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Finding a Roommate Safely

Knowing more about a potential roommate, whether it is their character or their financial situation, can save you from frustration before cohabitation begins.
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If you're sharing your home with a roommate or are in the market for one, you need to think about more than whether your personalities will mesh. Knowing more about a potential roommate, whether it is their character or their financial situation, can save you from frustration before cohabitation begins.

Ask Around
Chances are you, your friends or a coworker knows someone looking for a roommate. Tapping into your network, whether it's your business or personal network, can be a solid way to get leads on a roommate. Don't be afraid to ask your friends for character references. After all, you will potentially be living with this person for a while.

Check Classifieds
Whether it's the back page of your local newspaper or the housing section on Craigslist, checking the classifieds can yield a lot of potential roommates, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It's never bad to have a lot of options, but you should thoroughly interview and screen all potential candidates before signing any agreement. When you interview candidates, have a family member or friend present. This is a smart practice not only for safety reasons, but also so that you can get a second, objective opinion. The sooner you start scanning the classifieds, the better. It's likely that you'll run through many duds before you find a good roommate.

Use a Roommate Service
A roommate service can be a great way to find an ideal living situation to fit your needs. Whether you are just beginning your search for a new living situation or already have an apartment, roommate services, both online and offline, can help connect potential roommates.

Think of a roommate service like you would an online dating site. You create a profile that lists what you want and don't want in a potential roommate. Looking through a vast database of potential roommates, you can pick and choose ones who fit your criteria.

Background Checks
You may be renting out a room of a home you own or co-renting an apartment, but in either case, you should seriously consider running a background check on your potential roommate. Don't be won over by an applicant's smile and charming personality. Performing a background check will alert you to problems that can be easily hidden during an interview.

Investigate Your Roommate's Financial Past
To find out more about your potential roommate's financial background, take these steps:

  • Get proof of employment. Ask the potential roommate for check stubs as proof of employment and salary.
  • Ask for a recent credit check. Each year, you are eligible for a free copy of your credit report from each of the three national consumer-reporting agencies. These reports show whether your potential roommate pays bills on time and has filed for bankruptcy, and even whether they have been sued or arrested. Credit reports are available at
  • Get references. Past landlords and roommates will paint a picture of your potential roommate's ability to pay bills on time. Experts suggest calling not only your applicant's current landlord, but also the one who came before -- the current landlord may be eager to get rid of a tenant who is late with the rent.

Aside from issues with rent, take the time to ask any roommates about other examples of the applicant's ability to be responsible. Does she pay the cable bill on time? Does he wash the dishes before last night's dinner hardens on the plates?

Assess Shared Liability
When you sign a lease with someone, you typically become co-tenants with "joint and several liability." Basically, you guarantee your roommate's financial responsibility to the landlord. If your roommate refuses to pay the rent, you can be on the hook for the entire amount.

If you're renting out a bedroom in your house, you won't answer to a landlord. The brunt of the financial burden will fall on your shoulders, at least immediately. If your renter skips town without paying the utilities, you may be able to sue in small-claims court later, but you will need to pay the bill now to keep the lights on.

Put It in Writing
Once you've chosen a roommate, write an agreement that determines how the rent, security deposit and other common bills will be shared. These may be split equally or be based on the amount of living space for each tenant. And if you've lived in an apartment for years already, don't ask your new roommate to shoulder half the cost of the security deposit. They shouldn't be expected to pay for any damages you've already caused.

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