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Damages That Divide: 4 Civil Ways for Renters to Split Damage Costs With Roommates

Devising a plan to divide damage costs can minimize fighting when something gets broken in your home.

DamagesThatDivide0327Think of your apartment as a china shop. And you? Well, you’re not the owner. Whether your roommate or your latest party is the proverbial bull, you’ll want to make sure you’re not walking on ceramics when it comes time to clean up.

Apartment damages are messy, but what’s even messier is determining who’s responsible. If you want to avoid fights (and run a successful china shop), here are four ways to split damage costs civilly:

1. Assess the assets

To avoid fights, you and your roommate must first understand what belongs to whom. In most cases, this will be simple, e.g., your toothbrush. However, larger, shared items such as furniture may not have clear ownership. Determine what assets belong to each roommate and devise a plan to handle damages.

For example, if you and your roommate split the cost of the couch, and one roommate is responsible for damage resulting in total loss, who should pay for the new couch? Should their contribution be equal to or more than their original contribution? It’s a smart idea to have these types of conversations before you move in together. If you make these distinctions from the start, there should be little to no fighting when unexpected damages occur.

2. Get self-insurance

According to Georgia State University’s Center for Risk Management and Insurance Research, both you and your roommate should have insurance so each tenant is covered in case of damage: “If a negligent tenant causes damage, the owner’s insurer will sue the tenant for the amount of damage caused. So being covered is a good idea.” It’s important to understand what type of coverage you’re purchasing as well. Consider coverage types C and E, which cover personal property and property damage respectively.

Review insurance options upfront with your roommate and ensure you’re both educated on the risks of going without. That way, when it comes time to dispute damages, if nothing else, you’ll be covered.

3. Break it, buy it

Establish a “you break it, you buy it” policy. This type of rule should extend from the walls of the apartment all the way down to each roommate’s personal possessions. Since you’ve already assessed the assets, it’ll be clear who pays for what when something gets broken.

This rule is also important for guests. Each roommate should assume sole responsibility for their guests and anything that’s damaged by them. This ensures that there are no surprise (party) debts.

4. Find a roommate-friendly lease

Most form leases are devised with a single renter or family in mind. Ensure that the lease you sign has provisions for collective or total damage responsibility and names each applicable renter. Likewise, make sure that all renters are held accountable. If your roommates are technically subletting from you — the primary renter — have each one sign a roommate agreement. Be sure to have the agreement notarized in case the landlord or your roommates seek legal action against a claim.

What are some of your worst roommate stories? Share them in the comments below.