Roommates and You - Tenant Resource Center

Roommates and You

Note: Was your lease signed or did your concern start before 4/18/18? If so, please see the bottom of this page for law changes that may impact your situation. For quick summaries of the many many law changes, see our Law Changes Page.

Check Out Potential Roommates

Roommates can affect each others' lives personally and financially. Roommates who sign one lease are "jointly and severally liable" under that agreement (more info here). This means that any or all roommates can be held responsible when one does something wrong like not pay rent, violate a lease clause, or damage the apartment. Very little tenant-landlord law deals with roommates, so choose your roommates carefully and work with them if problems come up.

If you will be living with people you do not know, ask the landlord to let you sign a separate lease. The lease should make you responsible only for your share of the rent and for damages caused by you or your guests. Landlords may, but do not have to, let you and your roommates sign separate leases.

Do not assume that a best friend will make a great roommate. After you move in you may find you have different ideas about cleaning, parties, bills, or other issues which could become major problems. By then, your only options will be to negotiate some compromises, sublet, wait until the lease ends, or hope your landlord put an illegal clause in your lease that makes it void and unenforceable. See Ending a Lease for more information. Wis. Stat. 704.44

Roommate Agreements

To prevent roommate conflicts, you should discuss the issues below with all prospective roommates and sign a roommate agreement.

The roommate agreement should be detailed and feel fair to everyone. All roommates should sign and date the agreement and get a copy. Some items to include are:


  • Will one person pay the rent or will each roommate send a separate check to the landlord?
  • What will happen if one person cannot pay the rent one month?
  • Will one roommate pay extra for special privileges such as a parking spot or a bigger room?

NOTE: If the landlord only wants to accept one check, then work out a payment plan. Make sure the plan is in writing and keep good records.

Shared Bills

  • Whose name will be on shared bills (cable, internet, electricity, etc.)?
  • Will you pay with separate checks?
  • Will other people on the lease pay directly to the person whose name is on the bill or to the company involved?
  • Does one person have a waterbed? An extra air conditioner? Like it warmer in the apartment? Will they pay more?
  • Who will pay any late charges?

NOTE: Some utility companies let you put several names on the bill. This may encourage all roommates to pay their bills on time.

Household Duties

  • Who will be responsible for the following duties:
    • Taking out the garbage?
    • Doing the dishes?
    • Cleaning the bathroom?
    • Vacuuming the living room?
    • Other cleaning chores?
  • How often will the apartment be cleaned?

Dispute Resolution

  • How will you deal with problems if any occur? Bringing in a third party or using the Housing Mediation Service (in Dane County) are good suggestions.

Destruction of Property

  • What will happen if something gets broken?
  • Will everyone be equally responsible or will you agree that the person who broke/destroyed the property will be responsible?

Security Deposit (Madison or rest of Wisconsin)

  • Who paid the security deposit, who will get what amount returned to them, and whose name(s) should the landlord put on the check? Under the new DATCP regulations, landlords no longer have to make checks out to everyone on the lease, but they do have to follow anything the tenants put in writing. It is now even more important to make sure you do this. Some tenants will have one person receive and process the check, which is easier. Other tenants will require all of their names to be on it, since this makes them more accountable to each other regarding the final amount. It's up to you, just make sure the landlord knows what to do. ATCP 134.06. Eff. 11/1/15
  • What happens to a roommate's security deposit if they sublet?


  • What policy do the roommates have regarding subletting?
  • Roommates can sublet only with the consent of all other roommates. Do the roommates agree not to withhold their consent unreasonably? See Ending Your Lease


  • Are overnight guests allowed?
  • When, how often, and for how long may guests visit?
  • Where will overnight guests sleep?

Quiet Hours

  • What hours, if any, will be designated as quiet hours?


  • Will parties be allowed?
  • Will alcohol be served?
  • What size, when, and how often will parties be allowed?
  • What will you do if the police are called?


  • What bedrooms will each person get?
  • Will roommates be switching bedrooms at any point during the lease?
  • Will those with larger rooms pay more rent?
  • Will those sharing a room pay less rent?

Shared Belongings

  • Will any of the following items be shared: food, clothing, DVDs, books, dishes, or any other property?


  • Are people allowed to enter each others bedrooms? Under what circumstances?
  • Are there other spaces in the apartment that are off-limits during certain times?


  • Will smoking be permitted in the apartment? If so, when and where?


  • Will any of the roommates have pets?
  • What types of pets are acceptable?
  • Who is responsible for taking care of any pets?
  • How will any costs arising from pet damages be allocated?


  • Where will you leave messages and mail?


  • Are there any other issues that are important to you and your roommates? Issues might include things like allergies, regular religious practices, or being LGBT friendly. Think carefully about your living space and talk through these things ahead of time to avoid problems.

If you have any further questions, please contact the Tenant Resource Center.

The laws changed in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018. Many factors can determine which laws apply to your situation, including when the problem occurred, when the lease was signed or renewed, and when an eviction took place. If your lease was signed or problem started before 4/18/18 you will want to carefully review the language of the law to determine if it applies to your situation.

Purple text applies to leases and events as of 12/21/11 (2011 Wis. Act 108) Summary

Orange text applies to leases and events as of 3/31/12 (2011 Wis. Act 143Summary

Green text applies to leases and events as of 3/1/14 (2013 Wis. Act 76Summary WI, Summary Dane Co.

Blue text applies to leases and events as of 11/1/15 (CR 14-038) Summary

Maroon text applies to leases and events as of 3/2/16 (2015 Wis. Act. 176) Summary

Brown text applies to leases and events as of 4/18/18 (2017 Wis. Act 317) Summary

More information on law changes is available here. Have your lease available when calling the Tenant Resource Center so we can help you know what your rights and remedies are, including whether you can request double damages, court costs and reasonable attorney fees when you sue your landlord.

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