How to Screen Roommates So You Don’t End Up in a Financial Disaster
Getting a roommate (or roommates) is a money move that can significantly reduce your housing expenses.
However, living with someone who’s not a good fit can be disastrous. You could be a victim of theft (stealing food counts!), be left on the hook for their share of bills or even face eviction.
One of the best things you can do before signing a lease with someone is to take the time to vet your potential roommate — yes, even if it’s your cousin, coworker or BFF. No matter how close you are, living together and sharing financial obligations is a whole different ball game.
Unsure of what questions to ask potential roommates? We’ve got you covered.
11 Money Questions to Ask Potential Roommates
Taking on a roommate is usually a financial decision. If you can’t afford to live on your own, getting a roommate is a natural choice.
You want to make sure your financial ethics and the way you manage money is somewhat in sync with your roomie. So sit down together — think: relaxed conversation not rigid interrogation — and go through these screening questions to ask your potential roommate.
1. How Much Can You Afford to Spend on Housing?
This is one of the questions you’ll want to get out of the way first to make sure your roomie can afford to pay their half of the bills.
Experts say you shouldn’t spend more than 30% of your income on housing. Your landlord will probably use a similar budget percentage when reviewing your rental application. If your potential roommate doesn’t feel comfortable sharing salary information with you, know that it’ll come up when applying for a place — and you don’t want to lose out on your application fee because you collectively don’t make enough to qualify.
Keep in mind that having sufficient income doesn’t guarantee your roommate can afford the rent. A large debt load and other financial obligations could be barriers. So chatting about what they can comfortably afford is important. Don’t forget to factor in the costs of utilities, too.
Opt for a month-to-month arrangement if you have your doubts about your roommate’s ability to pay. You can test the waters this way without making a 12-month commitment.
2. Do You Have a Stable Job History?
Nothing’s worse than having to shoulder all the expenses after your roommate loses a job two months into a 12-month lease. Though you can’t predict an unexpected layoff, a glimpse into your potential roomie’s job history can be revealing.
Chronic job hopping or frequent periods of unemployment are red flags. Working in a struggling industry or for a company that has been downsizing can also be of concern.
3. How Do You Want to Split the Bills?
How you split shared expenses is something you’ll want to square away ASAP.
Mark Bauer, a law professor at Stetson University, told The Penny Hoarder he recommends that each roommate puts their name on all shared bills. That way, you aren’t just taking your roommate’s word that utilities are getting paid — and you won’t be left with the power shut off if your roommate suddenly moves out.
Money-sharing apps like Venmo and PayPal make it easy to transfer money between individuals.
Select a date at least a week prior to a bill’s due date as the day each roommate needs to have their share, so you won’t be scrambling to get the money together at the last minute.
You’ll also want to discuss whether you’ll split everything 50/50 or come up with another arrangement. Will the person with the big master bedroom pay more in rent?
4. What’s Your Credit Score (or Credit Score Range)?
If your potential roommates are overburdened with debt and don’t pay their bills on time, their credit scores will reflect that. That’s why landlords often run credit checks before approving rental applications.
Knowing your roomie’s credit score — or credit score range — will help you determine whether they’re fiscally responsible or if you should say no to living together.
5. What Do (and Don’t) You Feel Comfortable Sharing?
It’s good to set some ground rules about what you and your roommate consider shared property and what is off limits. This includes furniture, appliances, household supplies and food staples.
Sharing items can help you save money. (You really don’t need two vacuum cleaners in one apartment.) However, disagreements start when everyone’s not on the same page about what belongs to whom.
Don’t just ask your potential roommates about what they’re comfortable with sharing. You need to make sure they’re fine with respecting your wishes as well — before you get into an argument about who drank the last of your juice.
If you and your roommate plan to split the cost of communal products (like paper towels and dish washing liquid), save your receipts so you can get reimbursed later.
Establish monthly budget meetings with your roommate to discuss spending limits for shared expenses and plans for paying bills.
6. Do You Have a Pet?
If you or your roommate has a pet (or plans on getting one), choosing a pet-friendly rental is key. You’ll likely be charged an additional deposit or monthly fee (which should fall to whoever’s the owner).
Discuss pet ownership before moving in together in case one party has allergies or a serious dislike (or fear) of certain animals. It’s also important to establish ground rules, like not leaving the front door open or not feeding Fido table scraps.
7. How Often Do You Expect to Have Guests Over?
If you prefer a quiet home, you won’t want to live with someone who has a bunch of people over every other day. Beyond your personal comfort level, your potential roommate’s answer to this question can affect your finances.
If your roommate has frequent guests who use up additional electricity and water, your utility bills will be higher. If your roommate’s significant other is always staying the night, you may want to ask them to pay a larger share of the bills.
8. What Temperature Do You Prefer the Thermostat to Be Set On?
Does your roommate like to blast the A/C in the summer and crank up the heat in the winter? The temperature you set your thermostat will affect your utility bills.
Avoid the thermostat wars. Being in agreement about the indoor temp can keep your costs as expected and will also keep both roommates feeling comfortable.
9. What Do You Do For Transportation?
How your roommate gets around town could affect your shared living situation. Some apartment complexes charge for parking spaces. If only one spot is included with the rental and you both have cars, it’s only fair to split the cost for a second spot.
If your roommate relies on public transportation to get around, this could limit where you live. And housing near a bus route or train station may be pricier than other options.
If you and your roommate work near each other and have similar schedules, you may consider carpooling as a way to save money.
10. Do You Plan to Do Any Alterations to the Apartment?
Painting walls and nailing up artwork without your landlord’s approval will generally result in fines at move out — unless you’re really good at returning everything back to move-in condition.
Temporary wallpaper and peel-and-stick wall hooks are alternatives that don’t cause permanent damage. If your roommate insists on decor that’s more long-lasting, however, prepare to face financial consequences.
11. Do You Smoke?
Cigarette smoke tends to really set into furniture, carpet and even walls. If your roommate smokes indoors, your landlord may hit you both with high cleaning fees when it’s time to move out.
4 Other Questions to Ask Potential Roommates
Financial compatibility isn’t the only indicator of whether someone would be a good roommate match. Living with someone who pays the bills on time but is a nightmare in other aspects may lead you wanting to break the lease. When considering sharing a home together, here are four other questions to address.
1. How Often Do You Clean?
They say opposites attract, but if you’re a neat freak and your roommate is a slob, chances are things aren’t going to go well.
Chat with your roommate about what level of cleanliness they prefer and how often they plan to chip in on cleaning duties. Visiting their current place will show the reality beyond their claims.
2. What’s Your Daily Schedule Like?
Some people prefer being on approximately the same schedule as their roommate while others like working opposite schedules so they have more alone time at home.
Is your potential roommate an early bird or night owl? Will they work from home and require quiet during the day? Will you both need to be in the kitchen at the same time in the evening?
Discussing your daily schedules can also help you sneak in the awkward question about personal hygiene. It stinks (pun intended) getting stuck with a roommate who barely ever showers. Asking whether your potential roommate takes morning or evening showers is an inconspicuous way to broach the subject.
3. What’s Your Preferred Method of Communication?
Even the best of friends can have different communication styles. You can avoid awkward conversations or tense blow-ups by knowing how your roommate communicates best.
If your roommate prefers face-to-face discussions, sending a text about the mess in the living room can be seen as passive aggressive. But someone who’s uncomfortable with direct confrontation may appreciate that text.
4. Could I Talk to One of Your Previous Roommates?
Speaking to someone your potential roommate used to live with can help you finalize your decision. Ask about their history of paying bills and how they got along.
Ideally, this person will confirm the conclusions you’ve already come to after asking all the other screening questions, but watch out for any red flags.
Additional Roommate-Related Precautions
After checking off these questions to ask potential roommates, you’ll have a better idea if you have a good match or if you’d be better off finding someone else.
Even if you think you’ve found a great roomie, protect yourself (and your finances) further with the following:
Write up and sign a roommate agreement that outlines financial responsibilities, ground rules and other expectations.
Use credit monitoring to make sure no one takes your personal information to open lines of credit in your name.
Get renters insurance to protect your belongings from damage or theft.
Finding the right person to live with does involve some work, but in the best case scenario, you end up with a new friend who helps you slash your living expenses.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.