How to find an invisible roommate

By V.L. Hendrickson  | October 11, 2011 - 7:45AM

What's the next best thing to having your apartment all to yourself?  Having an invisible roommate who splits the cost but is never around when you are, of course.

Case in point: David Pollack, who teaches college math up in Connecticut, has been sharing his Hell's Kitchen one-bedroom with “invisible roommates” since 2009.  He's there weekends, school breaks, and during the summer.  On the remaining Sundays through Thursdays, a Chicago lawyer occupies the apartment.  

When Pollack comes back Friday nights, he often finds a dish towel hanging on a different rack. Or he notices a chair has been moved a foot to the right.  

“It’s a little like a ghost came along while I was gone,” he says.

Fortunately, the ghost chips in for rent and utilities, and the apartment is shared 'hotel style' -- i.e., each has their own sheets and the place is decorated minimally.

This isn't Pollack's first invisible roommate; he's had several. Here are the ropes:

  • Sunday through Thursday is the easiest arrangement to find, since it corresponds to the work week.
  • Get two of everything for the bedroom and bathroom: sheets, towels, pillows, or anything else you don’t want to share. There’s no need to get new dishes or silverware.
  • Tidiness is key. Put your personal papers and other items away when you’re leaving for the week. “I’ve never lived in a cleaner apartment,” Pollack says.
  • The situation works best if there’s enough storage to keep your personal things in a closet while you’re gone. “The first year, I was lugging more stuff to my car on Sunday nights. This place has more closet space, so I don’t have to do that as much," says Pollack.
  • Look for potential roommates on Craigslist or Try key words like “part-time”, “weekly," “nights”, and “Monday-Thursday”. Just be prepared to look through a lot of ads – finding an invisible roommate is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack.
  • Check references. Make sure your roommate is as respectful and as timely with rent payments as he claims. 
  • To figure out how much to charge, add up the total cost of the rent and utilities, then divide by the number of nights the roommate will be there.
  • Don’t overthink it. Yes, there is “a little bit of a sense of psychic unease” to sharing a one-bedroom apartment with someone you never see, but the benefits (for Pollack at least) outweigh this.
  • The privacy when you are home is worth it. “I’ve thought about getting a bigger place and a full-time roommate," says Pollack, "but when I’m home, I want to be home alone.”

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