Our Daily Bleg: The Old Roommate/Rent Dilemma

Conor Hunt, an I.T. consultant in Chicago, writes with a dilemma that, while common, seems to be always unsatisfactorily solved.

Two friends — a merchandising analyst and a law student — and I are attempting to split up rent of a three-bedroom apartment with two common bathrooms. All rooms have their pros and cons, with the major differentiators being closet space and sheer square footage:

Room No. 1: 15 ft. x 15 ft.
Room No. 2: 12 ft. x 12 ft.
Room No. 3: 20 ft. x 8 ft.

Rent is $2,200 per month and the apartment is approximately 2,200 square feet.

Simple math would show that one would pay per square foot, but that goes out the window with the ranking intangibles, and the fact that no one necessarily wants the big room.

The roommates threw out these prices:

No. 1: $800/month
No. 2: $710/month
No. 3: $690/month

So given their prices over the course of a year, Room No. 1 would have to yield $1,080 and $1,320 more in value than room Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. That’s an insanely high premium for a little more square footage and a closet! It is still just a bedroom, after all.

How do you recommend solving this situation?

I am sure Conor and his friends will welcome any suggestions you have. I am not sure why Room No. 3 is considered worse than Room No. 2 even though it is larger, but I’m sure there’s a reason. In advising Conor, feel free to consider a few of our own suggestions:

1. Just settle it on a coin flip or, better, Rock Paper Scissors.

2. Rotate rooms every three months.

3. Price all rooms equally but tax Room No. 1’s occupant higher for household goods, or cooking/cleanup chores.

4. Give the smallest room to the guy least likely to have sleepover guests.

5. All three roommates hold hands over open flame; whoever lasts longest gets room of his choice.


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  1. Justin says:

    I always like using the method where you divy up price by space. So room one has 225 sq ft plus the 1671 sq ft for common areas. Thus they owe $225 for their room plus the $557 which is one third of the common area cost. Apply this to the rest of the rooms and you get room 1 $782, room 2 $701, and room 3 $717. Once room might be much better but this method splits by pure square footage.

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  2. bluemoose says:

    While in grad school, we had a similar dilemma. Three tenants, three bedrooms in three sizes. We ended up splitting rent equally. As I was the one who found the apartment, with little help from the other two roommates (who were not in town), I got the room of my choice (larger on the ground floor). With the other two rooms, one on the ground floor and small, the other the large former attic space, we divided by need. One roommate had tons of stuff, so she got the bigger room. The third roommate had next to nothing, furniture-wise, and got the smallest room.

    It worked out based on household contributions, too, as the furniture in the common areas of the house was mostly mine, and they all shared. The kitchenware was mostly the roommate’s with the largest bedroom, and we shared that, too. The roommate in the smallest room also contributed least to shared household goods.

    Seems to me that this is mostly an issue if someone feels slighted by choice of room.

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  3. travis ormsby says:

    Seems to me that a bidding strategy would be the fairest way to allocate these scarce resources.

    Each roommate submits a blind bid price for each room. Whoever bids the most for room # 1 gets it. High bid for #2 gets that one. Highest bid for #3 gets that room.

    In case one person has the highest bid on more than one room, they can pick which one they want, and the right to the other room(s) goes to the second highest bidder.

    Subtract the total of the 3 winning room bids from the rent total, and split the remainder equally.

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  4. JYK says:

    When we were in this situation, basically what we did was take the rooms out of the equation and auction off the order of choosing the rooms. So, if I wanted to be more assured of getting the room that I wanted, I could bid to increase the amount of rent I would pay in order to pick before someone else who I thought wanted the same room.

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  5. Anon says:

    Or agree to divide everything equally and draw rooms out of a hat.

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  6. Donna says:

    Divide everything equally! Life is not always completely fair. Are we really paying taxes for exactly what we use? How many hairs can you split? Who takes longer showers? Who uses more refrigerator space? It sounds like among the three rooms, no one particularly stands out.

    Divide by three!


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  7. sanders says:

    I’ve got

    Room 1
    Sq. ft 225
    Room 2
    Sq. ft 144
    Room 3
    Sq. ft 160
    Shared(remaining sq)

    each person share of the house if split equal is

    So room 1
    225+557 = $782

    room 2
    144+557 = $701

    room 3
    160+557 = $717

    Why did the roomates price room 3 less then room 2 even tho it has more sq ft. Is it because it’s awkward?

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  8. erik says:

    Auction two of the rooms, with the third room being charged the balance of the total.

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