Keep friction to a minimum.
August 4, 2011 5:53 AM   Subscribe

Help me keep conflict between my roommates to a minimum.

I bought a 3-bedroom house and moved in one year ago, always with the intention of renting out the other rooms to help pay the mortgage. Initially, I lived with one (now former) friend and a random person from craigslist. We didn't really get along, and the random guy moved out without notice in January. I shrugged and quickly found another, only to discover he was an avid pot smoker who did nothing but sit in his room and watch Netflix all day.

Basically, since I've moved in, I haven't enjoyed my roommates. Until June, when I kicked the two roommates out (with a month's notice) and brought in two of my best friends. We all get along really well, stay clean, and are very respectful of personal space.

Now, I had another guy move in last minute at the same time. He's my brother's former roommate—so I knew he was a good guy—and his housing plans fell through at the last minute, so I converted the basement into another bedroom and moved him in there.

There wasn't much friction at first, but over the past few weeks it's surfaced. Last-Minute Man isn't as clean as he should be, and he's very emotionally needy, meaning we've had some personal space issues. This is a little annoying to me, though palatable, but the other two hate it. They've started talking about him behind his back constantly, and they force smaller issues—like forgetting to clean the stove after use—into a full on confrontation.

Last-Minute Man takes this very personally and responds by telling me if it continues he'll move out. I like living with him, and I can deal with a little encroachment on my personal space, and I don't want to have to find another roommate.

They talked last night, so some of the issues might be resolved, but I'd like to be proactive and keep the situation from deteriorating. Has anyone lived in a similar situation—all good people but clashing personalities? I don't want to have to keep the peace, but any small suggestions I could give either of them to keep friction to a minimum would be perfect. Thanks!
posted by mean cheez to Human Relations (13 answers total)
Well the two can either gang up on him and win by majority, or everyone can compromise.

I'd go for the second: discuss what's wrong, keep on topic, then compromise.

If the compromise seems unfair then you can always change tactics.
posted by devnull at 5:57 AM on August 4, 2011

If he's not as clean as he should be, address that directly.

However, I think the bigger problem sounds like your other housemates just don't like him, even if he cleaned up and as much as it sucks, I would ask him to start looking for a new place (and be flexible about it and maybe even offer to help look).

I also have a feeling that 4 people in a 3 bedroom place is just too many and it's easier for them to gang up on the Last Minute Guy because he was introduced (and is still regarded) as an intruder, rather than a legitimate 4th roommate in his own right.

You were originally only going to have two housemates so I don't see why him leaving means you have to find another. But you will definitely need to find another housemate if the two of your friends leave (and maybe some new best friends).
posted by like_neon at 6:04 AM on August 4, 2011 [7 favorites]

I like living with him, and I can deal with a little encroachment on my personal space, and I don't want to have to find another roommate.

The reality is that your roommates are going to come and go regularly, regardless of how well you get along. Roommates just don't stay put for long as a rule. You're invested in the place because you own it, but the guys you rent to would rather live with a girlfriend or have their own apartments or take a better job in a different area or move to another country to go to school, etc., and if any of those opportunities open up (and they will) they'll be gone like a shot.

Try to keep the peace between your current roommates by all means, but don't try too hard, because their residency is always going to be temporary.
posted by orange swan at 6:10 AM on August 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

If your friends are still paying the same amount of rent as they were before but now they have to live with ANOTHER person, wonder they're resentful and pissy.

If they're paying less rent, then I'd let them have input into the decision but remind them that their rent will go up if this guy moves out. That might help them be a bit nicer.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:12 AM on August 4, 2011 [11 favorites]

The trite answer is that conflict isn't the problem, but how it is dealt with may cause problems!

The conflict isn't really being dealt with here and this is causing the friction. Find some way to work past it and it might work out better.

I think it would be totally relevant to point out that you have good housemates now, and you don't want to have to sift through the pot smokers to find roomies again.
posted by titanium_geek at 6:41 AM on August 4, 2011

Think of it like this: finding roommates is like dating. You are going to go through a ton of them until you find the perfect ones, or you will just get some into the house and hold on to them, even if they aren't the best match for you.

Then once they are there, they take maintenance, compromise, conflict resolution, etc.

Also, it might help to think of roommates and just roommates, and not friends.

If you think in these terms, that may be helpful.
posted by TinWhistle at 7:02 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, you're going to have to make that tough decision between being a friend to everyone or a being a landlord. I've been here before, so hopefully this advice will be helpful. This may be a problem from stemming from a feeling of inequality from your troubled tenant. From my opinion, the main point I want to stress here is that it's your it's you, not your friends, that needs to set the ground rules and stick to enforcing them. When doing so treat all tenants equally and have the same expectations.

One of the immediate changes you could look into is to explain cleaning up after oneself after using the kitchen. Three strikes within a month and it's grounds for eviction unless there's extenuating circumstances. Cleaning up after a meal is such an easy mindless thing to do, and takes such little time, that this should never be an issue. (and we're talking about obvious messes...not petty things like missed at least want to see the effort being made into taking care of and respecting your home and well as being the one in a position of leadership to hear concerns and act fairly upon complaints)

Another idea would be to hold a meeting and divvy up responsibilities (which is what I've done before successfully, although YMMV). These responsibilities should not be on a daily or weekly rotation (or if they are..spaced out a few weeks or months as a daily or weekly duty). Immediate rotations cause issues and frustrations I could write a book about from my experiences. Someone has dish duty...someone has trash duty...someone has counter/appliance cleanliness duty...etc. All of these duties are clearly understood. You need to take part in responsibilities as well to keep things fair, and be the one to confront and mentor tenants that are abusing the system (eg. the guy who always leaves food caked on dishes without rinsing it off first...that's just rude...and this is why it's rude..etc). One way I did this in the past was the "pick your duty from a hat" method. You could make it part of a game, so it's fun AND dreadful at the same time. Kidding aside...and in short...what I see going on here in your situation is a lack of leadership and mediation in the house...which is causing friction due to letting them work out their differences alone. It will always seem unfair to the troubled tenant as he will always feel picked on by tenants you are perceived to have favoritism towards. Since the overall mortgage payments and oversight of tenants needs are your responsibility, you're that lucky "mandatorily assigned" volunteer for the job. Good luck!
posted by samsara at 7:56 AM on August 4, 2011

If your friends are still paying the same amount of rent as they were before but now they have to live with ANOTHER person, wonder they're resentful and pissy.

This is exactly what I was going to say. They were each paying for 1/3 of the common space, and now they're paying the same for 1/4 -- except it doesn't quite work like that, because as the number of people goes up linearly, the potential for conflict (not just interpersonal conflict, but "I was going to cook but Terry was using the kitchen" conflict) goes up exponentially, such that conflicts double when you go from 3 people to 4. (nerdy mathematical details available upon request.) But when one more person doubles the amount of conflict in the household, people aren't going to see that as a product of the system -- they're going to see it as attributable to that person.
posted by endless_forms at 8:06 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

If three people was enough to pay your mortgage before and you were only doing this guy a favor, why would you need to replace him if he left?

Tell him it's not working out, given him a long period of notice to find a new place and ask him to leave.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:16 AM on August 4, 2011

Thanks for the thoughts, all.

Clarification: They all moved in at the same time, and they all know they're paying less than the previous tenants because of the additional person. The basement was also never used as a common room (wasn't really used for anything) so it isn't an issue of physical personal space so much as privacy.

I think the step I'll take next will be to divide up tasks, per samsara's suggestion. If conflict continues, and it proves to be more of an issue of one roommate just antagonizing the other, I'll have to do some rearrangement.

Thanks again!
posted by mean cheez at 8:49 AM on August 4, 2011

It sounds like your sense of self-interest and your sense of fairness are in conflict about whether to ask the guy to move out. Things to consider include impact on your friendship with your other 2 housemates if you don't take action, as well as impact on your relationship with your brother if you ask him to leave.
If you think of this mediocre housemate as being "the victim", then the secondary victim would be your self-image as a nice, fair, and understanding person who goes out of your way to help people who need what you can provide - are you worried that taking this action will make you "the bad guy"? In whose eyes?
The question of whether this guy would still be your friend is somewhat irrelevant, since you're unlikely to come out of this as best-buds even if you do good conflict resolution - there is conflict and you all 4 know it, he'd probably leave at the end of the lease term anyway and quite possibly lose touch thereafter, so it's just a question of sooner/later, angry/apathy, and whether there would be repercussions with your brother.
posted by aimedwander at 8:54 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

You have two roommates who you get along with great, and one guy who's been a source of conflict? Kick that one guy out. "Bob, I'm so sorry, but I need to build a gym in that basement." Whatever. Just get rid of him.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:00 PM on August 4, 2011

Even if they all moved in at the same time, the two friends were expecting a three-close-friends-sharing-a-house situation, and got three-close-friends-plus-random-dude-who-turns-out-to-be-annoying. As one of the friends, I wouldn't be happy either.

You can't control the dynamic here, especially because from the friends' point of view it's a bit of a bait-and-switch. You can either rent the rooms as a straight landlord-tenant relationship, in which room renters don't have any say about who else is rented to and you are the authority, or a friends-sharing-a-house relationship – but it seems like you're trying to ride two horses here.

If your friend-roommates are willing to pay the original rent (before last-minute guy was installed and rents were reduced), it seems it would be wisest to let him go find a happier situation.
posted by taz at 2:10 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

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