Splitting costs between roommates can be tricky if not done fairly

Thousands of Canadians move in with new roommates every fall and realize they've got a conundrum: how to handle splitting the costs.

When done right, dividing expenses with a roommate can alleviate plenty of headaches, but when done wrong, it can rip apart friends and break up relationships.

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Desirae Odjick, a 30-year-old personal finance blogger in Ottawa, knows this well after years living with roommates.

Rent is the easiest to split when rooms are the same size and everyone feels they're getting an equal share of the unit or home, so the cost can be split 50-50, Odjick says.

Trouble comes when rooms are different sizes or one has an ensuite bathroom.

"If one room is significantly better than the others, then I think one of the most fair ways to decide who gets the extra amenities is to assign a higher rent to that room," Odjick says.

Unless there are extenuating circumstances where one person uses significantly more water or electricity, she recommends splitting utility fees equally.

Odjick considers internet and television a shared resource and payment for such services should be divided evenly unless you or your roommate is downloading more, needs a faster internet connection for work or doesn't plan to use it.

"When I first graduated university, I lived with a great roommate and we agreed to share some of the costs of living together — notably internet. We had a conversation about the amount of data we'd each need, and I asked him if he would like to add TV to the package, since I had a few shows I liked watching live," Odjick says.

"He shared that he didn't really want the TV part, so we agreed to split the internet portion of the bill equally, and I'd cover the TV portion, even though it was bundled together."

If you're in a situation where one person won't use one of the services or will use significantly less, Odjick recommends an honest discussion to sort out payment.

Some people feel a roommate contributing furniture or kitchenware is doing everyone else a favour by saving them from shelling out for things like a couch or table, but whether that warrants a break on rent can go either way. Odjick recommends a chat between roommates early on to reach a consensus.

She feels cleaning supplies should be treated as a shared expense.

Food is one of the trickiest expenses to split with roommate, especially if you're not in a romantic relationship with them, says Odjick, because it quickly becomes "a matter of preference and volume."

"You might eat way more than I do or like to eat things I'd never buy for myself," she says.

Odjick recommends roommates only share food if they are really close with their roommate and comfortable enough to have conversations around what to buy, how much to spend and how much you'll realistically eat.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2019.

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