Beware the troublesome roommate

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Sharing a flat has many advantages but in order to ensure that things don’t turn sour, it’s important to set ground rules at the outset.

On the face of things sharing a flat or a house is a great idea. You divide the costs associated with the property and you avoid the various security issues linked with living alone.

There can however be downsides to a sharing and it's sensible to get a few basics sorted before your roommate moves in.

The lease

Firstly, it's important for your landlord to know who is occupying the property and for this reason it may be a good idea to get the roommate to co-sign the lease. If this is not possible, or if the lease already exists, you will want to have two basic things in place: 1) the landlord’s permission to have another person living on the premises and 2) a signed undertaking by the roommate that they will abide by the terms and conditions of the lease. In other words, they will agree to keep noise levels down and act in a manner acceptable to all involved.

Secure a deposit

It is highly recommended that some sort of deposit is secured, even if the roommate’s name doesn't appear on the lease. In this instance it should be made clear in the undertaking that has been signed that the roommate’s portion of the deposit will be returned if and when the landlord pays it back.


Some expenses such as electricity, water and the Internet (if you have a fixed line) will remain fairly static during the period of the lease. It's always a good idea to sit down and work out shared expenses before the roommate moves in so that there can be no argument as to who owes what when the bills start rolling in.

Another issue that often crops up is who pays for items needed for the day to day running of the household. Cleaning materials, toilet paper and the like need to be factored in and paid for and it's often a good idea to have some sort of kitty that will cover the costs of these goods.


Communication, as always, is vital and while it’s important to discuss any financial matters before the roommate moves in, it's also wise to set and discuss the ground rules. It's often the small things that irritate the most and having a roommate who eats your food, uses your deodorant or insists on splashing your very expensive bath oil into their bath without asking is going to cause problems. Boundaries have to be put in place before the roommate moves in and if niggles crop up down the line, these need to be tackled head-on and resolved as quickly as possible.

Remember that if your name is on the lease and your roommate misbehaves, you will be the one who will bear the brunt of the landlord - or if you are renting an apartment, body corporate's - wrath. Getting evicted through no fault of your own is probably going to have consequences going forward when it comes to leasing another home mainly because any rental agent worth his salt does thorough background checks to ensure that they are housing a tenant of the right calibre. Likewise, being dumped and left with large utility bills or losing a deposit because of damage caused by a third party is going to hurt and could well affect your ability to rent another property in the short term.

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