By: Amneet Uppal
“You’re a moron,” Judge Judy screams at a defendant. It doesn’t matter for what; she’s probably right. The defendant and the plaintiff are a former couple fighting over a broken lease, property damage, and missing rent money. I couldn’t tell you what episode I’m watching, because I’ve seen this same case play out several times.
Too many people jump into buying property together, without considering and discussing potential long-term consequences such as financial stress, ruined credit, and breakups. Judge Judy has taught me two crucial steps to take before buying or renting property with someone to protect my finances and relationships.
Discuss everything that could go wrong in advance.
We often romanticize moving into a new place, but the miscellaneous responsibilities of living with someone — such as paying bills, buying groceries, and cleaning the property —can bring serious tension. Your roommate will do something that irritates you, like frequently forget to take the garbage out, or leave their dirty socks all over the place.
Eventually, whether it’s because of the above issues or other things entirely, you might face these questions: What if you don’t want a relationship with this person anymore? What do you do? As cliché as it sounds, it’s pretty common for new roommates to quickly realise that they cannot live together.
The pressure can lead to a broken relationship. Worse, two people who don’t want to be together may end up staying together simply because they lack a backup plan for living space or finances. But uncomfortable though it might be to ask your partner what they’ll do if they aren’t your partner one day, it’s a conversation that people worldwide would benefit from having.
Get everything in writing.
I understand why this suggestion turns people off. It’s like asking for a prenuptial agreement before marriage: totally taboo socially. But getting everything in writing does not mean you don’t have faith in your relationships. Planning for the worst-case scenario doesn’t make you a perpetually negative person, it makes you practical.
Some people might take offence at the idea of a legally binding contract, but getting everything in writing will only protect you both. Your former roommate might owe you three months’ worth of rent money, but without any formal agreement, how would you prove that in a court of law?
I’ll never live with a significant other, or even a roommate, without a very clear and concise outline of the living arrangement. Verbal agreements over splitting the rent, bills, and food costs simply won’t cut it — not for me and not for a court.
This may sound overly dramatic; no one expects that they will end up having to sue their friends or significant other and likewise no one expects to get sued by their friends either. But that’s the thing — it happens, whether or not you expect it. And when a relationship falls apart, all bets are off.
People living together need to make sure they have open communication. They need to make sure the responsibilities of the property are shared in regards to the chores and to the payments. There also needs to be some sort of legal document that holds both parties accountable, if things do fall apart.
Moving in with someone is an exciting first step to adulthood, but it comes with risks and responsibilities. If you’re thinking about moving in with someone, even if that person is your best friend or soulmate, remember to protect yourself both legally and financially.