Co-tenancy Agreements And Why You Should Have One

If you’re just starting out on your own, chances are you’re sharing your living space with someone else. Whether it’s a blind pairing or two or more friends sharing a pad, living with roommates instead of Mom and Dad can be an exciting adventure.

The Problem With Roommates

The problem is that everyone’s a little different. Some people are raised in messier homes than others. Some people manage themselves and their things more carefully than others, and some people have a more relaxed attitude than others regarding what is “their” space. You’ll never truly know a person well until you’ve lived with them for a while, and too many roommates learn the hard way about someone they thought they knew well.

Conflicts among roommates can be draining and stressful, and can be expensive. These conflicts vary widely from situation to situation but most often cover the following areas:

  • Cleanliness
  • Personal property disputes
  • Payment of bills
  • Guests
  • Noise levels

If all of you signed the lease, getting rid of a problematic roommate without breaking your lease can be difficult and depends on your local laws. Landlords are notoriously reluctant to get involved in roommate disputes, and usually will only do so if the property is being damaged or other tenants file complaints about you. Furthermore, most often all co-tenants will be held “jointly and severally” responsible for payment of all amounts due, meaning that they don’t care who pays it, but you’re all in trouble if it doesn’t get paid.

Enter the Co-Tenancy Agreement

A co-tenancy agreement is a written agreement signed by all roommates in the house. It discusses division of chores, cleanliness expectations, house rules, who is responsible for paying bills, and more. RocketLawyer offers a free co-tenancy agreement form online,  but such agreements usually discuss these items:

  • Division of household chores and how often they are to be done
  • Where personal property is to be kept
  • Is smoking / drinking allowed in the space?
  • House rules on guests
  • Noise policies and quiet hours
  • Who is responsible for paying bills and when that person is to be paid by other residents
  • Use of common property and other people’s property (e.g. can everyone drink that milk or does it belong to someone?)
  • How violations of the agreement are to be handled and consequences for violating the agreement

A co-tenancy agreement allows roommates to resolve disputes by referring to the written agreement, and if properly executed and documented, gives roommates legal recourse in dealing with a problematic roommate.

Who Should Sign It?

Everybody who is a legal occupant of the space should sign it. Guests don’t need to, but typically the resident that brought them in is responsible for their presence and their behavior. All residents should discuss the terms and agree on them, then set it down in writing and sign it.

A Final Word

If you don’t know a prospective roommate, or don’t know them well, you should absolutely execute a co-tenancy agreement with them prior to moving in together. Even if you know someone well, you should consider one. Just in case.

What Should Be In A Renter’s Toolkit?

Renting has its advantages, especially if you move around a lot, switch jobs a lot, or just don’t like doing household maintenance. Someone else is responsible for the heavy-duty work that goes with owning property, so you don’t need to own as much stuff as you would if you owned your place.

But, even renters need some basic tools, and there are some things that if your lease allows you to do it yourself, you should because it will be faster and less hassle than calling maintenance to do it. You’ll probably also want to hang pictures and so forth, something that the majority of leases today allow you to do within reason.

So, what tools does a renter really need to own? These are the ones that I found useful in my years of renting.

  • Curve claw hammer — generally the smaller weights will suffice for a renter
  • Flat screwdriver #1, #2, #3
  • Philips screwdriver #1, #2
  • Level (there’s an app for that)
  • Picture-hanging kit (nails, screws, anchors)
  • Measuring tape 25′ (laser is fine)
  • Set of Allen wrenches / hex keys (generally both SAE and metric)
  • Box or utility knife
  • Spackle knife – you’ll have to fill in any holes you make in your walls before you leave!
  • A sturdy plastic or metal box to hold the lot

These items are nice to have but not required:

  • Impact driver or power drill
  • Screwdriver set
  • Drill bit set

As a renter, that’s really all you need. Homeowners will need much more, but that’s a topic for another post.

The Basics of Laundry, Part I

Did your mom always do your laundry for you when you were growing up? Does she still do your laundry when you go home? If so, I’m terribly sorry, because now you have a bit of a problem – you might not know how to do it yourself, and your mom will not always be around to do it for you.

The good news is that the Internet is full of resources on how to do and fold laundry. I recommend Mama’s Laundry Talk – it’s a blog specifically about laundry. I’ve learned a lot from her, and from my mother.

If you’re just starting out, though, you probably don’t have enough laundry to make all of her tips and opinions work for you. For example, she recommends not washing sheets and towels together, nor does she recommend washing sheets and towels with dirty clothes. Chances are that you don’t have enough of any of these items to wash them all separately, and if you’re using a coin-operated laundry, doing so becomes expensive as well as wasteful.

With that in mind, this post suggests a method that won’t waste your whole day or a ton of water and soap. I’ll discuss clothes that need special treatment in a different post; this post covers only the very basics of T-shirts and underwear.

Do not wait to do laundry until you have no clean clothes. I suggest doing laundry when you’re down to two clean wearings of anything. You should own enough clothing that you can do laundry on a weekly schedule; this would mean that you own about 8-10 outfits.

Step 1: Sort Your Laundry

Some sorting does have to be done. The most important sorting criteria is by color and by fabric type. How you sort your laundry will depend on how much of each color you have, and that’s going to depend on what colors you like to wear. If you’re like me and wear a lot of blacks and understated colors, you’ll have larger dark loads. Colorful dressers will have lots of colors, and almost everyone has some whites.

If you don’t sort by color, you run the risk of having a darker garment bleed dye onto a lighter one. The classic example is washing a white shirt and a red one in the same load ending with your white shirt being turned pink. If this happens, there usually is nothing you can do to save the garment.

Some fabric types need to be washed more gently, or not thrown in a washer at all. Separate these out; the tag that dictates how it should be washed will be either in the back of the neck or in one of the side seams near the bottom of the garment.

💡You won’t always have time to do multiple loads of laundry, so consider purchasing socks and underwear in both light and dark colors. Even if you only have time to do one load, you’ll always be able to throw a few pairs of socks and underwear in every load.

Step 2. Setting Up the Washer

Water Temperature

Generally, the lighter the clothing, the hotter water you want. Whites can be done in hot water; colors are by default done in warm water, and dark clothes should be done in warm or cool water to prevent dye bleed.

Some fabrics and stains absolutely require that the garment be washed in cold water to avoid damaging the garment. For example, any garment that has blood on it should soak immediately in cold water and then be washed in cold water. Warm or hot water will set the stain and make it permanent. I’ll talk about stains in more detail in another blog post.

Washing Machine Cycles

For jeans and T-shirts, normal cycle is fine. Most washers have a normal cycle. Delicate fabrics will want the Gentle or Low cycle, but I’ll talk about that in another post.

Adding Laundry Product

There are multiple types of laundry products that serve different purposes:

  • Detergent: Soap. Gets your clothes clean.
  • Fabric softener: This substances relaxes the fibers in your clothes, so that they come out soft and relaxed instead of stiff and scratchy.
  • Bleach: Removes stubborn stains from your clothes and is often used as a disinfectant. Use cautiously, because if it isn’t color-safe, it will remove all color from your clothes! (Chemical name is sodium hypochlorite.)
  • OxiClean: Similar to bleach, with similar effects via a different chemical method. This is calcium percarbonate, which when dissolved in water becomes hydrogen peroxide and calcium carbonate or washing soda.
  • Pre-treatment (Shout is a common one): This stuff when dabbed or sprayed on stains and left for a few minutes helps remove stubborn stains from your clothes.

🏠💡 Bleach is good for many things in the home, including cleaning; OxiClean is more specialized for laundry but is just a touch safer. I’ll talk more about “safer” in a future post about cleaning supplies.

Detergent can come in powder/crystal form, liquid form, and in pre-portioned capsules commonly referred to as Tide Pods. Liquid dissolves better than crystals, but is somewhat more expensive and difficult to lug around if you have to transport your laundry a lot.

⚠️ No matter which form you choose, before you buy laundry detergent, check the washer you will be using! If you see the designate “HE” in a blue and white circle, you need high-efficiency laundry detergent to use that washer. A box or bottle of the right type of detergent for these machines will have the same logo on the front. Never use traditional detergent in an HE washing machine, or you’ll end up with a mountain of suds all over the floor and clothes that need to be washed again because they’re still full of soap – after you clean out the washing machine!

As long as you have the good sense $DEITY granted a garden slug and know better than to attempt to eat a Tide Pod, I recommend them for people new to doing laundry. One is sufficient for an average laundry load, and it contains both detergent and fabric softener. Toss it in before you toss in your clothes.

One caution — they don’t work so well in cold water. Make sure you leave them at the bottom, or there’s a risk they won’t dissolve completely, and if you have to wash in completely cold water, you may wish to consider liquid detergent.

If you use crystal/powder or liquid detergent, or liquid fabric softener, read the manufacturer’s instructions on how much to use, and do not exceed that amount. If in doubt, go easy on how much you use. If you don’t use enough, the worst that will happen is your clothes won’t get clean; if you use too much, it leaves a residue in the washer that will affect the next load of clothes. If you’re using a laundromat, the next person to use that washer could be allergic to your detergent, and they really won’t thank you to overdo it.

Step 3: Are Your Clothes Clean?

When the washer is set up, start the washer according to instructions. Once the cycle finishes, check the wet clothing.

  1. It shouldn’t smell like anything but maybe detergent or fabric softener.
  2. It shouldn’t crackle – if it does, it still has soap in it. Run a rinse cycle, with no product, to rinse it more thoroughly.
  3. No soap bubbles should be visible.
  4. It should be damp, not soaking. If you can wring water out of it, it didn’t spin very thoroughly. This is annoying, not serious, but do wring the water back into the drum before putting the clothes in the dryer or else you’ll grow cobwebs waiting for your clothes to dry.

If they’re clean, time to put them in the dryer. Stay tuned for part II!




How to Create Spaces For Things

I’m sure you’ve heard your mother (or grandmother, or aunt, or uncle, or grandfather, or other person in your life say “a place for everything, and everything in its place” approximately 1.3 umptillion times. It’s kind of like a Microsoft error message: absolutely true, and not very helpful if you don’t know how to decode it.

The problematic part of that adage for many people is the first part: “a place for everything”. Too often, a thing sits on the dining room table for weeks at a time because you don’t know where it should go, or because its place isn’t in your home. But, how do you determine where it should go?

Questions to Ask

To decide where a thing should go, ask yourself the following questions:

Does it belong in my house?

Is this item even mine? Is it useful to me? Will it be useful to me in the next year? Am I required to keep it? This question often needs to be asked of paperwork, which I’ll talk about in more detail later in the post.

If the item is not yours, it needs to go back to the person to whom it belongs, unless you have permission to borrow the item and are actively using it. If you’re actively using it and have permission to borrow it, proceed to the next question.

If you have a lot of visitors in your home, you might consider a wicker basket or box in your main room or near your front door that serves as a “lost and found”. Anything that someone left behind or that you borrowed and aren’t actively using should go in this box, to be reclaimed the next time that person comes over.

Some people have the habit of collecting items or keeping extras of things that might be useful “someday”. These people are called pack-rats. If you’re a pack-rat, ask yourself this: what are the odds I’ll need or use it in the next year? If you won’t, get rid of it.

Some items you’re required to keep, depending on your situation. This is especially true of paperwork, but might also be true of window blinds, doorknobs, etc,, if you’re renting your property and don’t want to use the ones supplied by your landlord. If you don’t put the ones your landlord supplied back when you leave, you’ll be charged to replace the item. Having a box in your closet for such items might not be a bad idea, if you’re prone to doing this.

What is its function?

Is it an art or craft supply? A personal care item? An entertainment item? To what activity, requirement, or item is this item associated? If you can definitively answer this question, that’s a big help. That means that wherever its space is, it’s most likely near or in the same room as other items associated to that activity, requirement, or item. If it’s associated to an activity, it should go in the room in which you most commonly perform that activity.

Does it have special needs?

If the item is particularly large, heavy, small, or fragile, that may limit where you want to or can put it. An item that needs access to running water (e.g. a coffee machine) should be placed in a room that has running water available (e.g. the kitchen, although I’d forgive anyone who needed coffee so badly that their coffee machine lives in the bathroom).

A small item that is easily lost should be placed in a bin or container with other items that serve a similar function or are also related to the same activity – for example, if you draw or paint, all your paints should be in a bin, your brushes/erasers/pencils/sharpeners in another bin, and so forth. Bins and containers come in every shape and size and don’t have to come from the Container Store. Mason jars make wonderful containers for many kinds of small items. Be sure to decide whether the container in question needs to close before purchasing, and let that inform your choice of container.

Large and/or heavy items may need to be placed on the floor, but you may need to pick and maybe clear a specific space for that item.

Fragile items may need to be placed somewhere specific that is out of reach of pets and children and does not pose a falling risk.

If the item(s) in question need to remain out of public view, be sure to account for that. Choose a container or cover that is opaque and maybe lockable.

Do I have room in the appropriate area for it?

Can I put it with its buddies in the same area? Am I out of space? If so, you might need to designate a new area, possibly nearby. Before you do, though, ask yourself the first question again: do I really need all that I have, and is it all still useful to me? For example, going through your paints and identifying any that have dried up might help you clear enough space to put your new things.

It’s also worth asking yourself this question before you buy a new thing. Doing so might save you both money and clutter headaches.

Finding the Perfect Spot

Once you’ve answered these questions, your own unique situation might guide you in finding a place for an item. For example, if you’re 5’1″, the items you use every day should be on lower shelves, since you’ll need assistance or a stepladder to get to the upper shelves.

Small items should not be loose on counters or surfaces. Find a container that suits the item and the number of items you have.

Think in three dimensions. Think in terms of more than just “on shelves” and “on counters” and “in drawers”. Look at your walls. Do you have wall space that could harbor shelves? (Shameless unsolicited plug: IKEA Kallax shelves are $DEITY’s gift to organizers. The smaller ones can be mounted on walls with appropriate hardware and are sturdy enough to move with you time and again.)

Also consider wall hooks to hang items that are bulky but light such as easels, embroidery hoops, and portable looms.

Don’t forget your closet walls! Items that are large and flat might do well hanging on a closet wall, or a long mounted hook might hang tomorrow’s outfit.

Organizing Paperwork

Paperwork can be a problem all its own, because it’s hard to tell what you need to keep and what you don’t.

What You Need To Keep

There are some items that you should absolutely always keep. Some items need to be kept for a period of time, some should be kept forever, and some should not be kept at all.

  • Keep Forever: Current identification documents (e.g. your current passport and birth certificate), proof of ownership documents for things you own, love letters, medical records
  • Keep For A Period of Time: Expired identification documents, tax-related documents, bank statements, paid bills, old lease documents
  • Don’t Keep: Notifications, ad mail of any kind

You do not need to keep correspondence from any organization with which you do not do business.

Know the statute of limitations on all official correspondence, and keep it for that period of time. For example, if you file taxes in the United States, you should retain a paper copy of your taxes, and all documents associated to your taxes, for ten years, because an IRS audit is allowed to go back through your tax filings for ten years.

What You Need to Dispose of Securely

Identity fraud – the representation of oneself as another person in order to steal money from them or take out credit in their name – is rampant in this day and age. It can ruin your credit, your reputation, and cost you thousands of dollars. It’s a very, very serious problem.

Shred any paper that has any of the following information on it.

  • Your full legal name
  • Your name and address together
  • Your social security number
  • Your driver’s license number
  • Account numbers of any kind
  • Any correspondence from your bank or credit card provider
  • Any correspondence from a government entity
  • Any monetary balances for any account

If it’s a magazine with your name and address on it, just tear the page out and shred it, then trash or recycle the rest.

The Value of Going Paperless

Treeware is a pain in the you-know-what to keep organized. Data storage is cheap. Every bill that you can receive electronically and every receipt you can get by email is one bill that isn’t cluttering up your desk. File your bills on your computer and back them up, and search functions will save you a lot of time and space.

(Just be sure to encrypt your stuff.)

Filing Cabinets

Your filing cabinet does not have to be a bulky thing on wheels, and for most people, it shouldn’t be. Size your filing by how much paper you process (if you go paperless, you’ll have a lot less) and how much space you have. Anything that can accommodate hanging folders will do the job — I had a bright pink milk crate with grooves on the side for hanging folders, and that was my filing from the time I first went to college until I bought my own home.

If you have to keep it and it’s paper, it goes in a filing system, and that filing system should live in a room that is not routinely open to visitors. If you have a lot of visitors, whatever you use for filing should lock with either a combination or a key.

Consider a fire safe for the key documents. These are heavy, but don’t have to be expensive, and will protect the documents you’ll need to restore your life should everything you own burn to the ground or be lost in a flood.

A Final Word

Still can’t figure it out? Some people simply have an eye for organizing a space, and some simply don’t. If you don’t, see if you can bribe a friend who does to help you out. I do this for my friends circle; I barter it for other work that I personally hate doing. Many friends circles have this type of arrangement, so make friends in your new spot.

Moving? Hints and Tips

These hints and tips come from many moves to and from college, from one apartment to another, and finally into my own home some years ago. I once was told by someone who helped me move that that was the easiest and most organized move she’d ever done. Here’s how I did it.

Moving into a new place can be a grand adventure. It can be exciting. It can also be an unmitigated headache and the source of many screaming matches. It all depends on how you prepare and execute — in other words, the secret to a clean move starts before you put a single box in the truck. I’ve gathered some hints and tips that have helped me settle in quickly and without fuss.

Color Coding

If you’re moving into a dorm, you probably don’t have enough stuff to make this helpful, but if you’re moving into an apartment or a house, this can be a lifesaver. Amazon offers color-coded moving tape from multiple vendors that lets you identify what room a box should be brought into. This visual aid will speed up box loading considerably, whether you’re hiring movers or bribing friends with beer and pizza.

Be sure to color code the box with what room it’s going into, not what room it’s coming out of.

💡When you pack, tape the box shut with ordinary moving/packing tape, then put the color-coded tape on top of it. These color coded tapes can be expensive, and you don’t want to run out of a particular color.

Have a Directory

On move-in day, you should have a means of telling people bringing in boxes which color box goes to what room. There are a couple of means of achieving this, depending on your situation. I’ve used both methods, and they both work.

(1) Acquaint someone in your moving party with your color scheme and which room is which. Have that person stand or sit just inside the door – or even hold the door open, identify the color on the box, and tell the carrier which room the box goes to. This is a great option if your elderly grandmother absolutely insists on helping you move or your best friend broke her ankle last week and wants to help anyway.

(2) If everyone among your moving buddies is able-bodied and you’re shorthanded, this may be a better method. Go into the new place while everyone else is starting to unpack the truck, and take your colored tape with you – or better yet, have the colored tape stuck to pieces of paper ahead of time and bring them with you on move-in day. Tack the sheet of paper that has the color for that room stuck to it to the door jamb leading into the room, in such a way that it can be readily seen.

💡 Learned the hard way: A lot of these color-coded moving tapes don’t come off readily. Don’t stick them directly to furniture or walls, as they may tear paint or varnish or leave sticky residue behind.

The Open-Me-First Box

No law says that a box can only be marked with one color. The larger packs of tape include rolls of tape that read “Fragile”. I’ve even seen one that included a “Heavy” roll.

Set aside a color that you don’t use for any other purpose, or establish another method of marking a box that is visually obvious. Neon duct tape is a fun choice, but choose something loud. This color will be used for boxes that are to be opened first, and should be marked with this color in addition to a destination room marking. Boxes with this marking should be placed in the room separately from the main box pile.

Boxes to be opened first should contain things such as:

  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Trash bags
  • Paper plates and cutlery
  • Your checkbook/credit cards
  • Phone chargers
  • Medications
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Anything else you’ll need the day you move in

Pre-Prep The New Space

Depending on your situation, this may not be an option, but if you can, I recommend signing your lease papers / closing on your house a week or so before move-in. Doing so lets you do several things that will make your move-in day and your first night in your new pad easier and more comfortable.

Address Any Issues: Signing the papers early gives you time to go through your leasing checklist. Walk the place and make sure that everything is in working order, that nothing is missing/broken/stained, and address any issues. If it’s an apartment, open a maintenance ticket and have them address it before you move in. If a house, you’ll need to address it yourself.

Set Up The Bathroom: Having the keys to your new space lets you bring in your shower curtain, bath rug, toilet paper, and so forth in ahead of time. More than once, I’ve hopped out of the moving truck and dashed straight for the can before bothering to open the truck. Having the toilet paper already there was very helpful.

Bring Up Your Internet: Millennials/digitals, this one is especially for you. Depending on your cellular data in your first days can be costly. You won’t be able to establish your Internet service until you’ve signed the lease / closed on the house, so if you’ve already had your Internet installed, you’ll have WiFi on moving day. Your friends will appreciate your foresight, and so will you.

Bring In New Stuff: Are you buying new furniture? If so, consider bringing the new furniture in a few days ahead of the moving truck and place it/assemble it. This gives you more room to do assembly if needed, and saves you space on the truck.

Stock the Fridge: Cold drinks are better than warm ones when you’re hauling boxes up three flights of stairs in July, and there’s nothing like cooking breakfast your first morning in your new pad.  You’ll need to locate your closest grocery store in short order anyway, so why not do that one evening before you move?

Take A Good Look Around

Do this before you move in if you can, or as soon after you move in as you can. Mark your location, pin it in your GPS, then go driving around. Get a sense of where things are. In particular, you’ll want to locate (and maybe visit):

  • The nearest grocery store
  • The nearest Target/Walmart
  • The nearest mall
  • The nearest dry cleaner
  • All local exits to the highway – knowing more than one is helpful

You’ll also want to time your new commute. What time do you have to get up to be in by 8:30 AM / make that 8:00 AM class?

Observe your neighbors, and say hello if you’re comfortable. They’ll give you clues as to the quirks of the neighborhood and you might just meet some new friends.

For example, in one place I lived, the grocery store was always slammed on Sunday, and I couldn’t figure it out. Finally, I noticed that a good number of the local women wore long skirts and covered their hair, and a good number of the men either wore yarmulkes or the traditional brimmed hats. Oh. This is an Orthodox Jewish community. Knowing a little bit about the rules around Orthodox Judaism, I looked for people walking in the neighborhood during the day on a Saturday, and thereby located the synagogue. (Orthodox Jews do not drive on the Sabbath, as it’s considered work. The Jewish Sabbath is sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.) This also meant that the best time to grocery shop was Saturday morning, NOT Sunday as it would be in a Christian community. My grocery shopping got a lot easier after I figured that out.

It’s also fun to get lost. You’ll find interesting things about the neighborhood that only the locals know, like that hole in the wall that serves amazing Thai food or a tiny jewelry shop that fosters cats or who’s got the best pizza.

Be Realistic

Consider who you have available to help you, and how much stuff you have to move. You might not be able to get it all done in one day. Be realistic about what you can get done in a day — take what you think you can get done, and halve it. If you’re shorthanded or have a lot of stuff, consider splitting the move into two days.

Plan not to work in the dark if you don’t have to. That’s how people get hurt.

Start early in the morning, if you’re moving in warm weather. Daytime heat will suck the life out of you. The more you can have done before it really starts to get hot, the better off you will be.

Schedule breaks.

Hydrate. Did I say hydrate? Do it again.

A Final Word

Good luck! Enjoy this — it really is fun to move into a new space. I hope this helps you have a smooth and stress-free move.