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PHOTOGRAPHY BY CODY GUILFOYLE

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, when it comes to settling on rent (especially in high-priced cities) these inequalities 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 living costs is a reality for many.

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Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

“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—or in some cases, with adult parents—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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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

We get it: Rent is expensive. But instead of engaging in an all-out roommate war because of who pays what, we’ve outlined a few 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 total stranger, discussions about rent aren’t the time 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. You got this.

“If you’re considering re-configuring your rent allocation, I’d encourage you to approach the conversation with sensitivity, honesty, understanding, and mutual respect.”

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Split solely based on square footage

One of the easiest ways to split rent among roommates is to base it off the square footage of each room. Find the square 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
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Photography by Aaron Bengochea
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Photography by Aaron Bengochea

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 was 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 now-roommate looked at tons of places, but ended up getting lucky and scoring a space that served both their needs, thus allowing them for 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. 

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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Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

Divide the rent 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 are 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 this floor plan has a large walk-in closet and private bathroom. Another bedroom in this apartment has a small closet and no other amenities. These characteristics, along with things like how many windows or natural light the space has (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 factor.

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

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. One of roommates had her own bathroom and a ton of sunlight, so she paid the most. The numbers were kind of random. I think I picked the rent I was comfortable paying. Then everyone named a price, and we adjusted what was fair,” she says.

“I picked the rent I was comfortable paying, then 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).

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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. One quirk, which we found to be true in multiple Brooklyn brownstones, is that the smallest room is only accessible via a separate entrance to the stairwell or through the second bedroom. We factored this unique set-up into the price as well.”

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“If you’re considering re-configuring your rent allocation, I’d encourage you to approach the conversation with sensitivity, honesty, understanding, and mutual respect,”she says. “The value placed in our friendship and the harmony of our home guided this process, and continues to influence how we handle whatever questions, conflicts, and quirks come our way.”

Decide based on 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 looking into splitting the rent fairly 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 (thereby widening our options in a very competitive market) because we were going to split the rent differently. Though we ended up finding a place with rooms that were equal in size and desirability, we did spend the entirety of our search operating under the assumption that we were going to pay different amounts based on salary.”

I’d say the most important thing throughout is to be very clear about expectations from the beginning and communicate.”

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

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 the 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, your roommates, and your landlord (depending on how flexible they are, if they care at all, how it affects your leasing agreement, etc).

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Once you’ve selected how you are going to split 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/moving situation goes about seamlessly.

This 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 environment.