Renting a property can be a great stepping stone before homeownership. Taking the upfront costs of homeownership into account versus renting, it might make financial sense to rent a property, while saving up for a larger down payment on a house.
Looking for a room to rent, or looking for housemates, is a popular way to go when attempting to reduce the personal cost of renting.
While renting a property with others might seem practical at first, there’s always that slight risk of finding ’tenants from hell’!
This can cause obvious problems for both landlords and other tenants/housemates occupying a property. Don’t worry, we’re here to help with a simple guide on navigating this thorny issue.
So, what are some of the practical considerations that need to be taken into account when sharing a rental property?
A tenancy agreement is a legal commitment between the landlord and tenant, and outlines the responsibilities and expectations of each party.
Generally, there are three types of agreements to consider. The first type of agreement is where you sign a lease with a landlord who has given you permission to sublet the other rooms in the house.
This makes you the main tenant, and therefore responsible for the entire property, as well as timely rent payments.
The second type of agreement you could enter into is a joint tenancy agreement, where all housemates renting a particular property are collectively responsible for fulfilling all obligations, like paying rent and maintaining the property.
Last but not least, the landlord can also choose to sign individual tenancy agreements with each person living in the house, making each one responsible for their ‘share’ of the property.
A whole host of clauses can be added to a tenancy agreement, including when and how either party can end the tenancy early, timely rental payments, or maintaining the property in good condition.
It’s always best to understand the type of agreement you’re getting into, and assess the potential risks involved. Remember to engage a lawyer if you’re unsure about any clauses!
Your housemates/roommate can impact your life in more ways than one. Screening and finding the right people that you can get along with is important to help keep the peace.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good idea to live with your best friend. Look out for red flags like messy or unhygienic behaviour, bad money management habits, and whether or not they possess a sense of ownership (yes, even for things they do not own!).
This will give you a clear idea of what to expect from your co-tenants. You can always ask for references from a previous landlord if you’re not sure.
With a friend, you probably know what they’re like, but if you don’t know the people you're renting with, that’s where problems can start!
Cleanliness, considerate behaviour, respecting each other, and paying the bills on time might be obvious facts for most of us.
However, even if you’re renting a place with a group of friends, it's good practice to come up with a set of house rules and have everyone sign it (think: Sheldon Cooper and his roommate agreement, but, toned down a lot more!).
While it might not be a legally binding document, this can be used to show what was agreed upon in the first place, and potentially end disputes.
How To Tackle Disputes If They Emerge?
But what about those of you already stuck in a joint tenancy with a hellish roommate, and are considering ending the agreement?
Whether you are dealing with a stinky, filthy housemate or someone who avoids paying rent, here are some steps that you can take to remedy the situation and safeguard yourself:
1) Get The Facts First
The first thing you want to do is to go over your tenancy agreement to understand where you stand/what your rights are.
This will serve to guide you on your next course of action and how to approach the situation with your housemate or landlord (if it is really serious).
In the case of a joint tenancy, depending on the clauses, chances are if your housemate fails to pay their share of the rent, the landlord can evict both of you.
You also want to ensure that you’re not liable for any major losses or damages to the property under the tenancy agreement.
2) Talk It Out
Be understanding and have a friendly, but serious chat with your housemate to address the issue. Being confrontational can hurt the situation, especially if a few of you are seen to be ganging up on someone.
Be reasonable and address the issue in a constructive way. Come up with an agreement on the house rules and have everyone sign it as a show of commitment.
3) Document Everything
All change takes time, so you'll need to be patient and not expect an overnight miracle. But if things don't change after a reasonable amount of time has passed, start documenting everything as proof that you did your best in attempting to address the situation early on.
Say you notice a pest infestation (cockroaches!) originating from your housemate’s room, and have spoken to them about it many times.
Despite this, things only seem to be getting worse. Keeping a record of conversations and taking pictures or videos, will serve as undisputed evidence of your attempt to address the situation, and shows their actions (or inaction) on the matter.
4) Keep Your Landlord Informed
One of the best things you can do for yourself in this situation is to be straightforward and honest with your landlord.
Be clear and explain what you have done to address the issues with your housemate/roommate directly, and the outcome of the situation.
Provide updates and don't wait for matters to get out of hand before you speak up. It could potentially lead to you being evicted as well!
On the flip side, if you practice good communication, your landlord might appreciate your efforts and possibly decide to draw up a new agreement with you, allowing you to find new tenants.
5) The Final Step!
Not every situation is fixable, which means you need to be prepared and consider what the final step might be.
One option is to speak to your landlord, be honest, and ask for the removal of the housemate/roommate who is causing issues.
That’s not nice, but it might be necessary. Another option is that you remove yourself from the situation instead, accept that you need to move on, and find another property with better housemates (or none!) that offers you a more peaceful life.
It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom when it comes to renting a property, especially with strangers.
Remember to go through your tenancy agreement and understand what it says before signing it. It’s important to remember this is a way to protect you, your housemates, AND your landlord, so it’s a critical step to starting a rental agreement.
Knowing how to find a good housemate is also a huge part of the battle won, so always include a good screening process during your search, especially right now when everything is a little more uncertain.
Ask questions about how they’re handling COVID-19, their usual routines, and what they like to do for fun. This will give you an idea of their level of hygiene, lifestyle habits, and what you can expect from them on a late Friday night.
For maximum peace of mind and to avoid disputes later on, lay down the expectations so everyone is on the same page, and understands the shared responsibility of renting a house.
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