Updated August 31, 2022
We all live with roommates at some point, either when we go to college or get our first apartment. But, with the high rents in many major centres, it’s not unusual today to still have a roommate well into your 20’s or 30’s (or beyond).
There are some good things to be said about having a roommate. If you’ve moved to a new city, it can be a way of making new friends outside of work.
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If you room with someone from a different background or culture, it can be a way of adding diversity to your friendships. Roommates can help you feel you’re not alone in the world. On the other hand, living in any type of shared household, whether it’s with a partner or a roommate, means that you give up some of the freedom you enjoy when living alone. When you’re living with a roommate, whether they be a friend or someone you found on Craigslist, some conflicts are bound to come up.
Here are a few common issues that may arise in shared living situations, as well as some possible solutions:
You are a neat freak, and your roommate is, well… not. Even little things like not doing the dishes, not picking up jackets and shoes, and not tidying up things left in the living room become not-so-little after a while. If one of you can’t stand to see a single dish left sitting in the sink, while the other one doesn’t put anything in the dishwasher until a full load is piled up, things will reach the breaking point sooner or later – probably sooner.
One of the best ways to cope with different housekeeping points of view is to hire a cleaning service and split the cost. This way, all of the major cleaning will get done, without either of you having to pester the other one. But there’s still the issue of the daily clean-ups. One solution might be to create a Chore Chart. There are many ways to do this: on a calendar, on a spreadsheet, or even on a wheel. Sit down with your roommate and work out a cleaning schedule together.
What to do when your roommate is always in the room? Maybe they work from home (or just don’t work). There are pros and cons to this type of situation. The downside is self-explanatory: they’re always there. You’ll never get the living room all to yourself. But having someone at home every day can have its upsides: they could accept deliveries, meet the cable guy or any other service technician. But if you work from home as well, you might find yourselves constantly bumping into each other. Or when you invite some friends over, your roomie plunks themselves down in the living room and doesn’t give you any privacy. Or they hog the shared space all the time.
You might want to check each other’s schedules. At your weekly meeting (see below) find out when your roommate is planning to be out of the house. Everyone has to go out sometime; to the movies, to go shopping, to see friends. You could use these times for your own “me time” sessions. Take over the living room, put your feet up, and read or watch your favourite show.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are the absent roommates. Either they’re always in their room, or they’re just never home. It can be annoying if you were expecting a more social living arrangement.
You can ask your roommate if they’d like to hang out sometime. Maybe they’re just shy, and would welcome you taking the initiative. If your roommate is always out of the house, you can try asking about their day. They might appreciate you taking an interest in what they do while they’re out. Of course, you shouldn’t be nosy and force the issue if they don’t want to talk about it. You can also just try to enjoy the solitude. Many people love having absent roommates, as it’s a bit like having your own home at half the rent.
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One of you is a social butterfly with friends constantly dropping over. The other considers home their refuge, away from people. You may feel like you have to sit in your bedroom while your roomie’s friends are over, listening to them drink all the coffee you’ve bought. Clearly, issues will arise if something isn’t done.
They may not realize you feel this way unless you speak up. Maybe the two of you can come to an agreement where they limit their visitors and meet them at a coffee shop or restaurant once in a while. Determining how you handle visitors is an important part of your roommate agreement, which we’ll get into further down the page.
Hopefully, before you ever moved in together, you discussed this matter. Rent could be 50/50, or if one of you has a larger room, maybe the split is a bit different. One of you might pay more of the cable bill because they added the 24/7 Aussie rules football channel that no one else watches. And what about household items, like dish soap and toilet paper? If one person feels they are paying more than their share, resentment will build up. And how do you keep track of who owes what?
You can try an app called Splitwise. If you’re always running out to buy small items, this app keeps track of the expenditures, as well as how much your roommate owes you (and how much you owe them). Then you can pay your debt in one lump sum, rather than several small transactions. And don’t forget about your tenants insurance. If you share one policy, and one of you has more furniture or other belongings than the other, a 50/50 split of the premium may not be equitable. Talk to your insurance advisor about whether it’s better to share a policy or get individual policies.
One of you likes the apartment toasty warm. The other one likes it on the cool side. Is it an issue of sweating all day, or are they concerned about paying too much for the heating? Disagreement about what constitutes a comfortable temperature is very common for people who share a space, but that doesn’t make it any less of an issue.
If the cost of heating is what’s causing the issue, then perhaps the person who likes it warm can offer to pay more of the heating bill. Another compromise may be to keep the heat at the mid-point of what each roommate considers comfortable. Adjustments to indoor clothing can help as well; the colder roommate can wear a thicker sweater, while the roommate who’s feeling the heat can opt for shorts and t-shirts.
Did your roommate forget to lock the deadbolt again? Maybe one of you is a bit more security conscious than the other. Or it could be a matter of just not being aware. Let’s say you commonly open the sliding glass doors to the patio, and leave them open as long as one of you is home to let the fresh air in. When you leave for work, maybe you didn’t realize you were the last one out and neglected to close and lock the doors.
To make sure this doesn’t happen, you could put a checklist up by the door: Shut the lights, lock the patio doors, turn on the alarm. This way, you’ll think twice before walking out, and leaving your home open to whoever wants to walk in.
It’s never okay to borrow your roommate’s stuff without permission, nor is okay for them to borrow yours. It’s also not okay to enter your roommate’s room while they’re out of the house, unless you have their blessing. Disrespecting each other’s boundaries can cause major friction between roommates.
Always get permission before using anything belonging to your roommate or entering their bedroom. Make sure you’ve clearly defined which stuff is common property, and which is personal property to be used only with permission. If your roommate isn’t respecting these boundaries, the first step is to tell them that you’re not okay with it. If you’ve had a conversation and they still insist on using your stuff, a more extreme measure would be to install a lock on your bedroom door.
Significant other staying over too much? If they’re using too much water when they shower, it’s time they started chipping in for expenses. This is a very common issue among roommates and should be discussed before it builds up to a larger problem. It can also be a problem if you have family or friends from out of town staying for weekends occasionally.
You must give your roommate advanced notice of any visitors. Imagine coming home and finding a stranger coming out of your bathroom. Let your roommate know who is coming, for how long, and where they’re going to be sleeping. Always make sure you get your roommate’s okay. It’s their home as well, so you need to agree on this. If it’s a significant other, and visits will be on a regular basis, discuss. Agree on how often this can happen without being too much. Put yourself in their shoes, and have an open conversation about it.
Your roommate works on the weekends, so Monday and Tuesday are their days off. And days off might mean they’ll be staying up late and bringing friends over. But if you’re working the early shift Monday and Tuesday, you need to get to bed early and get your sleep. Not easy to do with a living room full of strangers.
Agree on household quiet hours, times during which there should be no noise. This is very important for roommates who have different work schedules.
There are few things worse than living with a roommate who is disrespectful. Whether they use offensive language, treat the living space poorly, or disregard the needs of everyone they live with, a roommate with no respect can make life truly miserable.
As with many issues, communication can be the problem solver. Sit down with your roommate and explain to them, calmly and respectfully, that their behaviour is upsetting you. Do this at a time when you’re both feeling calm. Take the high road, and treat them with the respect you wish they’d show you and your living space. The last thing you want to do is escalate the situation.
In more extreme cases, where the disrespectful behaviour is making you feel deeply uncomfortable (or even unsafe), you may have to ask them to move out. This can be a very touchy subject, and you may want to get your landlord involved. The landlord is usually the only person with the legal authority to evict someone if their name is on the lease.
People who don’t have good personal hygiene practices can be pretty unpleasant to be around even for short durations; living with such a person is truly uncomfortable. If your roommate has terrible body odour, doesn’t shower, or doesn’t wash their laundry, it’s not easy to live with. Bringing up the subject with them is pretty uncomfortable as well.
Once again, the solution is to communicate; be honest and upfront with them about the issue. They may genuinely not realize that there’s a problem. Try to be understanding, and don’t make them feel like they’re being attacked. You can steer away from this by focusing on how the issue affects you, and how you feel about it. If you don’t feel like it’s time for a sit-down conversation, you can start by giving them hints. Get them a gift basket of soap and shampoo, for example.
One of the last things you want to deal with is a roommate who’s involved in illegal activities or operating a marijuanna grow-op. Selling illegal drugs, committing theft and storing the stolen goods in your home, or who knows what else… having a criminal roommate is a problem.
Depending on the severity of the crimes you suspect your roommate of, there are different approaches you can take. You definitely don’t want to ignore the problem. If your roommate’s criminal activities should be discovered by police, you could be implicated. You might have to deal with law enforcement searching your home.
If your roommate is named on the lease, you definitely want to involve your landlord. If they need to be evicted, the landlord is the one with the authority to do it. Criminal activity is a risk to their property, so they’ll want to know about it. If your roommate is not on the lease, you can attempt to ask them to move out yourself, provided you feel safe approaching them in such a way.
If you feel that your roommate is a danger to you, you should get outside support from police and/or your landlord.
One of the best ways to deal with small issues before they become big ones is to schedule weekly meetings. Call them what you like: “check-ins,” “sync meetings,” or “time to touch base.” But use them as an opportunity to:
Check each other’s schedules so you know when you can have some alone time in the apartment. If you’re going out of town for the weekend, let your roommate know you’ll be away. This is a sign that you care about your roommate, and hopefully, your roommate will respect and care about you.
Discuss your chore chart. If one of you has not been fulfilling your duties, this is the time for a gentle reminder. Download a sample here.
People often try to avoid face-to-face confrontations by leaving passive aggressive notes for their roommate. This is more likely to cause additional problems than solve existing ones. It’s better to be honest and address any issues directly with your roommate. There could be a very simple fix to a problem. Maybe they throw their coat on a chair rather than hanging it up, and never realized it bothered you. Rather than leave a nasty note, add it to your agenda for the weekly meeting.
One of the best ways to stay on top of potential issues is to create a roommate agreement. The best time to do it is before you move in together, but it’s never too late. A roommate agreement is a document that all the residents of a household will review and sign, that sets out basic rules for living together and provides a reference in the case of disputes. It’s a friendly agreement that doesn’t hold legal weight, so it’s important that everyone agree to follow the terms. Set aside an hour or two to sit down with your roommate(s) and work through it.
Your roommate agreement should address most or all of the following, as well as anything else you can think of that’s worth getting in writing:
The names of the house members, the address of the home, the name of the landlord, and details about the lease such as whose name is on it and how long it lasts.
The amount of the rent, and how it’s divided amongst roommates. As well, record the damage deposit and who paid it. Record who is responsible for collecting the rent and getting it to the landlord.
Define who gets which bedroom, who gets which storage closet, and which spaces are common to all roommates. If the home has parking spaces, who gets to use them?
What happens if someone wants to move out? How much notice must they give, and who is responsible for finding a replacement tenant?
Shared costs, like utilities, internet, and cable. How will these be shared, and who is responsible for paying each?
Policies for guests. How many guests are allowed? What time must guests leave in the evening? Are guests allowed overnight, and if so how much notice must housemates be given?
Who is responsible for which chores? Will you use a chore chart? What is the general level of cleanliness each roommate expects?
Quiet hours. Are there certain times during the day when no noise is allowed?
Rules for parties, alcohol, and drugs.
If the landlord allows pets, what are the rules about new or existing pets?
You are never going to agree with your roommate on absolutely everything. Decide what issues are real deal breakers for you, and which ones you can live with. Think about how you’ll sound saying “You don’t squeegee the shower door after every shower.” If they don’t leave toothpaste blobs in the sink and always replace the toilet paper, maybe you can live with an un-squeegeed shower.
You may be used to having things a certain way, and aren’t really interested in changing. Most people are quite set in their ways about certain things. However, living with a roommate can be a great opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and try things a little differently. You may find that having to get up a little earlier to avoid clashing shower times isn’t so bad after all. Maybe you find that tidying up the kitchen every day actually feels good. Learning to compromise and accept that things can’t be exactly how you like them is a valuable skill. Being willing to adjust to your roommates idiosyncrasies (and them doing the same for you) will lead to an amicable living situation, and maybe even a new friendship.
Living with a roommate has both its joys and challenges. The best way to keep on good terms is to maintain open and honest communication, and address issues as they come up.
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