How to Split the Rent Fairly Between Roommates

Most of the time, splitting the rent between roommates is straightforward: 50/50, straight down the middle. But sometimes, it’s a little more complicated. You might be a young couple, sharing income and expenses. Or maybe you’ve decided to sublet a room as part of an existing lease. Or maybe the rooms just aren’t equal in size.

We’ll talk about these scenarios and more as we explore the different factors that go into splitting the rent.

Splitting the Rent Between Friends

The ideal situation between roommates would be to have equal living space for everyone: three roommates, three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and all of equal size. If you’re lucky enough to have that situation, your rent split will be easy – everyone will pay an equal amount. Let’s say the rent is $1,500 a month. You don’t even need a calculator to figure out that everyone will pay $500.

But what if there is one master bedroom with an attached bathroom and two smaller bedrooms with a shared bath? If all three of you were to pay $500, the person with the master would have a sweeter deal than everyone else. And that would not be fair. To make this equitable, you would need to figure out how much the larger room with the en suite bathroom is worth compared to the other rooms.

Maybe you’d decide to have this rent split: $650 for the master bedroom/bathroom combo and $425 a piece for the smaller bedrooms with the shared bath. That would be more fair than an even split.

In this case, both parties should discuss what they’d be willing to pay to have the bigger room. And if the smaller room isn’t up to either roommate’s standards, you may need to look for an apartment or house that better matches your needs.

You can also look at “rent” in a broader sense, to include all living expenses, such as utilities and groceries. Maybe you would have the roommate with the master bedroom pay the same rent as everyone else but pay all the utilities. Or maybe you’d have that roommate buy shared groceries, such as toilet paper, condiments, and paper towels, on a regular basis.

However you approach it, the most important thing is for all roommates to agree to the arrangement upfront – ideally in writing, signed by everyone involved. That will help to avoid misunderstandings down the road, and to resolve any that do crop up.

Equal Payments vs. Income Based

There’s another consideration regarding rent split fairness: income. What about a roommate with a much larger income than the other roommates? Shouldn’t the roommate with the big paycheck pay more?

That depends on your philosophy. Some people believe in a more communal approach to money and divide the rent accordingly: the more you make, the more you pay. Others believe that people who earn more should be allowed to keep that income, at least in a roommate situation.

Typically, you would not consider each party’s income when splitting the rent. But there is a big exception: if you’re a couple.

Couples Who Share Bills

Some couples split finances down the middle, but oftentimes they don’t. Couples tend to make arrangements based on their unique situation. In the case of a couple where only one person has a job, maybe that partner will pay the rent, utilities, and groceries and the other partner will shop, cook, maintain the property, and care for any children.

In the case of two-income couples, the rent might be a 50-50 rent split. But again, what if one person makes significantly more income? A couple differs from a roommate situation because couples are making a life together. They might pool finances, or they might maintain separate bank accounts and have a joint account that both parties fund. Maybe the high-income earner contributes 75% to the joint account, and the other partner contributes 25%. If the higher-income partner has a tougher job, longer hours, and more responsibility, maybe the partner who works less can spend more time on the household.

Talking about things ahead of time is even more important for couples than for roommates. It’s best to have clear conversations about your present and future together, so as to avoid misunderstandings and problems that would affect not only your living situation, but your relationship as well.

Sublet Situations

If you need to move before your lease is up, or if you will be gone for a month or more, you might want to sublet your space so that you don’t pay for a place you aren’t using. First check your lease to see whether you’re allowed to sublet. If not, you might want to speak with the landlord or property manager to find out the reason. Maybe they will let you sublet if they approve the new person.

If you are allowed to sublet your room, great, but it’s best to let your roommates know your plans. They’ll need to live with this new person, after all, and they might need to approve your choice first.

Paying the Rent in a Sublet Situation

Regarding payments, the person subletting might assume your role, taking over your rent and paying as if they were you. But there could be other arrangements.

Maybe you will still be the one responsible for paying the rent. This is common if you plan to return. Then the person subletting will pay you directly.

Sublettors don’t always pay the same amount as the person they’re renting from. For example, let’s say your share of the rent is $500 a month. Maybe you’re having a difficult time finding someone to sublet your place at that price, so you offer the room for $400 a month. Yes, it’s a hit, but it’s better than nothing. But someone needs to make up that extra $100 a month, and that person is probably going to you.

If you have a desirable rental, you might be able to sublease it for even more than you pay in rent. You might charge $600 for the room and make money on the deal. You could also give that extra $100 a month to your roommates, in case they aren’t too happy about the sublet situation.

The takeaway here is that you can make a variety of sublet situations work, as long as you discuss and agree on a plan with your roommates ahead of time.

Note: You should probably write something up for the person subletting to sign. Here’s a sample sublet agreement. It can give you an idea as to what to include in yours: Sublet Agreement. (Please note that this sublet agreement is specific to Wisconsin, so you’ll need to modify it if you use it.)

Your landlord might have everyone involved sign a sublease agreement. If so, then you can just use the form provided to you by your landlord.

When Significant Others Move In

It happens: one roommate meets a love interest and officially or unofficially moves them into the apartment. You’ll know when because you’ll be seeing this new person more and more often. Before you know it, there are now four people living in your rental instead of three. And that is not something you (or your landlord) bargained for.

People who move in a boyfriend or girlfriend usually rationalize this act by saying something like, “It’s my room, so what’s the big deal?” And it probably isn’t a big deal to the roommate with the partner – but it could be to you. If another person is practically living (or actually living) in your home, they should probably pay their fair share.

Have a discussion with your roommate about having this new person help pay for the rent – that is, if you’re okay with having that person there. If you are and if they agree to pay an amount you both deem fair, problem solved.

But what if your roommate is angry you brought this up and won’t discuss the topic? Are you stuck? No. You can let your landlord or property manager know, and they can help you. Many times, a landlord will not allow another person in the rental. And if they do, they will usually want to draw up an addendum that adds the new person to the lease.

What About Utilities?

Sometimes, utilities are included in the cost of rent. But usually, tenants are responsible for some or all of their own utilities. And in roommate situations, like rent, utility usage is not always a cut-and-dried 50-50 split. Maybe one roommate works from home and uses far more utilities than the rest of you. Shouldn’t that person pay more? It all depends on what you and your roommates are comfortable doing. You can always have the conversation.

And Furniture?

Furniture is another frontier of the roommate world that could cause headaches at move-in and move-out time. Who’s responsible for furnishing the place? If everyone chips in, who gets the furniture at move-out time?

The easiest solution would probably be for all roommates to buy furniture individually. But what about the common areas? Maybe you buy a sofa, another roommate buys chairs, and a third buys coffee and end tables. Or maybe you split common furniture evenly, and figure out who gets what when the time comes to move out.

There’s an App for That

As you can see, some rent split situations could be difficult to figure out. If you don’t want to tackle this yourself, you’re in luck. There are apps which do this for you. Two apps that could help you and your roommates divvy the rent are Splittable and Splitwise, so you might want to check them out.

The Bottom Line

Roommate situations can be stressful, or they can work out well. One key to having a successful roommate arrangement is to discuss important matters upfront, like who pays for what. Hopefully with the above guidance you’ll be able to arrive at an equitable way to split rent – and everyone will live happily ever after.