3 simple rules for splitting the rent fairly

By Alyse Whitney  | September 23, 2013 - 2:54PM
You may already have perused BrickUnderground's helpful guides to finding an apartment with roommates, peacefully co-existing with them, and weeding out the crazies from Craigslist.   Today we tackle the topic of splitting the rent fairly--specifically, these age old questions: Are all rooms created equal?  And if not, how much should you pay?
1. Size matters… sometimes.
The easiest way to determine whose room should be the most expensive is who has the most space, right? Nope—only sometimes.
If there’s a small room with a balcony and gorgeous views, yet it’s a few feet shorter than the big room with a shared bathroom, those things can equal out.
Take my current apartment. The rooms are all the same price, even though the largest room (mine) is around 15’x13’ and the smallest is 12’x9’. Importantly, that small converted bedroom has a massive hall closet and the convenience of a half bath just outside the room. (Imagine what would happen if that bathroom was attached?) 
Now throw in the vagaries of "flex" space.
A temporary wall does not necessarily split the rent down the middle. You also need to factor in light and exposure to sound in addition to size. Getting the "true" bedroom to yourself definitely has its advantages in terms of sound (flex walls are notoriously non-soundproof) and often closet space, too.
When I lived in the flex bedroom of my Stuyvesant Town apartment in the East Village, I had no closet. More than once, I’d come home to my flimsy plastic wardrobe collapsed on the floor with dresses strewn all over. However, I had the biggest air conditioner and the most sunlight in the apartment, so I dealt with it and upgraded to a metal wardrobe instead.
2. Consider amenities.
As mentioned above, an attached (or en suite) bathroom may reasonably be worth more to you than a few extra feet. If all the rooms are livable and not a shoebox, then chat with your roommates-to-be and decide if the rent can be split evenly.
For instance, with a smaller room that has an attached bathroom and walk-in closet, maybe you can set the value of those at $50/a month. So, if the rent in total was $3,900 for a flex two-bedroom, instead of the small room being $1,250, the medium being $1,300, and the big one being $1,350, everyone can pay $1,333. 
Then again, if your roommates don’t see the value in a bathroom, you can adjust to who is willing to pay the most. If someone’s budget is a little higher because of a better job and they are willing to pay $1,350, why stop them? It’s all about compromising. The claws only come out when someone gets air conditioning and another person only has a fan and a fire escape.
3. If someone’s the guarantor or paid a bigger security deposit, keep that in mind.
In NYC, you usually need to make 40-50x the rent to sign a lease; if you don’t, you'll need to (a) put up extra security or prepaid rent, (b) find a local guarantor who earns 70-80x the rent, (c) pay around a month's rent for an institutional guarantor like Insurent, or (d) find an illegal sublet or a better job.
If your roommate's parents step up to the guarantor plate or fork over 6 months security, it might be nice to let your roommate have the bigger room without shelling out an extra $100 too. Common courtesy, everyone—keep it in mind! 
Similarly, many landlords will put only two people on the lease, and you might wind up being the third wheel who didn’t have to submit financial information and take responsibility for the lease. Effectively, if you’re not on the lease, you can pick up and go whenever you want (though that’s never a good idea), leaving your roommates on the hook. It wouldn't be out of line to show a little rent-splitting gratitude for your roommates' responsibilities.
At the end of the day, know what you can afford, talk it out with your roomies-to-be, and be ready to adjust again once the lease renewal comes around next year.
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