Many students have their first long-term roommate when they leave their parent’s house and head to college. Some may have experienced living with roommates over the length of a summer internship or monthlong summer camp, but it’s not the same as living with someone for a year or longer. If living in the dorms isn’t in your future and you’re hoping to share the cost of an apartment with someone else, there are a few ways you can safely find a roommate in an unfamiliar location. The exact same logic applies to students who are graduating and moving away from college. Whether you’re headed to a new city for a job or moving home and don’t want to move back in with mom and dad, the process is the same.
How to Find a Potential Roommate:
1. Room with someone you know. This is the easiest way to find a roommate. If you have a friend who is going to the same school as you, is going to a school in the same town as you, or is going to live in the same town as you (regardless of their student status), ask if he or she is interested in living with a roommate. You may know someone who has already graduated but is sticking around or someone a couple of years older than you looking to get off campus. These people are going to be the ones you already know and trust, and once you’ve decided to live together, you can begin your apartment search.
2. Ask the audience. You may not have any local friends, but your friends and family might have local acquaintances whom you’ve never met. Talk to your parents about your new city. Do they have any friends their age who live there? Can those friends point you in the direction of someone looking for a roommate? Your friends and your friends’ parents may also have the answers you’re looking for. Even if no one knows anyone looking for housing, you may still be able to get good tips on what part of town has the best apartments and whether public transit is worth a shot. If you’re okay with going public about where you’re headed, make a Facebook post or ask for advice on Twitter or Reddit. The more information you have going in, the better.
3. List yourself on your college’s website. Whether you’re an incoming or current student or an alumnus, your school likely has a housing or message board where you can advertise yourself. Again, even if you don’t find a roommate, you may get some great advice.
4. Use an online roommate matching service. This is where you start branching out from your personal network. There are many websites (www.easyroommate.com, www.roommates.com, and www.roomster.com included) that act as classifieds for people who are searching for housing or who are hoping to rent out their homes. These sites generally have free and paid access, depending on what privileges you want; emailing those with free access generally requires paid access, but emailing those with paid access doesn’t require payment. Ads are often moderated by real people, meaning you probably won’t end up with someone super creepy. You should follow the steps for how to vet a potential roommate listed below to make sure.
5. Turn to Craigslist. Craigslist is a microcosm of the internet, but it reflects the internet as a whole. There are plenty of hardworking, normal people who make and respond to posts every day. There are also scam artists, predators, and people who are just plain mean. It is possible to find a roommate on Craigslist, but you should take every precaution for your personal safety, the safety of your belongings, and the safety of your bank account.
How to Vet a Potential Roommate:
1. Meet with a potential roommate in person before making any decisions. Interviews are going to be your best friend, whether they’re formal or informal. You can only learn so much about a person by the way they express themselves over email. Granted, if someone is already being disrespectful or rude, you don’t have to give him or her the time of day; send a message saying that you’re sorry, and move on. If you’re okay with your potential roommate’s tone and what you’ve learned about him or her already, you should propose meeting in person. This should take place in a public area (coffee shops are great) and you shouldn’t feel like you have to go alone. For safety’s sake, having someone else with you, whether they’re at your table or sitting nearby, is a great idea. Trust your gut when you meet your potential roommate face-to-face.
2. Do some digging. So, the informal interview went well; that’s a great start! There’s still plenty more to learn about your potential roommate though. While you could elect to use an online background check service, you can also do some digging yourself. Google the person’s name and scroll through their social media feeds (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.) to learn more about him or her.
- If you want to know about possible arrests and/or convictions, you’re going to have to put in a bit more effort. Most court records are public, but you’ll have to search through court records for every state where the person has lived. You could go even further and look up court records from their previous cities. This website has links to all of the state courts.
3. Ask about their credit. As a roommate, you can’t request a credit report from any of the credit bureaus, but you could ask your potential roommates for one. It’s as simple as asking them to disclose their credit scores—most banks nowadays publish credit scores on an individual’s credit card account page for free. A high credit score indicates that your potential roommate hasn’t missed many payments in the past and has frequently made payments on time. A low score may indicate that your potential roommate could leave you high and dry; pass on anyone with a low score unless you are okay with the possibility of being liable for all of the rent for the duration of the lease.
- Some young people won’t have credit scores since having a credit score is dependent on having a credit history. If an individual has used a debit card their whole life, doesn’t have a credit card, and doesn’t have any loans, they will not have a credit score. You could ask for proof of savings, but that’s getting a little bit personal. Instead, ask for references and proof of employment.
4. Ask for references. No, don’t allow your potential roommate to give you a reference from their friend or parent, but specify that you want references or phone numbers from previous landlords and/or roommates. You want to know if this person is reliable and if you’ll live well together, so people who have interacted with him or her with regards to housing before are going to be your best bet for truthful answers.
- If a student has lived on campus in a single for the duration of their college career, they may not be able to provide landlord or roommate references. Ask for a reference from their RA instead.
5. Get proof of employment. You want to know that your potential roommate has enough income to pay their portion of the rent and utility bills. If they’re employed, there’s a better chance that they can make all of their payments on time. However, don’t turn down other students. Just because someone only makes money through work-study doesn’t mean that he or she hasn’t budgeted for housing. Students make deals with their parents all the time, as well as receive financial aid and take out loans. Plus, you may be a student without a steady or high income stream too.
What you will do once you’ve chosen someone is a little bit different based on whether you’ve already signed a lease yourself or are hoping to cosign a lease with your new roommate. If you’ve already signed a lease with a landlord or property management company, you need to get their explicit approval to add someone else. This may involve your potential roommate going through another background check and credit check (which wouldn’t affect you). If the results aren’t satisfactory to your landlord, though, you’re out of luck and have to start over. If you are hoping to cosign a lease with your new roommate, it’s likely that both of you are going to have to go through background and credit checks. If both of you are cleared, you’re good to go.
When two (or more) people sign a lease together, they are jointly liable for rent, the security deposit, and sometimes a pet deposit. It may not specify in the lease that you are paying 50% of the rent and your roommate is paying the other 50%. It certainly doesn’t cover extra utilities, like the internet or cable. These are costs that you are going to have to work out between yourselves. If you get the bigger bedroom, you may decide that you should pay 60% of the rent, but split utilities down the middle with your roomie. It’s up to you and your new roommate. Whatever you decide, you need to put it in writing. Instead of arguing about it later, you can just reference the document that you both signed. It is also helpful to have this in writing if—perish the thought—you have to go to small claims court later on.
Chances are, everything will go smoothly, but you want to be sure that you are covered in case it doesn’t. Rent an apartment well within your price range, try to keep an emergency fund in the bank just in case something were to happen, and exhaust all options before rooming with a complete stranger.