Published on March 13, 2019

Let’s face it, not all rooms are created equal. From cramped square footage that requires creative small-space solutions, to bright, boastful master suites that seem to have it all, every apartment has its own set of pros and cons. And in many cases, no two rooms are exactly alike.

Unfortunately, determining how to calculate and split your rent (especially in high-priced cities) can make it difficult to divide that monthly payment into numbers that are suitable for each inhabitant. And since living alone as a young person has become less and less of a reality, having to split rent and living costs is the standard for many.

“As rents have outpaced incomes, living alone is no longer an option for many working-aged adults,” Zillow senior economist Aaron Terrazas explains in a 2017 report. “By sharing a home with roommates, working adults are able to afford to live in more desirable neighborhoods without shouldering the full cost alone.” So if you’re one of the many who still has a roommate, you’re far from alone, but this, of course, comes with its own set of challenges. 

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Photography by Aaron Bengochea

Rather than engage in an all-out roommate war because of who pays what, we’ve outlined five varying, rent-splitting solutions that make sense.

First things first: You’ll want to start by being honest with both yourself and your roommates. Whether they’re your best friend, partner, or a total stranger, discussions about rent aren’t the time to be bashful with what you’re comfortable paying. Be upfront. Be reasonable. Be honest.

Finding the perfect apartment is hard enough—get real with yourself and your expectations at the start of the search, and all of these solutions will seem that much more natural. At the end of the day, remember that renting isn’t throwing your money away

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Split Based On Square Footage

One of the easiest ways to split rent among roommates is to base it off the square footage of rooms. Find the footage of each bedroom (length times width), including closets, bathrooms, or balconies located in or off of the room. Divide the square footage of each room by the total footage of all bedrooms. This will give you the percent of rent each roommate should pay. Trust us, it’s easier than it sounds.

For example, if an apartment has a total bedroom area of 700 square feet and a monthly rent of $2,000, you would split it as such:

  • Master bedroom: 400 square feet (including closets and bathroom) = 57.14 percent of the bedroom area, rent = $1,142.80
  • Secondary bedroom: 300 square feet (includes closet) = 42.86 percent of the bedroom area, rent = $857.20

Although this method is simple, it might not be a good fit for everyone, especially when rooms are mostly all equal in desirability. Sometimes the 50-50 split would be more beneficial for roommates.

Our associate digital editor, Elly Leavitt, agreed with her roommate that they would only prorate the room rates if the differences were abundantly clear. “She would get the bigger and better room and pay a few hundred more, and I was fine with the smaller room as long as I didn’t have to share it with a family of mice,” says Leavitt.

She and her roommate looked at many places but ended up getting lucky and scoring a space that served both their needs, thus allowing them to forego the hassle of calculating based on square footage. Nonetheless, they were prepared to divvy it up if that’s what it came down to. 

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Use An Online Rent Calculator

Sometimes it’s just easier to let a computer do the hard work for you. Luckily, there are dozens of online rent calculators at your disposal. Some of our favorites (and the most popular online rent calculators) include Splitwise, RoomieCalc, and Spliddit. Of course, you could always try the New York Time’s algorithm.

If all the rooms are equally desirable to you and your roommates, try using the tool The Rent Is Too Damn Fair. This website allows each roommate to “bid” the max rent they are willing to pay for each room in the apartment. Once everyone has submitted their bids, the program computes the most economical arrangement for you and your roommates. In addition to computing the rent for you, this online tool also assigns rooms to each person based on their bids, thus eliminating any resentment towards your roommates—a major plus.

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Divide Based On Room Desirability

Although dividing rent based on square footage is an easy way to calculate each roommate’s share, some rooms are just more desirable than others—and thus worth more. In talks with our friends and fellow roommates about their experiences splitting rent, this was by far the most popular option.

For example, one bedroom on the floor plan below has a large walk-in closet and private bathroom. Another bedroom has a small closet and no other amenities. These characteristics, along with things like the number of windows or amount of natural light (a major factor in a crowded city like New York), the noise level, and overall condition of the space upon move-in, definitely factor in when it comes to desirability.

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Emma Damiani, a New York-based graphic designer, split the rent with four roommates based on how much sunlight each got, in conjunction with the room size itself. “I was in the smallest room with no sunlight at one point, so I paid the least,” she says. One of her roommates had her own bathroom and a ton of sunlight, so she paid the most. “Everyone named a price, and we adjusted what was fair.”

You and your roommates could also assign a cost to each amenity and add it onto a fairly divided room price. We recommend making amenities cost no more than 2 to 5 percent of the total rent. In the case of the above floor plan, if the total rent was $2,000, a walk-in closet and balcony could cost $40 each, while the private bathroom would go for a little more at $100. This means the person in the larger bedroom would be paying $180 more than the person in the small bedroom ($1,180 versus $820).

In order to avoid conflict, try to assign values to these spaces before apartment hunting.

“When my roommates and I began the apartment search, we went in knowing we would pay different amounts based on personal budgets,” says Brooke Brazer, a New York-based marketer and actor. “We specifically looked for units in Brooklyn that had diversity in room size,” she says. One quirk they found to be true in multiple Brooklyn brownstones is that the smallest room is only accessible via a separate entrance or through the second bedroom. “We factored this unique set-up into the price as well,” she says.

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Divvy By Income To Rent Ratio

As a general rule of thumb, you should never budget to spend more than one-third of your monthly salary on rent. And if you and your roommate have vastly different salaries, it may be worth looking into splitting the rent based on income, and what you’re both able to reasonably afford.

“My now-roommate and I make really different salaries, which proved super useful when looking for an apartment in New York City, as rent prices are astronomically expensive,” says Leavitt. “Because of this, we went into the whole process of house hunting with the understanding that we could look at pricier places because we were going to split the rent differently,” she says. Though they did end up finding a place with rooms that were equal in size and desirability, they did spend the entirety of their search operating under the assumption that they were going to pay different amounts based on salary.

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Split It Evenly Regardless

If you’re a true believer that fair is fair, you might consider splitting the rent evenly regardless of the different room sizes. Perhaps the rest of the space makes up for inequality in rooms, or one roommate has a smaller space, but is still willing to pay because of location, building amenities, or general convenience. At the end of the day, the decision really is up to you and your roommates.

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Once you’ve selected how to calculate your rent, make sure to draw up a roommate agreement and have all parties sign it. This agreement should include the rent each person has agreed to pay. It can also include house rules and a cleaning schedule, just to ensure that everyone is on the same page and your living and moving situation is seamless.

It may seem like overkill in addition to your lease, but a roommate agreement can prevent future conflict and hopefully facilitate a healthy (and happy!) living situation.

 

Keep renting: 
How to Negotiate Down Your Rent
Should You Rent or Buy? We Have the Answer
What $1,500 Will Rent in 11 Cities Worldwide

This story was originally published in February 2018, and has since been updated with new information.

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