You’ve settled into your perfect home. It’s just the right size, it’s located in your ideal neighborhood and it has a great little yard where you can barbecue on the weekends. There’s just one catch: you can’t quite afford it. You need a roommate, and preferably one who will pay their bills and doesn’t come with a jail record.
Finding a roommate might not be a task you’re anxious to start, because even the best possible roommate will come with a few quirks and habits that grate on your nerves. Maybe they will have a habit of standing in front of an open fridge while deciding what they should have for dinner, or they’ll refuse to understand why you find it gross that they put their feet up on the couch pillows.
These aggravations are inevitable, but there’s a big difference between the annoyance that comes with living with another human and the red flags that go up when you find a jail record or indications that your potential roommate may not pay their bills.
Here are some simple steps to find out more about your potential roommate and protect yourself from a bad living situation:
Gather basic information: Begin by asking your potential roommate for a few pieces of information:
Examine whether there might be a jail record: You only need a first and last name to determine if your roommate is on the National Sex Offender Public Website. You can also check local records for crimes and lawsuits. If you find that there’s some evidence of a jail record or a lawsuit, you’ll have to decide what is a deal-breaker.
You can also contact the National Center for State Courts for assistance with getting more information about courts if there’s any indication that your potential roommate has been involved in a lawsuit in the past.
Conduct an interview: Meet your potential roommate for coffee and discuss whether you’d be a good fit for sharing a home. Discuss topics that frequently cause rifts in roommate relationships, such as pets, dating protocols, hosting friends and housekeeping. Watch for clues into their habits. Maybe your potential roommate will never say, “The truth is, I’m a complete slob,” but when she has to dig through her purse for several minutes to find her debit card, that might tell you what you need to know.
Dig deeper: A simple Google search on a person’s name might be helpful, but unless they have a particularly unusual name, you might bring up a dizzying amount of information to sort through that isn’t connected to your roommate.
Try digging on social media for lifestyle indicators. For instance, your roommate may have told you that they’re the quiet type who prefers to read and garden, but their Facebook photos are riddled with party scenes. You may not see this as a reason not to choose them as a roommate (particularly if you’re not so into books yourself), but it can be a bit of a red flag that there may be other areas that your roommate is presenting as slightly different than the reality.
Ask for a credit check: This may seem invasive, but it’s necessary. After all, remember that unless both of your names are on the lease or mortgage, you will be putting yourself at financial risk by taking on a roommate. Check the credit report for signs that there have been money troubles.
Consider how you’ll structure the cost: Think about how much of your home you plan to make available to your roommate. Are they simply renting a room and bath from you, or will they use your kitchen and living areas, plus the outside space?
You may think it’s easier to decide on an all-inclusive monthly rent so you don’t have to hassle with figuring out how much they owe you in utilities each month. When you find out that your roommate pumps up the heat to accommodate their habit of wearing shorts and a tank top in January, you may regret this.
Get it in writing: Draw up a simple roommate agreement to protect both of your interests. It should include the following: