Ahh, roommates. Whether you went through a super elaborate roommate-matching process, are rooming with your BFF from high school or got matched up with someone totally random, it’s always nerve-wracking to think about living with someone for nine whole months. Luckily, there are solutions out there to make the nerves associated with living with a roommate a bit easier, such as a roommate contract. Never heard of it? No problem. HC has you covered with a complete guide to all things contractual, from the pros and cons to making a roommate contract, when a roommate agreement can be useful and hints to help you go about making one.
What’s a roommate contract?
A roommate contract is an agreement (usually a written one) that helps you and your roommate settle on different rules you’ll both follow throughout the year. Most contracts dictate things such as whether or not you can have the lights on super late or super early, pet peeves you both might have and different decisions you and your roommate will have to make regarding your shared space.
Pretty straightforward, right? Roommate contracts can take on numerous forms and are sometimes required for all students living in a dorm. It’s totally up to you (and sometimes your school, dorm and/or RA if an agreement is required) to decide how you want your contract to look, what should be included, whether you want a physical copy or not and who needs to know about it. Even if you don’t plan to write down every single detail of how sharing your tiny space is going to work, contracts can still be helpful. Just looking at sample contracts or different kinds of questions that would appear on such a contract can be a great place to start to discuss how the two of you will handle any issues or situations that could arise throughout the year. Click here to download Her Campus's Sample Roommate Contract.
What should be included?
A good roommate contract should address both of the roommates’ preferences on how the space will be used and general rules for the room. Things to think about including in your roommate contract are:
- Distractions that could interfere with studying (music, TV, friends, etc.)
- “Quiet hours” when you want to catch some zzz’s or study
- How clean the room should be, and regular cleaning times
- When is it okay to have friends over? How many people can be over?
- Rules for anything you two will share in the room (TV, fridge, microwave, etc.)
- When do you need to lock the door? How long can the room be left unlocked?
- Will the door remain open or shut when one or both of you is in the room?
- What happens when a guy comes back to the room? Can you kick one another out?
- Temperature – how cold/hot should the room be? When will windows be open?
- Steps for resolving fights or arguments
- What can you borrow or take from each other’s sides of the room? Food? Clothes?
Need some inspiration? Check out sample contracts students at universities like Case Western Reserve University are expected to fill out, or look at our sample one below. Keep in mind that you and your roommate can make changes throughout the year as well if unexpected conflicts arise. Be sure to discuss them with one another, notify your RA if necessary and make sure each of you gets an updated version of the contract.
Why should I bother writing a roommate contract?
Maybe you’ve started talking to your roommate and you’ve realized you love to stay up late, while she goes to bed so she can get up for a run at 6 a.m. every day. Or maybe you have lots of early classes, while she lucked out and doesn’t get up until at least 11 each day. Whether it’s contrasting schedules, different social lives, unique study habits or just uncertainty about sharing a room, a contract might be a good idea in all these scenarios.
As Shaye Winer, a RA at the Fashion Institute of Technology, points out, roommate contracts, whether they’re loose or structured, can be a great starting place to get to know the person you’re living with a tad better right off the bat. “Roommate contracts start a very in-depth conversation about who the two (or more) of you are and help start a foundation that the roomies can grow from,” says Shaye. “By doing this right away it is easy to avoid aggravating each other’s pet peeves. For example, I hate rap music blasting when I'm studying, and by saying this on the first night, I don't have to awkwardly ask my roomie to turn down her rap music when I'm studying the first week of school because she already knows not to.”
If nothing else, a roommate contract is also a good fallback when a conflict arises and you and your roommate can’t seem to agree on a solution. The solution to what can seem like a challenging dilemma will be all laid out for you, making roomie peace easier to achieve!
Are there downsides to a contract?
A contract can’t serve as a catch-all for any and all problems that could occur throughout the year. Keep in mind that there’s usually nothing in the agreement that “punishes” a roommate that defaults from the agreement, making it easy to break the contract. Bringing up the initial discussion about a contract could also make things awkward straight off the bat if contracts aren’t required in your dorm. Finally, keep in mind that a contract won’t guarantee you’ll get your way. Creating a contract will require compromises from both you and your roommate, so be sure you’re ready to make some sacrifices — both of you deserve to have a comfortable living situation.
I want to make one! How do I explain it to my roommate?
Many schools actually require incoming students living in the dorms to write out an agreement like the ones described above. If you’re not living somewhere that requires roommate agreements but are still interested in writing out one, think about trying one of the following strategies to make bringing up the idea of a contract to your new roomie a little less awkward:
- Send her this article! Use Facebook, Twitter or email to send a link to this HC article with a quick note like, “Saw this the other day and thought it was a good idea. Want to give it a try?”
- Explain what a roommate contract is and why you’re interested in making one by using other schools to provide context. Bring up the idea of a contract and focus on how other schools require it. It must be a necessity at institutions like Case Western Reserve and FIT for a reason, right? By providing examples of where it’s worked, the idea will be easier to sell.
- Wait to bring a contract up until you’ve actually met. Sit down over one of your first lunches or dinners back on campus to see how different the two of you actually are. Both of you have 8 a.m. classes? Maybe a contract won’t be necessary. See what the first few days are like so you have specific examples of things you feel a contract would be helpful towards before suggesting one.
- Emphasize the fact that the contract will benefit both of you. Make sure she knows that you don’t just want to make a roommate agreement to avoid her annoying you, but you also want to make sure you don’t do anything that bugs her.
Do contracts like these actually work?
There’s a reason so many schools require agreements like the ones described above – they’re successful! Says Nicole Gartside from NYU, “Though my roommate and I had no major issues (in fact, we were best friends!), it was always reassuring to know that in case there was ever a conflict, we had a written contract that we could refer back to to clarify what we agreed on in the first place.”
The key, though, is being honest and upfront during the contract creation process. Shaye shares her story:
“As a transfer living in the dorms my first year, I had to make a contract with my roommate. We talked and I told her all of my thoughts, but in turn she wasn't too honest with me,” Shaye says. “She really hated boys in the room and always felt uncomfortable when I brought friends back. She also loved going to bed early, but told me when we were making the contract that she liked to leave the lights on late. This in turn left us hating each other. It's really important to be honest that way you can make sure you are keeping each other happy.”
What happens when my roommate or I break the contract?
Consequences can vary based on whether or not a roommate contract was required, and who oversaw the process. If your RA is aware that you and your roommate have an agreement or if they helped you set it up, let them know and get their help resolving any issues that pop up. Be sure to let them know if you need to make any changes throughout the year as well.
When a roommate contract violation occurs, be honest and upfront about it. If you’re the one that violated it, ask your roommate to sit down and discuss the violation if necessary. If something was damaged or broken, offer to pay some portion of the cost to fix or replace it. If your roommate was the one who violated the agreement, follow the same procedure. Find a time when the two of you can sit down privately and calmly discuss what happened. You can decide if you want to edit or change the contract to prevent a similar problem from occurring again, or if there’s some way to enforce things a bit better.
If a problem or roommate contract violation is super serious, your RA is always a good person to go to, even if they didn’t help you create the agreement. They can help you reach a fair solution and find ways to keep the problem from happening again as well. Enlisting the help of an RA is also a good idea if the same contract violation keeps occurring.
Your dorm should be a place for you to go whenever you need to get away from everything and just relax, roommate contract or no roommate contract. Don’t forget those manners that have been drilled into your head since the days of Barney & Friends, but be sure to speak your mind and share what you’d be okay with and what makes you uncomfortable to make sure your space really is a place you’re proud and happy to call home. After all, they don’t call it dorm sweet dorm for nothing!
Roommate One: ____________________________________
Roommate Two: ____________________________________
Smoking will be allowed in the room: __Yes __No
Drinking will be allowed in the room: __Yes __No __During these specific times:_____________
These hours will be reserved for sleeping: ______________________
When one roommate is sleeping, the other roommate may:
__Listen to music with headphones
__Have guests over
__Use a hairdryer
__Have the lights on
__Have a desk lamp on
These hours will be reserved for study time: ______________________
When one roommate is studying, these background activities may take place:
We will keep our room __Messy __In between __Neat
We will clean the room __Daily __Weekly __Monthly __Other: __________
Our cleaning will include:
__Doing laundry before the basket overflows
__Washing dishes after using them
__Taking out the trash and recycling once a week
__Vacuuming once a week
__Making our beds daily
During these hours a roommate may have friends over: _________________
A roommate may have _____ friends over at once
Overnight guests are allowed: __Yes __No __Only if they are female
Before a roommate has an overnight guest, they will warn the other roommate __days in advance.
How often may a roommate have an overnight guest? ________________________________
Roommate policy on overnight guests (i.e. if it is okay to request that the other roommate leave): ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
List of items that may be shared:
List of items that may NOT be shared:
List of items that may be shared as long as the roommate asks beforehand:
List of items that may be shared as long as the roommate replaces them/returns them as they were found:
The door will be locked:
__When neither roommate is there
__When one roommate is there
__When both roommates are there ?
__At these specific times: ______________________________
We will leave the door open:
__When one person is in the room
__When both of us are in the room
__The door will always be shut
The windows may be open during these times: _______________________
An acceptable temperature range for the room during the day is: ______
An acceptable temperature range for the room during the night is: _______
In the case of an argument, we will: ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
In the case of a violation of this contract, we will: ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Additional items to consider: _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________