What issues ought housemates agree on in advance?
June 17, 2013 4:42 AM   Subscribe

In the 30+ years since leaving home, I've never had a roommate or housemate. This fall, I'll have a housemate with the same history. We'd like to sit down and discuss some ground rules for living in the same house. So what do we talk about? What are the typical issues that housemates ought to resolve to prevent problems later? (Dishes? Chores? Overnight guests?) Have you proven arrangements for equitable settlement of these issues?

More details:

I'm the homeowner and male. She's my cousin and a PhD student (in her last year?) at the local university. She had been housesitting/renting this past year while I was out of town on a fellowship. She apparently likes the setup and asked to stay on at the house after my return.

It's a 1100 sq ft cape cod house and she has the upstairs to herself - about 350 sq ft with a its own bathroom/shower. The ground floor kitchen will be shared. I can make oatmeal, coffee, sandwiches and frozen pizza. She seems to put the kitchen to greater use.

She's from a big city, doesn't drive and is content with the local public transit. I have a car. She's a devoted student, a fellow introvert and doesn't appear to entertain guests often. I'm a cubical drone and pretty much just entertain the same guest daily, but never overnight.

We've already agreed on rent/payment. At this point, I'm assuming all the typical homeowner stuff (like lawn care, gardening, snow shoveling, storm windows, gutter cleaning, repairs, etc) will remain my responsibility.
posted by klarck to Human Relations (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The biggest ones in my experience are Dealing With Mess (i.e. how long is it reasonable for your dishes to remain in the sink? What are the expectations regarding cleanup in general? Should there never be any clutter of personal items in common areas, or is some level ok? etc) and Dealing With Guests (how much of the time is it ok for someone's guest to be hanging around the house? What are the expectations re overnights? Should guest entertainment mostly be in one's room, or is monopolizing the common area ok? What about the TV? Are there nights when one can expect/require that the common area be free of guests? If guest eats the common food, who pays? etc.) Any answers are fine as long as they work for the two of you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:50 AM on June 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Which household supplies are communal and which are individual? Toilet paper, kitchen roll, dish detergent, washing powder?

When both of you say "Yes, I'm cool with keeping the house fairly clean", what does that mean? In my experience it could mean any of
- I won't complain if you clean and tidy stuff of mine while you are doing all the cleaning
- I'll certainly do a once yearly chuck-out of moldy food we find under the couch
- I'll clean the kitchen and bathroom every now and then if they seem dirty, maybe
- I'll clean my fair share of the house regularly even if it is not disgusting yet
- I will be annoyed if I come home and your washed dishes are still drying on the rack, or there are crumbs on the counter or a coat on the back of the couch.
posted by emilyw at 4:58 AM on June 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

How close are you and your cousin? When beginning roommate arrangements with friends or relatives, I've found it's important to have a sense of how much time you want to spend with this roommate. When you move in with strangers, it's generally not an issue, since you all figure it out as you get to know each other. But with relatives or friends, there could be expectations on both sides, and if those are unequal it's trouble.

If you don't know her well at all, I'd ignore this and let it figure itself out. If you guys are friendly-but-not-that-close (which it sounds like maybe you are?) then talk about whether you'll be sharing meals? Hanging out in common areas? Not really hanging out at all--or only at certain times? This doesn't need to be a written rule or anything; just check in to make sure your expectations similar, and at the same time you will be setting the stage to have a good, productive conversation about this kind of issue if anything does come up later.
posted by snorkmaiden at 5:02 AM on June 17, 2013

Noise (music, TV, voices).

Climate control (heat, a/c, open windows; what's a comfortable temp; maintaining that vs. saving money or the planet).

Guest policies. Chore schedule. Rent and utilities payment schedule and the consequences of paying behind schedule. How to raise issues with each other when one person isn't happy.

Skim the AskMe archives under the "roommate" and "roommates" tags to get a sense of the common issues.
posted by Orinda at 5:13 AM on June 17, 2013

Seconding "amount of time socializing together" as a thing to talk about and figure out. Though this isn't always easy to estimate up front. Until I moved in with my current housemate, I'd always been an "I'll stay in my room and you can pretend I'm not here" type. Now I hang out with my housemate all the time. But that was luck - it could have been horrific if one of us wanted constant solitude and the other wanted companionship.

Are you sharing the entire living area (living room, den, as well as kitchen) and if so, what happens if one of you is there all the time? What happens if one of you wants to use it exclusively and the other one is there? She has her own bathroom, but is she allowed to use the downstairs one as well? Are you allowed to use hers? -- Basically, you need to decide if she's renting a room and a bathroom, or if the two of you are sharing your house. You need to be on the same page with that.

I say this every time one of these threads comes up, but you need to talk about temperature. If one of you wants it chilly all the time and the other needs it to be warm, you'll run into problems unless your heating/cooling is zoned.

Unless you're both martinets, sharing a kitchen will inevitably lead to some level of food/drink-sharing. Work out how you'll know what food is sharable and what isn't, and how you'll compensate each other.

Talk about emergency use of your car. Even though she's happy with public transit, what happens if she gets sick or injured? Probably you'll help her out, since she's your cousin, but it will make you both feel more comfortable if you discuss it up front. What happens if YOU get sick or injured? Can she drive your car to the drug store to buy you Nyquil? And if the answer to that is yes, WILL you drive your car to the drug store to buy HER Nyquil?

Do you have pets? What happens if one of you wants to get one? What happens if the owner of this hypothetical pet is sick or out of town?

Good luck!
posted by kythuen at 5:19 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

These were the issues we should have discussed at length before my friend and I moved in together:
Bills (divided equally vs. divided based on income)
Mess (bedrooms are a "free zone" and can be kept however they wish, joint effort to keep communal areas clean, discuss what "clean" means to each of you, rules about dishes and leaving them in the sink etc)
Noise (how late, how loud, weekend vs week day, etc)
Food (sharing food vs. buying separately, separate shelves in the kitchen/fridge, etc)
Phone (landline monopolization)
Guests (who, how many at once, whether or not to discuss in advance with room mate, sleep overs, etc)
Boyfriends/Girlfriends (this ESPECIALLY needs to be discussued if the boyfriend/girlfriend is around a lot and eating communal food)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:24 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing I'd do is set up a time where you both share a meal and discuss any household issues. This should not be a bitch-fest, but it should be a time when anything can be discussed openly without bad feelings.

"I'm kind of warm at night, would it be okay to turn the thermostat down to 68?"

"I know that doing laundry after ten is noisy and inconsiderate, but on Thursdays, I have a late class and I like to have my darks done for Friday morning, is it okay if I do one load a bit later than normal?"

That kind of thing.

Another thing would be to have an open line of communication period. You should feel comfortable enough to bring something up in the moment and she should feel the same.

"I know we both bought the same yogurts, but I think you're eating one of mine. I really like the Key Lime one and I notice that you don't usually get that flavor."

"Hey, this chicken in here, I notice it's stinking up the joint, want me to ditch this for you?"

Communication is the MOST important thing between housemates, and you both should feel comfortable enough to say something is bugging you and for the other person to acknowledge that and to correct any bad behavior.

Also, you should have an agreed upon point of discussion, say 60 days, where either of you can re-evaluate the situation and decide to have your cousin move out if it's not working out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:56 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mess has been the biggest roommate issue for me, and I would further subdivide it into Tidiness (aka picking up after yourself), Cleanliness (aka actually cleaning things like bathrooms and baseboards), and Clutter (aka how much stuff should be in the house/on surfaces/in drawers). I like tidiness, I don't really care much about cleanliness, so long as nothing smells, and I hate clutter. You can hire a cleaner to take care of cleanliness, but the clutter and tidiness things have to be dealt with by the people actually living in the house. You probably won't have a clutter issue though since it's definitely your house and she's already been living there a year, so if it was stressing her out, she wouldn't be wanting to stay.

I've never really had an issue with heat, but that's probably because I've often lived in places where we had very little control over the temperature (older apartment buildings with ancient radiators, no central air).

Do you know your cousin well? I've only had issues with the "amount of social time" thing when it was someone I didn't know well beforehand. But when it's a problem I don't know that it's necessarily a solvable problem. Certain types of extroverts are going to be distressed if they're living in a house with someone who doesn't want to hang out all the time, and certain types of introverts are going to be just as distressed if they know there's someone in the house who wants to hang out with them.
posted by mskyle at 6:04 AM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you don't cook and she does, particularly given the genders I would be wary of slipping into a pattern where she ends up routinely cooking for both of you, you take it for granted while she gets resentful.

Just saying, be aware that the issue exists and discuss what level of cooking / eating together you would both like.
posted by Omnomnom at 6:08 AM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

A lot of things have already been covered.
I'd add:
Who covers costs for damaged stuff.
Agree on a notice period for ending the tenancy.
posted by travelwithcats at 6:33 AM on June 17, 2013

Sit down and discuss "What does 'clean' mean?" If Person A thinks "clean" means "vacuumed, scrubbed, anti-bacterial-misted," while Person B thinks "clean" means "no half-eaten fruit on the floor," Person A will be miserable and Person B won't know why.
posted by Etrigan at 6:45 AM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:53 AM on June 17, 2013

A key to happy communal living is creating opportunity for dialogue. We used to have regular house dinners where issues could be aired and resolved.
posted by BenPens at 7:07 AM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

As rad as the hive mind is, I don't think that we can predict what random issues may come up in your roommate relationship. So maybe plan to have dinner 2-4 weeks in to talk about how it's going. Have some beers so you talk freely but not so many that either of you get hostile.

If you could find a TV show or hobby that you two can do together once a week maybe, that might be a nice idea. That might sound like an imposition but if you can make it work, I think it would be a good move. A friend has a group house and they watch The Bachelorette together every week. They get to do a weekly check-in with each other but it's still chill and fun and it's a good opportunity to bring up any issues.

Suggestion: Avoid leaving notes or, if possible, sending emails regarding household "asks." You might send the nicest, most polite email in the world asking her to please take out the trash more often and she could view it as passive-aggressive but if you say it to her face, you have the opportunity to say it with a smile, then ask her how her life is going.

Also, one way to possibly get in front of cleanliness issues is to just hire someone to come by the place once or twice a month. I think most household issues are related to cleanliness and having someone clean is frequently a worthwhile investment. When my place has looked like a war zone, having someone clean brought it back from the brink and when my place has looked not bad, having someone clean took it up a notch. It's an expense but, depending on your situations, might be totally worth it.
posted by kat518 at 7:15 AM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's worth thinking about the fact that this isn't a strictly roommate-ish "Hey let's you and I go in on a place together" situation. This is your place and you are renting a room/floor/space to another person. The only reason I point this out is not to tell you that it's okay to be a jerk about things, but that there is an unequal power dynamic here that is worth being mindful of AND you should keep in mind that you have a level of veto power that she does not. Not necessarily a big deal, but I've been on both sides of this specific type of situation and it's different from plain old roommates. Here is what was helpful for me.

1. Figure out what you are uptight about, if anything, and make sure those items are negotiated specifically and clearly. This might be money, noise, other people, animals, neighbors, laundry, buying toilet paper, incense, who knows. If there are things you suspect will be issues because you have Strong Feelings about them, make sure you bring them up. I think a common mistake is to assume that your preferences are normal and that anyone who doesn't do things your way is inconsiderate/uncaring/whatever. No one is a mind reader, make your feelings plain.

2. General areas of concern

Noise: how much, how late, where does the balance lie. In some places people ask that you wear headphones after 10 pm, in other places you just need to keep your 2 am phone calls down to a dull roar. There is no right answer but you need to find what works. In the past for me issues have been: late night laundry, late night phone calls, early morning lawn mowing, tv on constantly.
Environment: what temperature you like it at and what affects this. Some people like lots of AC, some people like heat on, windows open/closed, bathroom fan on/off, bedroom doors open/closed, expense vs comfort, that sort of thing.
Public stuff: how clean is kitchen, laundry room, outside, refrigerator, bathroom. Borrowing of kitchen stuff, tools, car, towels, board games. How do you negotiate these thigns is after you've been co-habitating a while things are not to your liking (I agree with others, do not leave notes, have a way to have discussions in a friendly way)
Money: I think yeah that you continue to do the maintenance of the property but that you both contribute to keeping the insides clean. Stuff like shoveling/gardening ultimately falls to you but there's nothing wrong with having her do some of that if she's inclined or there is some other usefulness in it. Make sure all bills are discussed. Often sticking points are things like "Well I don't care if we have cable so I won't split it" "But you watch the TV with me sometimes" sorts of things.
Outside: Stuff like bringing in the mail, leaving things in the yard, leaving things in the garage (if you have one) taking out trash/recycling, talking to neighbors, whatever. Sometimes people have differing ideas of what it means to live in a community and it's worth having a chat about that. At my old place we had loud neighbors but there was sort of a neighborly "That's just how it is" feeling about it, so I left them alone (and eventually moved) but understanding the customs of the place since it's your house, will be helpful for her.

3. Correction - have a way, once you've discussed this stuff, to discuss it again just to make sure everyone's on the same page and especially if something's not quite meshing. Trying to be friendly and "how can we make this stuff work for everyone" is often a better approach than "You do this wrong" obviously. But it's also important that you not just suffer in silence if there is something not working for you since you're the person who ultimately gets to choose this arrangement and it might turn into something really nice for both of you.

I've really enjoyed my roommate arrangements in the past and I also enjoy living on my own, there are ways to make both situations work pretty well and I hope this goes well for you.
posted by jessamyn at 7:31 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

She's your cousin and you are the homeowner. You can be more casual in this situation than most. Just make certain that she continues to pay her share of the rent and bills on time and doesn't take advantage. She's already been living there without burning the place down so it should be fine. Since she cooks and you don't, offer to buy groceries and/or clean the kitchen on nights that she feeds both of you.

Anything else can be worked out along the way. After all, you can honestly threaten to tell her mommy on her if she misbehaves. Not many landlords get to do that.
posted by myselfasme at 8:42 AM on June 17, 2013

In addition to all the good advice above: I'm reading that this is a temporary situation? As in, she's going to finish her PhD this year and move out? Post grad school plans can be a little shakey - is she going to get a job and move across the country the day after graduation? Stay around the house for the summer while doing the job search thing? Find a job in the area and want to stay? You guys might not know any of this stuff yet, but discussing it in the beginning will allow you both to have clear expectations, and you can always adjust that expectation later if the situation works out particularly well/badly. If you definitely want your own place back by a certain time, she should know it.
posted by theweasel at 9:01 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

My biggest things have been noise (specifically TV in the common areas) and smell.

I hate scented products with a fiery passion, including laundry detergents, potpourris, perfume, and bathroom soaps. Other people love them and view them as an extension of their personalities. Really, it is SUPER personal with some people.

Other things: I want the house to myself now and then. Never again will I live with someone who works from home.

And, occasionally, things like guests overstaying their welcome. For instance I hate having to talk to someone's friend or boyfriend in the morning for any longer than about a week. Sometimes I want to eat breakfast and just read a book.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:23 PM on June 17, 2013

Lots of great suggestions above. My only addition: get clear on how you treat replenishment of staple items like TP, paper towels, plastic wrap, olive oil, cleaning supplies, etc.

I (female) live with a (platonic) male friend and I realized early on I was going to be the person who *always* bought these kinds of things, in some cases because I use more (TP!) but mostly because it's just in my nature to notice when stuff is getting low and want to restock. My roommate, on the other hand, will run out of stuff before he replaces it. At first I half-heartedly tried to keep track of when I bought stuff and would ask my roommate for money but I ultimately realized I don't truly care and I can afford to buy this stuff so I do. And, I don't like running out of things I use on a regular basis so it is worth it to me to just deal with it myself than try to work with his "oh no we're out!" system.

Understanding what you're willing to do because it's worth it to you - regardless of whatever the "right" or equitable way might be - will help keep any resentments at bay and things running smoothly.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 11:51 PM on June 17, 2013

Thanks all. No best answers because all were great and just what I was looking for.
posted by klarck at 5:49 PM on June 18, 2013

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