One of the difficulties faced by young people, especially those in our pricier urban areas, is finding an affordable place to live. It’s a natural and inevitable reaction to seek out roommates or housemates to share the expense.

With every relationship, there is the potential for conflicts and problems. In the case of roommates, this is exemplified by the popular TV series, “The Big Bang Theory,” where Sheldon Cooper insists that his roommate, Leonard Hofstadter, sign the infamous “Roomate Agreement,” a voluminous document that includes a host of crazy provisions such as adoption of an official flag, obligations on Leonard to drive Sheldon to work, and a clause on cooperation to destroy Godzilla.

But for the rest of us, the reality is that what may have seemed like a very workable arrangement at the beginning, turns out not to be so over time. Different schedules, food and music choices can be very annoying. If one party is unable to afford the rent or other charges, that leaves the other person paying more than their fair share. And if one party has their significant other move in (or just spend lots of time in the apartment), that can really be an imposition on the other roommate(s).

In most cases, a landlord will not get involved in these internal disputes and will expect that the rent and other expenses will be paid promptly. Otherwise, all of the occupants will face eviction and/or other legal action. And with a long-term lease, this means that the roommates will have to find a way to resolve these differences or face significant financial consequences.

While the Big Bang Theory roommate agreement is obviously taken to absurd extremes, I recommend that unrelated parties execute at least a simple memorandum of understanding that covers the basic issues that can arise. For instance, set forth exactly who will pay what amounts, when they are due, how to split utilities, cable, and other expenses, what happens if bills are not paid promptly, and procedures to follow if one roommate wants or needs to vacate the premises. Also consider general rules and regulations concerning noise, guests, significant others, cleaning, food and supplies, resolving grievances, etc. The parties may also want to include some sort of guarantee or co-signing by the roommates’ parents (obviously depending on the parties’ ages and station in life), and possibly a security deposit that is pooled to cover missed payments or other financial issues.

Of course, a written agreement is no assurance that the terms will be followed, but it helps to reduce misunderstandings and mistaken assumptions and provides a framework for managing what might otherwise be a source of added tension.

What do you think? Add your comments here...

I used to believe, naïvely perhaps, that arbitration was a sensible way to resolve business disputes. I bought into the hype that arbitration would be resolved more quickly and in a more cost-effective manner than traditional litigation. I was also impressed by the promise that so-called experts would be resolving the cases rather than judges with little experience in the issues.

I have come to learn that the opposite is true. In two recent matters which affected my clients, arbitration proved to be the worst of all worlds. And I am apparently not alone, as I have spoken to many other attorneys with similar experiences and read about still more.

As for cost, the cases proved to be far more expensive than traditional litigation. After all, my clients were paying for their own attorneys, but also paying one half of the cost of the arbitrator — himself a highly paid attorney. In the traditional courtroom setting, the judge is paid by the taxpayers.

The matters were not resolved any faster, either. The parties were still able to present endless motions and propound considerable discovery which forced the matters to drag out for many months. And the arbitrator is paid his fees every step of the way.

Finally, and perhaps worst of all, the decision-makers clearly had no grasp of the issues and their importance. Decisions were made that overlooked substantial and material facts and misapplied the law, leaving my clients in a far worse position than had they been in court. At least in court, when a decision goes this far awry, the parties may have the option to take an appeal and ask for another look by a second set of judges. And while the appeals courts are typically compelled to accept the facts as found by the trial court, they are nevertheless equipped to insure that the law was applied correctly in light of those factual findings. If nothing else, the threat of a reversal through an appeal can drive parties to a settlement that they might not otherwise achieve. In arbitration, the arbitrator’s decision is final and there are virtually no grounds for appeal, no matter how bizarre and idiosyncratic might be the decision.

This is not to say that I would forgo arbitration in all instances. I still believe there is a place for arbitration, particularly for partners in a business who are situated on relatively equal footing. But aside from this very limited circumstance, I am hard-pressed to believe that there is any benefit to arbitration. And while both parties face the risk of an unjust decision, all sense of fairness seems to be lost. In my view, arbitration and arbitrary are really one and the same.

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