Roommate Rules
March 15, 2014 10:36 AM   Subscribe

I am getting a new roommate soon and this time, I want to do everything right. Please share your platonic cohabitation tips!

I am currently in a living situation which is just awkward and uncomfortable, and a big part of this is due to the fact that everyone involved came in with a lot of assumptions about what roommates 'should' do, never discussed them, and then hurt feelings and resentment built up on all sides, and man I can't wait to be out of here. (In previous living situations this had not been an issue- with other roommates, we were either good friends already or we just vibed well and it made things easier.) I accept my role in bringing this situation about, but I would like to ensure that it doesn't happen again in my new apartment.

With my new roommate (who seems awesome and reasonable, but who is not someone I know well), I would like to discuss exactly what our expectations are, and reach compromises about them before we move in together. So I would like to put together a list of the things we need to talk about.

The sorts of things I'm thinking of include:
-Sharing food: What do we share? Who replaces what if it's shared? (I've lived with people who were like "if you eat my cereal bars just stick a couple bucks in the box, no big" and people who wanted us to buy separate salt.)
-SOs: how often can they stay over? Do they get a key? Can they leave their shit in the house? How much of their shit? What if they're making messes?
-Dishes. Fucking dishes.
-Cleaning: Do we have a schedule? If so, what is it? How strict is it?
-How much do we interact? Are we going out to bars together, or occasionally watching TV together, or just not talking much?
-Shoes/jackets left in the living room: do we care?
-Even petty shit like- if one of us hates the art that the other put up on the walls, what do we do about it?
-How do we deal with any conflicts that do arise?

Please, help me put together a list of these things, so that she and I can go get a beer and talk about them before move-in day. Nothing is too minor or pedantic- part of the problem is that I generally go into these situations all "oh, I'm totally easy-going, I can roll with whatever" and then six month later I'm just thinking "you let a band crash in our living room without asking me and you load the dishwasher like a fucking animal what is WRONG with you??"
posted by showbiz_liz to Human Relations (28 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
The most useful information I received in a roommate interview came from asking, "what were some of your previous roommates like?" Because the way they framed their descriptions ("X was so rude! He constantly had his girlfriend over even though she wasn't paying rent!" "Y was great, really quiet...") told me a lot about what they expected and wanted that I might not have thought of asking about.
posted by shattersock at 10:46 AM on March 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

I should clarify, I'm already past the interview stage here- I'm definitely moving in with this specific person. She and I have met and discussed things but it was more "do we have similar expectations, do we get along well," so pretty general.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:48 AM on March 15, 2014

Will you have a large fridge? If not, it may be useful to decide which shelves/spaces will be yours and which will be hers.
posted by dean_deen at 11:02 AM on March 15, 2014

The issue that burned me on roommates forever:
When I have a friend over who is MY friend (not ours) or when my boyfriend is over, do you feel entitled to sit down, pour yourself a glass of our wine, and monopolize the conversation for hours? And invite yourself out with us for walks when all we are trying to do is get away from you?

Honestly, I wasn't very mature when I lived with a roommate. In retrospect, I should have had an uncomfortable, frank talk with her. So, my advice for you is to discuss how you will deal with it when either of you is annoyed by the other. E.g. Are you OK with leaving notes? Do we need to have weekly "check in" meetings?
posted by tk at 11:04 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing I've had problems with roommates over is stuff/clutter (they saw it as stuff, I saw it as clutter). I'm not sure how you head that off, though. Maybe having areas that the clutter person is allowed to clutter up and areas that the minimalist is allowed to keep empty? When I live with roommates I sometimes feel like however much I cut back on my stuff, their stuff expands to fill the space.

Also, while I think having this conversation is a good idea, I think it's even more important to have regular check-ins, because it's really hard to figure out what people will actually do in practice based on a conversation.

And yes, ugh, fucking DISHES.
posted by mskyle at 11:07 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you talking about people living in the same room or about sharing an apartment and everyone has a room for herself?
I would expect that art is not put up in the common areas without prior discussion.
You seem to be looking for topics instead of specific rules. To your list, I would add:
- Repairs. If something gets broken, who fixes it and how fast? If the landlord needs to be contacted, who is in charge of that? Does it need to happen immediately or is "next week" okay?
- Visiting groups and living room: Is it okay to have friends over and occupy the living room for an evening/afternoon/weekend? Need to check in advance? How far in advance?
- Noise at night? How loud, how late?
- House parties yes/no?
- How to split the electricity, water and heating bills.
- Is it okay to occupy the bathroom for an hour to take a long bath?

I didn't actually discuss any of this with my current roommates and it works on an ad-hoc basis, because the personalities mesh. If I choose to have a "new roommate discussion", these would be topics I'd mention in addition to the ones you listed.
posted by faux fabric entertainment device at 11:09 AM on March 15, 2014

Are you talking about people living in the same room or about sharing an apartment and everyone has a room for herself?

Sharing an apartment. It's a good-sized 2Br/1Ba, and we are both mid-20s women. And, yeah, I am looking for topics rather than rules, because I want to come up with the rules with her.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:13 AM on March 15, 2014

When I lived in a house with four people many years ago, we had the following rules for dishes that worked great:

1) Make a repeating list of the names of the roommates on the refrigerator.

2) Whenever you generate a dirty dish, if the dishwasher is currently dirty, put your dish in the dishwasher. If the dishwasher is full, start it. If the dishwasher is clean, place your dirty dish neatly in the sink or on the counter.

3) If the dishwasher is clean, and your name is the first un-crossed-out name on the list, empty the dishwasher, put away the dishes, load any dirty dishes into the dishwasher, and cross out your name.

This had a few good side effects: If it was your turn to empty the dishwasher, you did so as soon as possible, so as to have fewer other dishes you'd have to load. Everyone knew whose turn it was to load the dishwasher, and if you were loading anybody's dishes but your own, it was your own fault. This system worked very well for over a year.
posted by Hatashran at 11:17 AM on March 15, 2014 [26 favorites]

In all my roommate situations, it's all come down to mismatched expectations over cleaning -- specifically, the amount of general clutter that is acceptable, the rapidity (or not) of doing dishes, and the division of labor in cleaning the bathroom. (I've never happened to have any conflicts over noise at night, having guests or boyfriends staying over, etc., so I've been lucky on that score). I would suggest discussing each of those as their own subcategory, rather than just trying to talk about "cleaning" in general.
posted by scody at 11:41 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's good to discuss your general schedule- what time you wake up/go to bed, what time you shower, what time you will use the kitchen, and how much time you will be out of the house.

Another thing that's good to discuss is how much socializing with friends they will be doing in the house.
posted by bearette at 11:43 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

My three biggest problems with roommates from when my wife and I decided to live with someone else:

1) The girlfriend. We were all friends and said we didn't mind when she was over. This turned into her sleeping over every Thursday/Friday/Saturday night. And she didn't drive and didn't have a key so when he left for his weekend job we could leave her there alone or had to stay in the apartment. I don't care how you feel about the roommate, leaving people there who can't get away and can't lock the place up is stupid.

2) General mess. We had a 2ba so that part wasn't an issue. And we didn't care at all what he did in his room. But stuff was left out in the common area and the kitchen was always a mess. And not even like they made food for everyone and nobody cleaned it up mess.

3) The schedule differences. My wife and I were substitute teaching. He was still in college. We didn't have parties or anything at out place, but he got back late and was loud. Then bitched at us if we made any noise in the morning.

To me it comes down to quiet hours (as much as I hated those) and respecting each other's stuff. Don't leave your mess in the washer/dryer, or stuff out in the living room, stuff like that. Really, as long as art isn't offensive who cares? If it's ugly and anyone says something about it then it's not yours.
posted by theichibun at 12:03 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd add a few things to your list (slight duplications from previous)
- Noise. Are there any considerations about noise to take into account (example: if we used the bathroom at night, at my place we wouldn't turn on the fan, since it would wake my roommate whose room was next to the bathroom. Another example: one of my roommates would have to wake up at 5:30 every morning, and would try to go to sleep around 10:30/11pm. So we knew that we should try to keep things down around then)
- Weather related stuff. Like, what are general rules for setting the temperature? Shoveling of a parking space? Not walking through the apartment with wet boots? Do you need to do any weather proofing?
- What do you need when you get home? Relax and personal space? Like social stuff?
- Smelly cooking?

I would echo shattersock's advice about asking about previous bad roommate experiences. Its not to interview the candidate but to find more about how they think and communicate. With our most recent roommate, that has been the most difficult part: she thought she was being relatively clean because she was at least putting her dishes in the sink, but for me that was a mess if it was there for a couple of days. Likewise, she'd bring over people all the time, usually when I was coming out the shower/looked like crap. Through approaching the issue by talking about previous roommate experiences, we were better able to understand who the other person thought.
posted by troytroy at 12:24 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Do you have any guns?"

I asked that once as a joke when my housemates and I were interviewing potential housemates. It turned out to be a good question to ask, and it became one of our standards.

I know you've already decided to live together, but if one of you has guns and the other doesn't, or that might happen, you should make sure you have a policy about them -- if they're allowed, how they'll be stored, if guests can bring them over.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:41 PM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is a sensitive one and I don't know how to broach it politely .. but asking about general health could have saved me a lot of grief and stress. I had two different roommates with various mental health issues that had been non-disclosed at the time and led to a lot of trouble. Both had come across really well during the interviews etc.

The girl had bad depression and I didn't know - I thought I was being grossly insensitive to her and that she hated me. I was too young to recognise the signs and I spent almost 18 months being stressed out of my skull.

The guy paid the deposit, then didn't show up. The police called me to let me know he had tried to commit suicide and left me as emergency contact(!). Later when he came out of hospital, he'd spend weeks locked in his room OR bouncing off the walls. I never knew where he was or how he'd behave. It was super-stressful.

So, yeah, some gentle and sensitive discussion about potential mental health issues would be my advice - along with ground rules re. tidiness and who buys toilet paper etc.
posted by kariebookish at 1:00 PM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

In my experience the kitchen and dishes in particular have caused the most problems- especially as I've never lived with roommates in a house with a dishwasher. Discuss it directly, and establish protocol. For example in my current house, we try to wash things up as soon as they're used, but seeing as we have a large and mainly unused area to the left of the sink, it's ok to stack your stuff there as long as it's done within a day or two, unless it's someone else's particular pan or whatever.(Oh yeah, be clear whose stuff is whose, and what is considered communal). If the draining rack is full, you empty it before piling more stuff on.

Whereas in my girlfriend's house, there isn't much space next to the sink, and people tend to pile their dirty dishes in it, effectively rendering the sink unusable. Unacceptable! Basically, establish what you and your roomie think of as a functional and pleasant cooking space, adjust for a middle ground, and then make sure you both maintain that.

Also maybe find out if she is a stoner or associates with them as people who smoke a lot seem to be a) more generally lax about cleaning and not smoking in the house, and b) more difficult to sit down and have the "please do your dishes more regularly and don't smoke in the house!" conversations with.
posted by mymbleth at 1:30 PM on March 15, 2014

Ha yeah, dishes are always a problem! In my first house with roommates, I hardly ever cooked (partly because I don't like cooking and partly because I hate doing dishes). They felt that we should split the dish-doing evenly, even if we weren't equally contributing to the mess. I felt that I shouldn't wash their pots and pans if I wasn't making them dirty or consuming the food.
posted by radioamy at 1:58 PM on March 15, 2014

This might be rather colonial, but what if you and your new roommate drafted an apartment constitution in google docs, printed it out, signed it, and stuck it to the fridge?
posted by oceanjesse at 3:12 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Food sensitivities/allergies or other dietary restrictions and how to handle them.

Whether to tell roommate if you're about to take a long time in the bathroom to wax or whatever so they can pop in first to pee or grab something they need for work.

What items will be in communal space but not communally available, like a favorite mug or a blender that needs to be clean all the time for unpredictable smoothie needs.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:17 PM on March 15, 2014

To pick up on something someone else said, find out how she feels about drugs and if it's compatible with your outlook. If you are a straight edge and she's president of the local hookah jamboree (or vice versa) that will have to be a conversation point.
posted by winna at 3:18 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Talk about how you like to deal with conflict. You can't possibly come up with every single problem that may come up (though it's a good idea to talk out what you can think of). Talk about what kind of behavior around conflict you find unacceptable: yelling? name-calling? the silent treatment?

Talk about your blind spots. I'm a lousy housekeeper, and I was upfront about that with my last roommate. At the time I said "just tell me if I space out and forget to clean." But it would have been better, looking back, if I'd asked "what are your cleaning standards?" then talked about mine, and then talked about a way to keep the home in a state that we would both find acceptable without anyone feeling they were committing to an onerous cleaning schedule.

Also guests - friends in the neighborhood dropping by for coffee, hookups, family staying in the living room for a week. How often is ok? How much heads up do you need?
posted by bunderful at 3:34 PM on March 15, 2014

I'd just sit down and talk one on one about "what do we need to agree to, so that we both feel comfortable with each other."

1. Food I've always shopped and cooked and I've had people give me the money for food. As long as you don't leave me with NO coffee or cream, I'm chill about the rest of it.

2. Cleaning. What are your expectations. I like a clean and tidy place. I can handle magazines on the coffee table, but dirty dishes freak me out. Can we agree that all dishes should be clean before bed time?

3. Bathroom. C'mon, we're not dudes. Let's clean it once or twice a week. We can alternate.

4. Sleep overs. I'd prefer never to hear my roommate having sex. If this is going to be a constant thing, we need to reassess. If it has to happen, no more than once per week.

5. Utilities. I have them all in my name now, I'll show you the bills and you can pay me directly (this way I KNOW they're getting paid and I'm never coming home to no electricity.)

6. Noise. Can we agree that anything noise making is off after 11:00 PM?

7. 420. It's either yes, or no.

I'm a real tight ass, but I'm super responsible and quiet. I've only had a couple of roommates, one is one of my best friends, twenty-five years later, and the others lasted only a few months before I had to bail on the situation.

I know that if you screw with my sleep, I can't deal with you. It's my deal-breaker. I can live with messy, if you don't care if I clean up. I can live with 420 as long as our place isn't mistaken for a head shop. I can even put up with your boyfriend with the spanking fetish, if he will shut the hell up by midnight. But if I don't get my 8 hours of the dreamless...fuck you, I'm out of here.

So if you have a deal-breaker, say so up front.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:41 PM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Things that haven't been brought up:

- Cleaning and household supplies. Who buys them, who pays, and is there a formal rotation or just a "hey, can you pick up some paper towels at the store" situation?

- Trash and recycling. How much of a stickler are people about recycling, how often do they want the trash to be taken out, is it OK for bags to pile up (no, seriously, some people don't care about this).

- Counter, cabinet, and floor space. Whose furniture, coffee maker, storage, whatever is allowed to go where? Maybe this is just a NYC thing, but a lot of apartments are... pretty scant on the amount of space for people's stuff to go.

- Who is allowed to touch whose things? Some people don't give a shit, others are VERY particular about this. (My current roommate hates when anyone touches or moves her stuff, even if it's to, say, wash the dishes that've been in the sink for days.)

- Time spent in the apartment. In my experience people are usually of one of two minds: "you pay rent, you get to be here however the hell much you want" or "well...." I've been in situations where working from home was apparently too much time for me to be around; I've also been in situations where my roommates regularly would go away for weeks at a time, leaving me the place essentially to myself.

- Related to that, other people's time spent in the apartment. This is less about sleepovers and more about extended stays. Is it OK for your mother to stay at your place if she's visiting? How about the classic "extra roommate" significant other situation? Letting a friend crash on the couch if something bad happens with them? Et cetera.
posted by dekathelon at 8:11 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Drug use (especially tobacco or pot as they tend to waft.)

Kinds of cleaning products. Are scents ok? Antibacterial soap? How "green"?

Incense/air fresheners/etc.

How much will you heat/cool the house?

Tv/no tv? What do you do if someone's hogging the internet connection?

Most importantly, how will you communicate problems? Because no matter how much you try to preemptively discuss everything, things will change and topics will be missed.
posted by nat at 12:39 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I lived in a house where the hard rule of dishes was: You dirty them, you wash them by the end of the day. Or you keep them in your room. If it's a communal pot, you have to wash it. This worked pretty well the whole 8 years I lived there.

Noise expectations are also really important... not just night-time quiet, but in general. I had a roommate who was really bothered by people socializing in the kitchen in the afternoon, which was her writing time.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 7:38 AM on March 16, 2014

How much stuff do you have? What goes in the common areas and what stays in the bedrooms?

Are you ok with an SO hanging out in the apartment by themselves? What about the SO having their own guests over? What about one-night stands?

Are you on Couchsurfing, or have a tendency to host random guests that are not friends or family?

Are you going to binge-drink or have friends over that do?

If the apartment allows pets, is there a chance that you will be inclined to bring a furry (or scaly) creature home, in the future? If so, definitely talk about this: allergies, who is responsible for its care, who will take the brunt of extra cleaning, and so on.

If one person is away for a few days and the other person has friends visiting at the same time, can they use the empty bedroom? (You'll be surprised how many people take it for granted that they can without asking permission!)
posted by redlines at 12:30 PM on March 16, 2014

I've had a problem where my roommate decided that she owned the place for some reason, and consequently, her stuff was scattered all over the common areas, she had friends over often who seemed to resent my presence, the hall closet was monopolized, there was no kitchen cabinet space for my food, the cleaning and care of her cat fell to me, and her boyfriend parked himself on our couch more than I was comfortable with. This isn't a common situation, but perhaps bring up the point that you should both feel comfortable in the apartment and not impose on each other.
posted by redlines at 12:37 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

it is incredibly difficult to discuss this with a stranger, but sex positivity and kink awareness are important to discuss inasmuch as they might be relevant to a new roomate situation. it is kind of nice to be able to wash one's rope in the washing machine, leave a sterilised toy out to dry, and to be sure that one's sex noises won't upset one's roommate. it is easy enough to do this in a light hearted way, a 'just so you know' sort of approach works best.
posted by Mistress at 1:25 PM on March 16, 2014

If they have any loud and annoying pets like a parrot or dogs, how will they handle them if they get to be a problem? I'm in a place now where the owner of the house promised she would keep the loud parrot in her room, but in the past week she basically said "He's staying out here" even though I've begged her not to leave him in cage RIGHT NEXT TO MY BEDROOM because he wakes me up and is annoying when I try to study. I've told her I have ADHD, can't function without sleep and am taking a freaking Chemistry class in addition to all the other classes I'm taking (which leaves me with little free time), and I told her BEFORE I moved in how I need sleep or I can't function and how it's my deal breaker. It's literally the last 6 weeks of the semester meaning I might have to move in to a hotel for the next 6 weeks.

Sorry to get all ranty, but if you have an obsessive need to for god sleep like I do, don't believe a potential roommate will respect you enough to keep their promise about a DEALBREAKER because once they get enough money to not be dependent on your rent money anymore, they will just do whatever they want. /rant
posted by eq21 at 4:06 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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