Finding the Perfect Roommate

A reliable roommate can become a friend for life, but a bad roommate can cause a lot of headaches until you evict him. It doesn’t have to be so hard to find someone to share the bills and housework without a lot of drama. There are many tools available now to do a background check for a person’s criminal history or sex offender status, eliminating the worst of the possible candidates.

Roommates can either make life easier by reducing your costs and feeding the cat once in a while or can leave dirty dishes in the sink, show up with an illegal pet, invite strangers to sleep on the couch, and disappear when rent is due.

Establish Priorities

When starting your search first consider your priorities. Are you a person who needs your sleep, or who is particular about people touching your stuff? Think about the things that are likely to drive you crazy, whether it’s someone who sits in front of the television all weekend, or who talks a blue streak when you need alone time, or who smokes weed day and night. Are you compatible when it comes to the temperature of the apartment, the acceptable noise level, and safety issues like locking the door when you leave?

Figure out what it costs to live there, and what impact a roommate will have on those expenses (such as using more hot water and electricity). Frame your interview questions to reflect actual costs: Does the candidate have a source of (legal) income that will cover those expenses? What is he paying for rent now? How far will he travel to work or school, and is it feasible or will he move out quickly when he realizes it isn’t?

Advertise the Space

Some say that the best place to start your search is by telling friends that you’re looking for a roommate. Getting personal recommendations from people you know is a better starting point than strangers answering an online ad. If you trust social media, you may post an ad in a group you’re affiliated with to find a like-minded person. Rather than posting on a giant platform like Craigslist, you may want to narrow the search by trying your alumni network or a paid service such as Roomster that allows you to evaluate your candidates by seeing their social media posts.

Conduct Interviews

Experts suggest weighing potential candidates in a series of interviews and conversations rather than one brief interaction. Your search criteria can change and develop during the process, and you may get a totally different feeling for a person after you’ve met others.

Suggested interview questions include:

  • Do you smoke?
  • What’s your schedule?
  • What do you do on weekends?
  • Are you in a relationship?

Weighing Candidates

Think of finding a roommate like a business decision, and consider candidates as though you’re conducting job interviews. To find someone who’s trustworthy, your basic priorities in a roommate search should be:

  • will the person pay his share of the bills on time;
  • does he have friends who will freeload and drive you crazy;
  • will he respect your possessions and furnishings;
  • is he level-headed about responsibility and division of housework, and
  • how stable is he?

Danger signs include:

  • skipping around from job to job;
  • being evasive about sources of income;
  • obvious signs of poor hygiene;
  • no references from past jobs or housing arrangements;
  • criminal history;
  • negative attitudes toward things you value, whether the school or sleep or veganism;
  • not having a bank account, and
  • hesitating to agree on dividing housework or other costs.

Write out an agreement and get the person to sign it before moving in, making it a contract that could have standing in court if you get stiffed for rent and property damage costs. Get at least a month’s rent as security in case the person runs away to teach English in Thailand partway through your lease. And, maintain the bills in your own name rather than changing the names on the accounts, which sometimes leads to unpleasant surprises when the lights get shut off for nonpayment that was hidden from you

As always, beware of scams such as people who want to wire you money for their first month’s rent or who seem perfect but can’t meet face-to-face before they move in.