Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.
When faced with high rents and low salaries, it’s not uncommon for people to share a living space with a stranger to make ends meet. The internet has greatly facilitated the process of finding someone to live with, but there’s a reason people are wary of “Craigslist roommates” – this type of living arrangement comes with the steep price of the unknown.
Philadelphia resident Alex Miller learned this the hard way when she advertised her spare room on Craigslist. Her new roommate, a lawyer who called himself Jed Creek, wrote a check for the first month’s rent on the spot when they met, and everything went well for the first few weeks. Then, after a string of bizarre incidents, Creek refused to pay the next month’s rent. He cited a cigarette butt in the toilet, which he felt broke “the covenant of quiet enjoyment” promised to him as a co-tenant.
A quick phone number search on Google revealed that Creek’s real name was Jamison Bachman, and that Miller was the latest victim of a man whom New York Magazine dubbed the “worst roommate ever.” Bachman used his knowledge of tenancy law to squat in people’s homes and avoid paying rent, and often countersued his ex-roommates on petty charges when they took him to court.
Bachman got himself arrested after a violent encounter with Miller, who had filed a lawsuit against him. Though he was bailed out, he quickly landed in jail again, where he hung himself prior to the trial.
Trust Your Intuition: Evaluating A Potential Roommate
Because Bachman made Miller an on-the-spot offer, she didn’t get the opportunity to get to know her nightmare roommate before he moved in. If she’d been able to meet with him and have further conversations before accepting his check, her intuition may have alerted her to his troubling quirks and behaviors, and she could have turned him away.
Before you agree to live with anyone you don’t know, it’s important make sure you feel comfortable with them, since you’ll be sharing a living space for the foreseeable future. Arrange to meet them face-to-face so you can get to know each other a bit better before any rent money is exchanged. Much like a first date, you should plan to meet in a safe, public place. Let a trusted contact know where you are so you can ask for a “rescue call” if you start feeling creeped out.
If all goes well, move forward. Prior to move-in, meet up again to discuss your expectations for living together, including personal boundaries and permissions you each feel are fair. Determine when and how rent and utilities will be paid, how long you plan to live together, and how much advanced notice should be given if one of you needs to move out sooner. You may even wish to include a clause about taking legal action if one of you violates these terms.
Once you’ve reached an agreement, draft a formal, written document outlining your discussions, and go with your roommate to sign and notarize it to make it official. LegalTemplates.net offers a free roommate agreement template, personalized to your state of residence.
No roommate is going to be perfect, and you may still have to deal with some annoying personal quirks as you live together. But by getting to know each other beforehand and signing a roommate agreement, you’ll have an out if things go south.