Budgeting, Planning & Forecasting

Budgeting, Planning & Forecasting

April 26, 2011

Harvard Grad Student Introduces Fast Solution for Splitting the Rent

It can be a tricky situation. You just moved into your dream New York City apartment with a stranger you found on Craigslist and are trying to figure out how to fairly divide the rent – after all, her bedroom is twice the size of yours but your bedroom has a private bathroom.

So should she pay more for her ample closet space or should you pay more because you only need to travel five feet to use the restroom?

Luckily for all those stressed roommates out there, Harvard grad student Jonathan Bittner has a less awkward way to determine who should pay what – SplitTheRent.com.

SplitTheRent, which first made headlines this February, offers a rent-splitting calculator that takes into account size and quality of bedrooms to divide rent fairly among housemates. The mission of the site is to keep track of rent and expenses for you and your housemates to ensure that there is “no confusion, no stress, no arguments,” according to the site.

“On two different occasions I've shared an apartment with my girlfriend and another roommate, and we had to figure out a fair way to split the rent,” Bittner told TMCnet. “I love to think about ethics, and I'm a math nerd, so I started thinking of about what fairness formula rent-sharing should be based on.”

The 26-year-old first sent a survey to his friends asking them to determine what housing features should be weighed the most heavily when it comes to deciding who pays what for rent. He then created a Web-based calculator that relies on algorithms to tell you how much each tenant owes.

“I thought it was kind of a funny idea, but when I posted the rent-calculator and the survey, people really liked it and found that it helped them evaluate fairness in this awkward social situation,” Bittner said.

From there SplitTheRent took off.

The new site (it was formerly SplitTheRent.org) is a collaboration between Bittner and Yale Computer Science student Ryan Laughlin, who has joined SplitTheRent as a design and technical co-founder for the development of the site.

This week, SplitTheRent announced that it is launching a beta version of a free bill-tracking service.

So how does it work?

Each month, SplitTheRent tells roommates how much they owe for rent and bills, and who needs to be paid back. It organizes everything on a single page, so that users can see their apartment expenses at a glance.

The homepage lets users create a free account to store and share expenses with housemates. Each user adds shared expenses on SplitTheRent.com using a computer or mobile device, so that one housemate isn’t stuck with the responsibility of tracking finances for the group. Automated emails remind users of payment due dates and eliminate the unpleasant duty of “being the bad guy” who has to remind housemates when they owe money. The site even confirms with the person responsible for writing the rent check to make sure that it's been sent each month.

SplitTheRent also boasts a super-simple interface which makes everything visible on one page;

a “quick-add” for expenses written in plain English, for example “Electric Bill 50,” and tracking for who writes the rent check and whether or not it has been sent.

When asked who may find this site particularly useful, Bittner told TMCnet that the possibilities are endless.

“The site now organizes bills and other expenses too, so it's really for any group of students or young professionals living together and settling their debts each month,” he said. “Big groups of people splitting really large houses will probably find it especially useful. It's also great for couples who want to manage shared expenses without a shared bank account – that's actually what I use it for.”

This summer, Bittner has plans to expand SplitTheRent by adding online payment tools and a mobile app.

“This summer, we'll be adding an online payment tool and mobile versions of the site so that it takes even less time to deal with rent and sharing expenses,” he said. “We are also adding new fairness tools each week, for things like dividing up furniture, splitting electric bills and valuing parking spots.”

“Ultimately, we want the headache of sharing a house or apartment to barely require your attention and for things to just take care of themselves – that's the dream,” he added.

Carrie Schmelkin is a Web Editor for TMCnet. Previously, she worked as Assistant Editor at the New Canaan Advertiser, a 102-year-old weekly newspaper, covering news and enhancing the publication's social media initiatives. Carrie holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and a bachelor's degree in English from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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