How to Divide Communal Items with Your Roommates

How can you divide things fairly with your roommate?

Amanda Thomas
5-minute read
Episode #220

Over the last 15 years, I’ve had a number of opportunities to have roommates and housemates. From my first college roommate to living with one of my best friends to having friends stay with my husband and myself when they were going through rough patches, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot about living with others. One of the stickiest situations about having a roommate or housemate is how the communal items are divided.

From the big stuff like furniture and appliances, to the small stuff like Oreos and milk, how items are purchased and consumed between roommates can have a big impact on the relationship of those living together. Luckily there are a few simple steps you can follow to help maintain good vibes with those whom you are sharing a home.

Agree on Ownership of the Big Stuff

I’ll focus first on the big stuff. No matter how long you live with and how much you trust your roommate, you will want to make sure you go in to the roommate situation with a CYA mentality, so you will want to have it be crystal clear who owns what items in the home, especially the big stuff. The last thing you want when you move out is to have there be any confusion about who bought and brought which items in to the household. Any confusion about this topic can lead to fights (and possible legal action!) about who is able to take the items with them to their next home, or who is responsible for having the items removed from the home if no roommate wants to keep them.

For any larger items that are going to be kept in the common areas, it is smart to come up with a detailed list of ownership. You can keep this as a document on Google Drive and update it as other larger items are brought in to the home. The good thing about keeping this on Google Drive is that all changes and updates to the document are recorded in the file, so there’s a record in case a dispute arises in the future.

To create this list, detail out each item over $100 in value that is to remain in a common area. Include a description of the item and the dollar value of the item as well. If there are items you need to purchase for the home, decide which roommate is going to purchase the item and add them to the list once they are in the home. I’d highly advise againg “chipping in” on items because it creates a lot of confusion upon move out as to who owns the item. If you want to split the cost on things, instead come up with a list of a few items that need to be purchased and split up who is going to purchase, and therefore own, each item.

It’s a little more work, and it can be uncomfortable to bring this up with your roommates, but trust me when I say it’s easier to have this conversation before there is a problem in the future.

Determine Use “Rules”

Years ago, one of my best friends and I decided that we were going to sign a one-year lease together. We both had experienced bad roommate situations in the past and were nervous that living together would ruin our friendship, but for financial reasons, we knew it was a good decision. To make sure that we would end the year with our friendship intact, we decided to make a “Roommates’ Agreement” that detailed out some of the things we knew could cause frustration between us. I admit the idea of the agreement came after a couple bottles of wine, but it turned out to be one of the smartest things we could have done.