Dear Lifehacker, I’m moving into my first share house with a couple, both of whom have lived in share houses before. They have requested we have a housemate meeting to discuss the division of rent and bills and to establish house rules. That seems sensible, but there are a couple of issues.
Firstly, when it comes to rent division I’ve found Splitwise very handy, but in terms of bill division I haven’t found much advice online. One of the house mates is a fly-in fly-out worker and he only wants to pay bills for the time he is in town. This doesn’t seem fair to me as having him as a housemate means that that space cannot be rented to someone else who would be willing to split bills evenly and when he isn’t on site, he can be at home 24/7 using utilities while the rest of us work.
Secondly, what are some good general rules to establish for a share house? I have no idea what to expect or request when it comes to rules and I don’t want to be walked all over by people who are more experienced with share house living. What should I be prepared for them to ask and what should I be asking for myself?
Picture by Bridget Coila
Share housing is a great way to save money, and often the only option when you’re starting out, but it can be tricky and arguments over money are common. On the first question: there’s absolutely no way the fly-in fly-out worker should be getting a discount. There’s no realistic way to split utility bills based on the weeks that he is there or not there; if he has food in the fridge, then it needs to stay cold even when he isn’t around.
Given that you’re moving in with a couple, that suggestion seems especially dodgy, and (to be blunt) the fact the suggestion is even being made would have me thinking twice about sharing with that particular couple at all. That might not be an option if you’ve already signed a lease, but I’d definitely be keeping a careful eye on the situation.
Having an initial discussion over house rules is an excellent idea, but you should also set a specific time — say a month after moving in — to reassess the rules. Ideas evolve and change based on experience, so it’s good to make it clear to everyone that the rules need regular revision.
In terms of house rules, it will vary a lot depending on the arrangements and individuals. If everyone has a similar attitude, the rules won’t need to be very formal, but that’s a rarity in my experience. Here are some areas to consider.
The lease itself: Ideally, everyone in the house will be a signatory to the lease, rather than some kind of sub-letting arrangement. That ensures that one housemate doesn’t lord it over the others, and also makes everyone equally responsible for paying their share of the rent.
Rent payments: In most cases these days, this will be handled by automatic bank deposit. Make sure everyone knows what the payment dates and amounts are. If you have an old-fashioned landlord who wants cash payments, you’ll need arrangements for that too.
Electricity, water and gas: In the vast majority of cases, these should be split equally amongst everyone. The most likely cause of a dispute will be if someone has an appliance that chews a lot of electricity, such as a bedroom heater. In that case, you might argue for a higher proportion — but make sure the discussion happens ahead of time, not when the bill comes in.
Food arrangements: In some share houses, communal meals are the norm, in which case you need to establish a cooking and shopping roster. Others leave each housemate to their own devices. In that case, you need clearly established rules about who uses what fridge space — which sometimes does mean assigning shelves, as nerdy as that sounds.
Cleaning: This was always the most difficult area to get right in the share houses I lived in, because people have wildly different expectations. If someone chooses to keep their own bedroom looking like pigsty, that’s ultimately their choice. I did complain after one former housemate left a dead axolotl in his bedroom for a week, but in that case the smell was affecting the whole house.
Public areas are another matter. A good basic rule is that everyone has to clear up their own mess in those spaces. If you cook, you need to wash up afterwards; stuff shouldn’t lie around the lounge for weeks. For bathrooms, unless each housemate has their own, a cleaning roster might be the easiest solution.
Telephone line: I’d seriously resist getting a landline phone in a share house: letting everyone use their own mobile avoids arguments over who made calls and how much they cost. For internet access, a naked connection or individual mobile broadband can make more sense than a conventional ADSL connection. If you do get broadband, make sure the connection is shaped rather than incurring excess fees.
Visitor policy: Whether it’s romantic attachments or family members, you need a clearly agreed policy on whether people can stay over, whether they’re sharing your bed or crashing on the couch.
Pre-visit inspection: Not a house rule as such, but make sure you thoroughly inspect the property before moving in, and photograph anything contentious — even if it’s just a tiny hairline crack in the ceiling or a mark on the wall. That will save potential arguments over the bond when you move out.
The ultimate rule? You’re in a shared space, and compromises will be needed. You’re not going to get your own way all the time, and in the course of sharing you’ll inevitably encounter people who are unpleasant, selfish or clueless. But you’ll also potentially make some great friends.
I’d love to hear extra suggestions from readers on effective house rules; share them in the comments.