No Ring, No Rent? Should I Split Housing Costs With My Boyfriend?

Our editor-in-chief gives her two cents on paying joint bills before marriage

Headshot of Kristin Myers between illustrations of people.

Dear Kristin,

I met my boyfriend at the start of the pandemic. Everything has been great, and I feel like if we could survive dating through a pandemic, our relationship can withstand anything. We’ve talked about marriage, though he hasn’t proposed yet. My lease is up soon, and he owns an apartment. We spend so much time together that we’ve decided it’s both easier and cheaper if we just move in together to his place. 

After talking through some of the finances around the move, we agreed to split the mortgage payment and other expenses equally. But when I told my friends and family, they weren’t thrilled with the arrangement and said that if it wasn’t my house, I shouldn’t be paying it off. They think I shouldn’t pay the mortgage or other housing expenses until we’re married and I’m on the deed. It has me rethinking the whole thing. How much should I pay if I move in, especially if the apartment isn’t mine?

Sincerely, 
No Mortgage Maven

Dear Maven,

Congratulations on making it this far into the pandemic with your relationship not only intact but thriving! While it’s nice of your friends and family to look out for you, it’s unreasonable for them to expect that you can live rent-free until he puts a ring on it. You need to pay for your housing, whether to a landlord, a rental agency, or your boyfriend. It’s reasonable to pay a portion of the monthly obligations on the home and to split utilities the way you would with any roommate.

But that doesn’t mean you should be responsible for half of all costs related to your boyfriend’s home. A landlord wouldn’t expect you to pay to fix the plumbing or the roof or to pay for modifications that would increase the value of the property, like renovating the kitchen. Your boyfriend shouldn’t expect you to pay for those things either until you both own the property.

Renting also gives you certain protections and having a formal rental agreement will help you feel secure about your move. You seem to be navigating tough, financial conversations pretty well with your boyfriend so far, so this is something you should discuss with him. Signing a lease entitles you to occupancy of the unit (as long as you fulfill your obligations of the terms of the lease) for the length of that contract. If you want to leave or the landlord doesn’t want to renew, you’re entitled to advance notice, depending on the state or city you live in.

Draft an agreement with your boyfriend so that if the relationship doesn’t work out, you won’t suddenly find yourself with no place to go or very little time to find a new place. What those terms look like depends on what you and your boyfriend are comfortable with. I checked in with tax consultant Lea Uradu, who also advised getting any contract you make notarized.

I applaud you both for going into what (I hope) will be the first of many financial conversations with eyes wide open. Many couples find navigating finances tricky, and unfortunately, it often ends relationships. If you can both continue to communicate openly and honestly with each other about money, I predict your relationship will only get stronger. Good luck with the move!

-Kristin

If you have questions about money, Kristin is here to help. Submit an anonymous question and she may answer it in a future column.