Flatmates

Who is a flatmate?

A flatmate is someone who shares a house with others, contributing equally to expenses and chores. Disputes between flatmates are not covered by the Residential Tenancies Act.

Do some flatmates have more rights than others?

Yes, the rights a flatmate has depends on their status as a tenant.

A head tenant has the right to evict a flatmate. In this situation, the flatmate doesn't have the rights of a tenant and is in a similar situation to a boarder.

Co-tenants do not have the right to evict another co-tenant; only the landlord can do this.

What about organising food and kitty?

Flatmates vary in the way they organise shared food and bills. The most common system is for everyone to contribute a set amount each week.

Flatmates can make an agreement in writing setting out how the flat will run, which can include things such as:

  • how expenses such as food, electricity and telephone are shared
  • how housework is to be shared
  • what happens when friends stay for meals or overnight
  • flat rules about smoking, drinking or pets
  • how much notice flatmates must give when moving out.

Who is legally responsible for the bills?matesThe person whose name appears on the bill. That person is responsible for paying the bill from the kitty or getting the flatmates to contribute. It is important when moving out that the name is changed to avoid being liable for a bill incurred by other people.

What to do about a conflict between flatmates?

It is important that the flatmates talk about the problem. They should plan an appropriate time and place to talk and be clear about the problem and the effect it has had. It is important that one person is not blamed for the problem or their behaviour interpreted. Everyone must have a chance to explain their side of the situation.

At the end of the flat meeting it should be agreed what action is needed to resolve things and when and where to meet again to see how things are going.

What if this process doesn't work?

Then it is probably time for a third person to mediate or for someone to move out.

What happens when a flatmate or boarder moves out owing money?

If they acknowledge the bill but just won't pay it and the bill is for a small amount, there is not much that can be done, other than hassle them to pay. Ultimately, the bill might need to be written off and paid by the remaining tenants.

A debt could be referred to a debt collection agency, who will charge a percentage of the debt as their fee. A debt can be enforced through the District Court, but this can be a frustrating process, so it is a good idea to weigh up whether the debt is worth following up.

If the bill is disputed then it can be taken to the Disputes Tribunal. If the Tribunal makes an order for the bill to be paid and the flatmate still doesn't pay, it will have to be enforced through the District Court.

It is very important to get departing flatmates or boarders to settle their bills before they leave.

What if the boarder or flatmate leaves property behind?

This property cannot be sold to recover money owed for rent or bills. The usual debt recovery procedure should be used.

If the property has been abandoned, reasonable steps should be taken to find the owner. If this is not possible, the property can be sold. It is accepted that the property cannot be stored indefinitely. Storage expenses and associated costs can be deducted from the sale proceeds.

How can a flatmate or boarder be evicted if they refuse to leave?

It is usually only in extreme cases that a boarder or flatmate refuses to leave. If this happens, the landlord or head tenant could serve a trespass notice under the Trespass Act 1980.

If the person still doesn't leave, they are trespassing and could be arrested by the Police. This is really a last resort action and legal advice should be obtained or the matter discussed with a community constable first.