posted In: Millennials  |     Posted by: Broke Millennial®

I strolled into a meeting yesterday to hear a co-worker lament, “and she hadn’t been paying it for two months!”

“Hadn’t been paying what?” I inquired

“Rent! My roommate hasn’t been paying rent for two months and I just found out!” she exclaimed.

Naturally, my immediate thought was: how could you not have known?

Turns out that the landlord usually leaves deposit slips (or a rent receipt if you will) in my co-worker’s mailbox. My co-worker is used to her roommate picking up the mail, so she just assumed her roommate had picked up the proof rent had been paid. It hadn’t been an issue in the past.

This debacle got me thinking about other disastrous situations that can occur when you share a living space with another human being. The following examples are based on true events.

Not Paying Rent and/or Utilities

Obviously, rent is the biggie. If your roommate starts to neglect paying rent it can leave you to pick up the tab, getting evicted or ending up on the hunt for a new roommate. All of which are frustrating and financially cumbersome.

Roommate pic
And sometimes my roomie and I accidentally dress alike…

My roommate and I have a pretty straightforward system worked out for both rent and utilities. Our rent is deposited directly into our landlord’s bank account, so one of us handles making the drop off and returns with the deposit slip which is put on the fridge. This started out of a desire to have proof we actually paid rent in case the bank screwed up somehow and our landlord came calling. Now I realize it serves to protect both of us from the other skirting the bill.

All of our utilities are in my name because I lived in the apartment first. Each month I total them up, split ‘em down the middle and stick it on the fridge. Once she pays me her half, I pay off the bills and write “PAID” with the date on the bill. It’s an easy way for us to keep track.

Our typical dialogue when I announce how much we owe:

Me: “Hey, utilities came out to $47.82 this month.”
Roommate: “Okay, I only have $20 in cash right now. I’ll get more tomorrow.”
Me: “No worries, I know where you live.”

Could we simply factor the utility bill into monthly rent? Sure. But we found a system that’s worked for us the last two years so why mess with success?

Overuses utilities

My mom once had a roommate who worked as a flight attendant. Her roommate didn’t have a set schedule and would just get called to report to work with no notice. One evening my mom came home from a weekend away to discover her roommate had left a cornish game hen (apparently chicken didn’t cut it) baking in the oven.

After thanking the Lord Almighty her roommate didn’t burn down the building, my mom had to contend with an inflated gas bill and getting a professional cleaning service to handle the stench and fumes.

If you agree to split bills, like utilities, down the middle one roommate can abuse the policy and cause tension.

My tip is to discuss it ahead of time (when you can). For example, I don’t use an AC, but if my roommate does she’s responsible for the increased electric bill.

Eating your food

Opening to fridge to see your lunch eaten has got to be one of the fastest ways to trigger a melt-down. Discovering that your roommate is consistently binging on your food leads to pure chaos.

Confronting someone about eating your food can be awkward. Some people want to avoid the hassle of making a fuss and just ante up to buy more milk or bread or organic eggs or Fruit Roll-Ups. But this process can cause you to bleed money, especially if your roommate eats your food (without paying or replacing it) on a regular basis.

Overcharging you for rent

There are no rules when it comes to New York City real estate and it’s not uncommon to discover a roommate overcharging for a room. How does this happen? Easily. Renters looking for a short-term lease or just filling a room from a Craigslist ad may never have direct contact with the landlord. The current resident becomes the dictator of the price and can inflate the cost of the second bedroom and pocket the difference.

The other strategy is to make a claim that one room is worth more than another. One-square-foot more space, an extra window, a closet…well surely that’s worth you paying $300 more a month!

Borrowing and losing (or breaking) your belongings

A tale as old as time. Roommate asks to borrow item. You happily lend item. Item is lost, stolen or broken. You feel awkward asking your roommate to pay to replace item.

Don’t be! You break it you buy it! Duh.

Will you need to lawyer up?

Sure, it’s funny now. But what happens if your roommate is answering job ads in the wrong section of Craigslist or dealing with something other than a deck of cards? It’s hard to plead ignorance when it’s happening right in your home!


Lest we forget, roommates are usually a great financial asset. Splitting rent and utilities really helps lighten the financial burden of supporting yourself. Unfortunately, not everyone has a great situation with their roommate. You don’t have to be Monica and Rachel or Chandler and Joey, but when it comes to discussing finances open communication is the answer. That or moving out.

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66 responses to “Roommates: A (possible) Financial Nightmare

  1. I had a roommate for one year in college and after that I knew I couldn’t do the whole roommate thing. The introvert in me needs space! I have friends with roommates though and it seems like there is usually something going on, either someone not paying their fair share of utilities or not keeping their place clean etc.

    1. As an extrovert, I miss my roommate when she’s gone. I need someone to talk to!! We have a great understanding of personal space though. Bedroom with the door shut means alone time.

    1. My memory tends to only look back on the good too. It’s a blessing! Means you don’t hold onto much negativity.

  2. I’ve only had one roommate (besides my husband), and thank goodness we were on the same page. We weren’t close friends so there weren’t any emotional impacts if we fought or when I moved out. It was just easy. But I hear of horror stories ALL of the time.

    1. I think it’s easier to move in with someone who starts as just a roommate and then becomes a close friend. No added pressure! I’ve actually never lived with a close friend, mostly because I was an RA through a majority of college so I had a single room.

  3. I love what happens at my daughter’s college: they actually have a questionnaire that roommates are required to fill out where they agree on music, visitors, quiet time, what they’ll share and everything. That’s done within the first week of living together.

    I think if I’d had that, I would have totally avoided the huge blowout fight over……milk……..with my roommate. Seriously. World War III. Milk. Go figure.

    1. Oh man. If my roommate messed with my milk it should be a blowout! She’s an almond milk drinker so no issues there!

      Those college questionnaires are great. After moderating one-too-many roommate spats during my years as an RA, I vouch for any method that tries to pair up like-minded kids.

  4. Even the most cut and dry plan can go awry. I’ve had my share of good roommates, great roommates, and absolute nightmare roommates. The nightmare ones came in the form of bi-polar behavior, and their SO’s or children just kind of moving in without any prior discussion and without them having to pay any utilities or part of the rent. When polite discussions ensued, all hell broke loose. Crazy when you call someone on being a mooch how angry they get. The funny thing about roommates is the ones who you think are going to be great (best friends) usually turn out to be the worst. Sometimes you don’t know people as well as you think. That is why I just can’t do the roommate thing anymore.

    1. The boyfriend/girlfriend situation is one I totally overlooked but a few people have brought it up! I can’t believe people also had kids move in! Yikes. When I was looking for roommates I turned down one girl because her boyfriend lived a few blocks away and I had visions of him being here 24/7 flash before my eyes.

  5. We had someone move in with us a few years ago. Well, I’m not sure if you could call it moving in. He needed a place to live, so we offered him a room in our basement. However, it turned out he was a complete loser and we asked him to leave just a few days later, because some really bad stuff about him came to our attention, and we really did not want him knowing where we lived. Lets just say that MULTIPLE neighbors caught him doing really hard drugs in our driveway (in plain view, no less!). We ended up paying him like $20 to leave right away haha.

  6. Most of my roommate stories are pretty normal – no major drama. Until the time I had to report my roommates to the police for harassment and for kicking my cat down the stairs. That wasn’t fun… I moved out asap and briefly lived with other friends, but refused to have roommates again after that.

    1. Wow. That is insanely cruel! I hope your cat is okay. You’re more than justified in never wanting another roomie.

  7. I looked up information on subletting my apartment furnished, thinking I could make bank, and found this: “If the prime tenant sublets the apartment fully furnished, the prime tenant may charge an additional rent increase for the use of the furniture. This increase may not exceed ten percent of the lawful rent.” –

    There’s also: “If your apartment is rent stabilized, you may only charge your roommate(s) a “proportionate” share of your rent.” –

    So there are laws out there about what you can and can’t charge roommates/subletters. I’ve heard that you can’t charge a roommate more than half the rent but I can’t find that direct quote on any nycgov sites.

    1. Good to know! I wonder how many people actually know these laws exist or would bother doing anything about it if they’ve been overcharged? Might just be easier to move out and move on.

  8. My husband lived with two roommates in Chicago at one point and one of them didn’t pay the rent a few months in a row. I know that Greg paid his part for a while before he moved out. Come to think of it, I don’t think he ever paid him back!!!

    1. Sounds like such a hassle! I hope it wasn’t too much money. I probably couldn’t even swing my rommie’s half of rent if she bailed out.

  9. I never had to deal with a messy roommate situation personally, but ran in to it a few times in college. I had a few friends that got in to some really messy situations like throwing away bills and stuff like that where both were just being childish. That open communication is so key, not to mention being an adult and setting appropriate expectations for all parties.

  10. My roommate got drunk and passed out while she was heating a burrito in the oven, I woke up to clouds of smoke at 5am, and thought more about the landlord not giving back our deposit than the inflated utility bill.
    I also had one roommate who was in charge of the whole place so he collected deposits and rents from everyone and tried to keep my deposit for no reason, then refused to give me the name of the landlord.
    After living that I found out most problems were financial so my tenants (3 roommates) each pay me directly, all bills included, I pay the bills and would evict them individually if one didn’t pay.

    1. You’re lucky that burrito didn’t end up burning the place down! I have frequent fears that I left my hair straightener on and I’ll get a call at work I’d burned the apartment to the ground.

      Sounds like you have a good situation worked out with your tenants. I’m grateful I’ve never had a mooch roommate. It would be so stressful!

  11. I was lucky to always have good roommates. We did sometimes pay different amounts for different rooms, but it was all very open and agreed upon before the rooms were actually picked. Food and utilities we pretty much just split down the middle. But I’ve heard plenty of nightmare roommate stories and it can definitely get ugly.

    1. The only real issue I had was a boyfriend who was always around first semester freshman year of college. But then my roommate broke up with him and the problem was over! Finance wise I’ve always had an easy time, thank goodness.

  12. One of my college roommates always brought back Taco Bell to the dorm when he was drunk so that worked out pretty well, but on the other hand he snored like crazy whenever he drank also so I guess it cancelled itself out.

    Another enjoyed having very deep discussions when he was high.

    I only lived with roommates in a house for around a year, and that worked out pretty well. Foosball tournaments, fierce Mario Kart battles, etc. Good times…

    1. My roommate and I love spiked milkshakes and trashy TV nights.

      I did have a friend ask if she could have her bday party at my place because my apartment is much larger than her’s. The next day she didn’t offer to help clean up, but did ask to come collect all the leftover alcohol. I say NO WAY we could split it in payment for me hosting.

  13. I cannot even imagine having a roommate who stopped paying rent! That is crazy! And quite frankly I would probably be more concerned that I was living with a mentally imbalanced person who thought this was acceptable than the missing rent money. Communication and agreements in writing are critical for roommate situations. It’s kind of like a prenup. It’s better to hash everything out at the beginning while you still like each other, then deal with issues down the road when the relationship has deteriorated.

    1. Agreed! We made decisions right away about costs of utilities and about decided to cut cable and just using the internet/stream shows on Hulu and such.

  14. I’ve definitely been lucky financially with all of my roommates. Everyone has always paid everything they owed, but I’ve had some total whack jobs as roommate before. Most notably was the voodoo practitioner who would sacrifice chickens in our bathroom and leave feathers clogging the drain. Yup. That happened. In an entirely different apartment, a roommate made us have an exorcism. At least she footed the bill. So… I’m happy to live on my own for awhile.

    1. I can’t even….those are both such extreme circumstances! How did you possibly encounter both?! Sound like some great fodder for future posts. Luckily, only the long-locks of women’s hair is what clogs my bathroom drain.

  15. I haven’t had a roommate since college where we shared a house. One guy would drink the beer that a few of us chipped in for, but never chip in. One time he said, “Thanks guys, I’d buy you guys pizza, but I don’t have any money!” Umm…I guess it’s the thought that counts right? It was a bunch of guys and the kitchen was a mess, and one person had a brilliant idea to split the kitchen cleaning chores. No thanks…that was back when I never cooked. I ate on campus, ordered take out or used the microwave…so I’m not washing your dishes!

    1. I have a friend that’s like that with never picking up the tap or always “forgetting” about tax & tip when splitting a dinner bill. Obnoxious. And agreed about not washing other people’s dishes. My roommate and I just do our own, no biggie. But if there were 4 roommates that would stack up pretty quickly.

  16. We rent out a room in our house and handle all the payments directly ourselves. Then we can just settle up with the renter afterwards. It covers most of the bases, except for overuse of the utilities. In general, I think things even out in the end, and luckily the utility bills are low enough that it’s not a big deal. Plus, the cost savings from splitting flat rate things like cable & internet are big enough to cover the fact that our renter likes to take long hot showers. 😉

    1. I do love that I don’t have to pay for hot water and probably take a little advantage of that fact as a renter! Does your renter have separate quarters for a kitchen and such or is it okay to have them share space with you?

  17. Our college apartment was pretty easy. One of them had contracts for each roommate. If you didn’t pay your portion, they just came to you, not your roommates. Other than that, I usually had the bills in my name and would go collect when I needed it.

  18. Hey! Zoe from Splitwise here. Came to the site after seeing your Tweets. Really nice stuff!

    Wanted to let you know that we have a calculator to help roomies split the rent fairly in the case of the bedrooms being not of equal quality. Here it is:

    Seems like you and your roommate have a good system for keeping track of your shared expenses, but if you ever get tired of the fridge/mental math system, definitely give our app a try!

    Feel free to get in touch with any feedback on the products! Cheers and good luck!

  19. This post really hits home for me right now. I moved in with roommates who were (and I guess still are) close friends. Our biggest issues are food and dishes. Polite conversation never seems to make anything better, either. It does take a toll on you when you buy things like milk, eggs, olive oil, bread, etc every week that your roommates use freely and never replace. Thanks for posting!

    1. That must be so frustrating. It might save your friendship in the long run to become just friends and not roommates. I’ve seen awful rifts occur between friends once they lived together. Or hopefully she just starts paying you back!

  20. I’ve never been one for roommates, but did have some in college. We we’re all great friends, and knew the owner of the home, so it worked out, but even between us there we’re still issues- food, temperature of the house, leaving the house unlocked, etc. I much prefer living alone. I can’t imagine the situation your coworker found herself in. Like you said, open communication is key. Same thing applies with my current roommate, who also happens to be my wife…

    1. Ah, the passive-aggressive dishes dance! A common conundrum. My roommate and I don’t label, just split the fridge right down the middle. Plus, she’s all about takeout so it’s easy to tell my food from hers.

  21. When I lived in NYC, my roommate had a “friend” staying in the living room for “one month”. That living room was never available for use because it was being rented out, and my rent was not lowered. So there was not ONE common space aside from the small kitchen. One of my roommates I literally would not have known if I saw her, as I literally never saw her. We worked opposite schedules, and always kept our doors closed. The landlord would leave passive-aggressive notes on the bathroom mirror. I got out after 6 mo and got in a much better situation. It cost me a little money, but gave me my sanity!

    1. Living in toxic situations are always worth getting out of, even if it costs you a little extra. Sorry you had to go through that experience!

  22. OMG yes! A friend of mine had to lend money to her flatmate because he was unemployed for a long time. I was confused as I just didn’t understand why that was her responsiblility! I think it’s important you agree with your landlord to keep you out of finding the right roommates, I think it should be their job. As long as you pay your rent, you should be able to stay where you are.

    Ugh. Just makes me angry.

    1. I agree with you, but in my co-worker’s case, her name wasn’t even on the lease. It happens a lot in NYC. And if your name isn’t on the lease then you have no legal rights. I’m glad my Dad insisted I find a place that would have my roommate and I co-sign.

  23. One of the reasons that I am happy that I found my wifey is that she is an awesome room mate 🙂

    That said, I am happy I don’t have to deal with this type of drama any more. Like many things in life, you just have to work out a nice system that works for everyone involved. It sounds like you and your roomie are doing it right.

    1. We’ve never had any arguments over money (or really anything else) so it’s a very peaceful living arrangement. I’m incredibly grateful for it too!

  24. The only roommate I’ve ever had is my boyfriend so I’ve never had any financial issues. But I’ve heard horror stories from friends. I don’t think I could ever share an apartment with someone I didn’t know and trust them already. It can be such a huge risk.

    1. We’re total opposites, Connie! 🙂 I’ve told Peach many times that I’m just not ready to co-habitat with a boyfriend. I love my space too much and couldn’t imagine having someone in my actual room.

  25. I wound up out nearly $1000 in bills and back rent and damage by a former flatmate. Never again.

    I recall once overhearing a coworker on the phone to what must have been her landlord trying to sort out her rent. Apparently there were a handful of instances over the past year when her rent hadn’t gone out as usual. I found it so weird that neither her nor the LL would have noticed at the time, I would as a LL take action right away, and personally I would know if my rent hadn’t been paid!

  26. PS – didn’t do anything about it. Blood from a stone (he’s not regularly employed) and all that. He kept saying he would start paying me back and never did. Wrote it off, tried to forget about it and put it out of my mind because thinking about it riles me up.

    1. Sorry I dredged up a nasty memory! Unfortunately, I think it isn’t worth the time and money to try and get $1000 or so from a person in court. The only folks who seem to effectively get their money back are loansharks who have certain…abilities…shall we say!

  27. My best friend from college was my college roommate. We met freshman year (because we were roommates) and stayed roommates for 4 years. We joke now if we lived in the same city we’d still be roommates despite the fact she has a husband and kids. My grad school roommate was pretty great too. We got along well and for the most part (aside from her eating me food) had no problems. I guess I’ve been really lucky!

    1. Yeah! That is really lucky. I’ve never actually lived with a best friend, but sometimes I think I prefer not to so then if I’m cranky and get anti-social no one gets offended. My roommate and I are close now, but she doesn’t get upset if I just don’t feel like chilling together and vice-versa.

  28. Oh man – my roommates just ditched us on a weeks notice last month.

    I’ve never been happier to have to find an extra $550 a month! Things started off wonderfully for the four of us when we began living together last January – but things started turning south around summertime an gradually got worse until, upon their announcement (I’m not proud of this) I actually cackled with glee.

    It was a really good choice for last year to have roommates – my husband was in school so it allowed us to afford a comfortable home and lifestyle – but man, am I glad it’s over! And we never have to smell vegan cheese frying again!

    1. Vegan cheese?! What the heck does that smell like?

      Will you plan to rent out a room again or just forgo to extra $550?

      1. Frying, vegan cheese smells sort of like rubber burning. Edible rubber. (I know people swear by it – but I just can’t wrap my head around it.)

        And no – we’re going to forgo the extra $550. It sounds like a lot of money – but I’ve discovered a lot of things that that amount of money is worth to me right now. (Add this all up, I feel like I’m earning money by not having room-mates.)

        Being able to have guests over without clearing it with someone.

        Being able to use the common areas of the house after 9pm without someone grumbling at you.

        Being too lazy to do the dishes immediately after a meal once in awhile – and that being just fine.

        Knowing no one can hear you when you want little romantic time with your partner.

        Almost never having to wait for the bathroom.

        No arguments about utilities, bills, who owes what etc.

        There are dozens of little things. I need a breather from room-mates, but it’s not totally out of the question for the rest of the future. I think there are a lot of times having room-mates makes sense, but now is just not one of them for me.

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