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.
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?
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!
OPEN COMMUNICATION IS KEY
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.