Choose your shared accommodation and your housemates carefully

There’s a bit of a learning curve when you leave home and start looking at shared accommodation for the first time (whether that be a house, an apartment or a flat’ as we call it in New Zealand).

Here are some handy hints to make sure your experience is positive and you don’t get ripped off.

Paying rent and signing a lease

If you’re joining an existing shared accommodation arrangement, you may not be asked to sign a lease agreement. If you are living in a student house it could be slightly different which is why you might want to click here for more guidance. This means you won’t have any legal liability if the rent doesn’t reach the landlord. You do, however, have a strong moral responsibility to make sure your portion of the rent is paid on time, every time. If you are setting up a shared accommodation arrangement with friends from scratch, make sure everyone co-signs the lease so that you are all equally liable for the rent. If you sign the lease on behalf of the others, and they do a runner, you’ll be left carrying the legal liability by yourself. Set up a household bank account that automatically pays the rent to the landlord, then make sure each housemate sets up an automatic payment going into this account for their share of the rent. These payments should be made the day before the rent is due.

Good questions to ask when viewing a room in an existing shared house or apartment.

1. Why is the room vacant? Why did the other person move out?

The social atmosphere in shared accommodation can sometimes be toxic; or perhaps the room itself is substandard. Check for mould on the walls and curtains, which would indicate that the house is damp and a potential health risk.

2. Find out what the total rent is for the house and decide if your share is fair.

You don’t want to be in a subletting situation where the person responsible for the lease is making money from you.

3. How many people live in the house on a permanent basis?

It’s cheaper to live with other people and it can be a lot of fun too. But if you have more than four housemates, the house can pretty quickly turn into a commune. Too many people, plus not enough house rules, can quickly become a nightmare. Remember that for every housemate (taking into account their own circle of friends) there could be up to four extra people dropping by at any given time.

4. What do the other housemates do for a living?

You want to know if there are members of the house who do shift-work. People with unusual working schedules can disrupt your sleep. Perhaps the guy in the next room gets up at 5.00 a.m. each day with a loud alarm clock and stomps around the house, or comes home at 1.00 a.m.

5. Who is responsible for the lease?

You can never be one hundred percent sure, but use your gut instinct to decide if the person responsible for the lease looks reliable. Do they seem like they’re qualified to administer the household account that is used to pay the rent and other expenses?

6. What are the household expenses apart from rent?

Such things as electricity, water rates and internet charges might be in addition to your weekly rent payment.

7. Is there a cleaning roster?

If there’s no roster, this is probably a red flag indicating that the house is a filthy mess most of the time. Don’t judge by first appearances ? the other housemates might have done a quick clean before your visit.

8. What are the house rules?

House rules are important, especially regarding parties, people staying over, and respecting each other’s food and property.

9. What are the food and shopping arrangements?

Do you share the cost of things such as cleaning products and toilet paper? Is there a set space in the fridge for each person’s food?

10. Do people use or sell illegal drugs in the house?

If the answer is yes, then say no to moving in. Remember, other people’s activities can get you in trouble. You don’t need that kind of hassle in your life.

11. Is there any furniture in the room?

Make sure you’re happy with any furnishings that come with the room. You may have your own furniture and you don’t want to be stuck with someone else’ left-behind rubbish furniture that should have been sent to the dump years ago.

12. How long is the room available for and when does the lease run out?

Lease agreements sometimes have a fixed term. There’s no point moving in if the lease is about to expire and you have to move out again too soon.

13. Can you fit a lock to your room if you want to?

This might seem a bit over the top, but sometimes you can’t trust your housemates like you would trust your friends.

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