Roommate survival guide

Good roommates can agree that ground rules need to be established so that everyone can get along.

Mélanie Larouche | Journalist

Living with a roommate is a great way to enjoy your independence and save some cash at the same time. For most, rooming with someone can be a memorable and enriching experience--unless you don't follow some basic rules.

With the start of the school year right around the corner, it seems like the perfect time to share this short roommate survival guide. 

Choose your roommate wisely
If you're moving in with a girlfriend or boyfriend, you've probably already given the matter a great deal of thought. There's still a chance things may go south, but it's usually a well-calculated risk. But if you're moving in with anybody else, you need to seriously consider your options. 

6 things you should know about your roommate before signing the lease:
1. Income
2. Occupation
3. If they're smokers
4. If they have any pets
5. Their lifestyle
6. Their values

You and your roommates will all be responsible for paying rent and fulfilling tenant obligations. You will also share a certain amount of personal space with them for the next year--or longer. So it's a decision you need to think about long and hard.

Legal implications
  1. If you have a lease with joint liability, this means that all the co-tenants are only responsible for their own share of the rent. 
  2. If you sign a lease with solidary liability, all co-tenants are responsible for the entirety of the rent. A special clause needs to be added in the lease. This means that if one of the co-tenants doesn't pay rent one month, the other co-tenants are responsible for covering that person's share. Note that married or common-law couples are always under solidary obligation.
  3. You can usually sublet or transfer your tenancy as long as you've informed the landlord and given them the new tenant's contact information.
Splitting costs fairly
Splitting costs with your roommates can be tricky. Agree early on how you're going to split rent and other costs, like electricity and internet. For example, some roommates split certain expenses based on the size of their rooms--particularly when one is significantly larger than the others. 

Covering groceries
Groceries are also a major consideration when drawing up a shared budget. You all have to eat, so you need to think about what works best for everyone. 

3 tips to keep things chill
1. Have a hands-off section
Each co-tenant should have their own section in the fridge and pantry. It'll make it easier to keep track of the food budget and determine what goes on the grocery list. And this way, you know that you have your own stash of food and drinks, which will make it easier for you to plan your meals. This approach is particularly handy if you or your roommates have food allergies. If you can't divvy up your pantry space effectively, get creative: use post-it notes or different coloured containers to identify what's off limits to your roommates. 
2. Designate a communal shelf 
You live together, so it's likely that you'll sometimes eat together. And why not enjoy each other's company when you can? Having a shared shelf in the fridge and pantry can strengthen ties with your roommates and make your place feel more like a home. Just be sure to have a system that works for everyone--for example, have everyone take a turn buying groceries. 

3. Sharing is caring
Don't waste food that's about to go bad; instead, use it in a family-style meal with your roommates. It'll help you save on food and give you all a chance to catch up.

Tenant insurance may not be mandatory, but it can definitely come in handy. Even if you don't own anything of great value, personal liability coverage--included in property insurance policies--protects the insured from involuntary damages to the property or a person. What's more, you're protected with this type of coverage wherever you go.

Set boundaries
Good roommates can agree that ground rules need to be established so that everyone can get along. Living with someone demands lots of flexibility and compromise, but above all, you need to treat your roommates the way you would like to be treated. 

Household chores, common living spaces and guests can be the cause a lot of problems. Avoid any misunderstandings early on by setting--and respecting--boundaries. 

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