When good roommates (and their food) go bad

My first college roommate was a mess. Our relationship started off fine and we found a great two bedroom apartment about a mile off-campus. It was the first time either of us had lived on our own and we were lucky to have a great leasing agent and property manager to guide us through signing our lease. A few weeks after our move-in date, I realized my new roommate wasn’t terribly clean, but I figured I would be fine picking in the common areas. But when my roommate left for Thanksgiving break, I noticed an unfortunate smell coming from their bedroom. I cracked open the door and the stench smacked me in the face so hard my eyes watered. Did I mention my roommate had a large dog? The bedroom was full of wet dog food cans stacked in pyramids on every available flat surface. There were plates of half eaten food and coffee cups filled with green mold. I was shocked. I wanted to vomit. I wanted to cry. I called my landlord.

My roommate's dog was as cute as he was hairy,

My roommate’s dog was as cute as he was hairy,

Roommate woes are bad news for retention rates

Roommate conflict was the number one reason I chose not to renew my lease at the end of that long, horrible, dog food smeared year. Your resident retention rate is tied to your residents’ ability to feel comfortable and secure in their homes. While well-maintained units, convenient amenities, and good customer service are obvious sources of comfort for residents, the ability to mesh with a roommate can make or break a lease renewal.

Many residents, not just college students, choose to have a roommate to cut cost of living expenses. A tenant with a bad roommate situation is more likely to shirk their legal responsibilities as a lessee, and is unlikely to renew a lease. Arguments between roommates can also be a sign of cleanliness problems and other physical damages that pose risks to your property. While property owners are not legally obligated to intervene in roommate conflicts, there are proactive steps you can take to prevent roommate disputes.

While this is impressive, it's not ideal.

While this is impressive, it’s not ideal.

Be Upfront with Responsibilities

Make sure all co-tenants are aware of the responsibilities that come with sharing a lease. Most college students are in their first few years of living independently and may not be aware of the obligations associated with a rental contract. Other co-tenants may choose to split rental fees unevenly in exchange for child-care, shared meals, or other forms of barter. Carefully outline the specifics of policies that may be slightly different when sharing a lease. Stress that tenants are individually liable for the entirety of the rental rate, not just the share they agreed upon with their roommate. (Student housing that is leased by the room is an exception to this rule.) Property owners can insist that the rent be paid by one check rather than the hassle of collecting multiple checks per property or ask that the rent be paid online via a third party property management software.

Clean Up After the Fact

Roommate tension can arise even after your property is vacated. Refunding a security deposit or issuing a bill for property damages should be straightforward, but a tense roommate situation can make this process difficult. Be upfront and clear with new tenants about how a security deposit will be handled at the end of the lease, whether it will be split or refunded as one check. Make sure subletting policies are clearly stated and everyone involved understands their own liability through the end of the lease agreement.

Passive aggression is a type of communication, right?

Passive aggression is a type of communication, right?

Make Open Communication Easier

While property owners are not required to intervene in disagreements between roommates, you can be proactive during the lease signing process and head off potential problems. Include a copy of a sample roommate agreement in the packet of information given to new tenants. These are available online and are highly customizable to your market and ideal tenant. Encouraging your tenants to make an agreement between themselves at the beginning of their occupancy plants a seed of cooperation and mindfulness that can keep small annoyances from blowing up into big problems.

Know When You Should Step In

If a problem between roommates is serious enough to cause maintenance issues or interrupt the quality of life of other tenants, then it may be time to step in. Please check with your local ordinances to find out how to legally resolve roommate disagreements that involve property damage, dangerous or illegal activity.

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