Roommate issues can lead to tough decisions for tenants

Roommates are something all students can look forward to in the residence halls. Although the cramped space and personal issues can make living with a roommate a struggle for some, the issues that come with having roommates in an apartment are often of a different breed.

“If your roommate doesn’t pay rent in the residence halls, it isn’t your problem. But in an apartment, it is … It’s like being married in terms of the lease,” said Esther Patt, coordinator of the Tenant Union.

Rent issues are the biggest problem Patt sees among roommates in apartments.

Issues can arise when a roommate suddenly leaves and does not return to school, graduates mid-year or drops out, or leaves for the summer, Patt said.

“Roommates can’t evict each other. If they don’t pay their rent and the other roommates don’t pick up the share, it will go on your credit record, which makes it hard to find even a bad landlord who will rent to you,” Patt said.

Picking an apartment roommate that is easy to get along with is not always the most important consideration, Patt said.

“You have to think more than, ‘Do we get along?’ You have to think about them as roommates. Do you trust them?” she said.

For those who do find themselves in a situation where a roommate is not paying their share of rent, solutions can be limited. Many students come to the Tenant Union planning to sue their roommate for non-payment, Patt said.

“That isn’t really going to happen. You’ll be evicted or move out anyway before the case is ever even heard,” she said.

Students planning to study abroad often find themselves in a difficult leasing situation, Patt added. They might not know when they will be studying abroad ­— or if they even will — when they sign a lease.

The solution Patt most often sees the other roommates employing is usually not the best one.

“Say a roommate goes to study abroad in the spring. The other roommates often just assume they’ll find a friend to sublease their spot, but their friends will already have a place. You’re going to get a stranger,” Patt said.

Other, more viable, solutions include renting a cheaper apartment so that the remaining roommates can afford to split the missing roommates share of rent, if they wish.

What happens when roommates stop getting along before they even move in together? Much of the blame here falls on signing a lease early in the year, Patt said, along with not taking real estate contracts seriously.

“We get calls as early as November, but especially January through July, from people saying they don’t want to live with their roommates anymore,” she said.

In this case, the first issue of concern is how bad the situation really is, Patt said. This is largely because there are no quick and easy solutions. If the situation is truly bad, the other roommates can try to sublet the space. If the apartment is small enough — especially two bedrooms — it can be easier to simply sublet the whole apartment, Patt said.

Problems can also arise when just one roommate in a group takes charge of the whole process.

Patt told the story of a student that leased a four-bedroom apartment by herself, expecting the other roommates to go in the next day to sign the lease. However, they dropped out — that night. The original roommate was stuck with the apartment because of the binding lease.

“People will sign for a place and then find people to live in it. It needs to be the other way around,” Patt said.

For some students, the solution is simple. Live alone.

“You have your own space. I keep a strange schedule, so I don’t have to worry about waking people up,” said Adrian Mustain, a recent graduate. “Trying to live with a friend could strain our relationship, and a random roommate could be a slob or end up not paying rent.”