Help me not kill my housemates
July 16, 2007 2:11 PM   Subscribe

Roommate filter: I live in a house with 6 other people. We all moved in together in the middle of May. Two part question: What ideas can you offer for enforcing house rules? and What software can you recommend for housemates to share chores and expenses?

My housemates have wildly different schedules - one works the night shift, one usually only sleeps at the house once or twice a week, another is gone for a couple weeks at a time and the rest of us that have semi normal schedules aren't often home at the same time. I need ideas to enforce house rules (chores, quiet hours, paying of bills) and any free software that might be helpful in organizing all this (I'm poor, really).
posted by pontouf to Human Relations (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
not sure about chores but is brilliant for expense sharing
posted by cantthinkofone at 2:14 PM on July 16, 2007

Chore Buster
posted by SpecialK at 2:15 PM on July 16, 2007

I have a pretty easy time with this, but that's partially due to the fact that I'm also the landlord. By factoring expenses for utilities into the roomies' monthly bill, they all just need to owe me something.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:18 PM on July 16, 2007

I need ideas to enforce house rules (chores, quiet hours, paying of bills) and any free software that might be helpful in organizing all this (I'm poor, really).

I lived in this sort of situation for many years. Two thoughts:

1) Believe it or not, chores get done best when people get to pick out the things they don't mind doing, and then are responsible for that single thing all the time. Have a house meeting, take a list of chores that need doing to that meeting, and pass the list around the table, asking people to sign their name next to the thing they'll do. This has two bonuses: first, its easier to always remember that its John's job to take out the trash and vacuum the living room than it is to try to remember that once every six weeks its your job (or something), and second, if one person isn't holding up their deal then its way easier to pin the "blame" on them ... they can't say, "well no one the four weeks prior to me had cleaned the toilet either".

2) Keep house rules to a bare minimum. Our rules were:

1) Pay on time. If you don't, you're out.

2) Be respectful to everyone else in the house at all times.

3) Be honest.

4) Sleepover guests who stay more than four nights a week for more than a week running will be charged a pro-rated share of the rent and bills for the time period.

We posted them in the kitchen, and more than anything it was social pressure that kept them enforced.
posted by anastasiav at 2:24 PM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Billmonk Billmonk Billmonk! End the tyranny of receipts taped to the refrigerator and lost on the kitchen floor! It allows for shared bills, regular bills, payments, itemization . . . It is perfect for recording expenses shared between me and my roommates.
posted by schroedinger at 2:39 PM on July 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

you might be able to use google's notebook/excel programs as you can collaborate online with them. Gcal may even allow sharing of calendars, but not sure on that one.
posted by uncballzer at 3:10 PM on July 16, 2007

I've seen anastaviav's #1 suggestion work really well. I also had good luck (in a four-person house) with an old-fashioned chore wheel made from a paper plate. Chores on the plate, names around the outside, and every Monday it gets a spin. If something hadn't been done, we just checked in with the person and applied a little peer pressure. People made fun of us, but we had a nice, clean house.
posted by bassjump at 3:31 PM on July 16, 2007

Buxfer is a nifty little tool to keep track of who-owes-who what. As the primary payer of bills in my old apartment, this site was a life-saver.
posted by JMB1138 at 3:47 PM on July 16, 2007

After years of roommate hell, here's the advice I'm going to give to my kids (and, now, to you):

1. Anything with a highly-variable use-based cost (like dedicated phone lines) gets the hookup on their own dime. That means everyone uses a cell phone, and each person wanting a dedicated landline pays for it themselves and puts it in their own room;

2. Everybody gets a keyed lock on their own door, to prevent "who the hell used my phone to rack up all these long-distance bills" nonsense;

3. Fixed monthly bills (cable, gas on the fixed rate plan) and group variable bills (electric, water) get set up in the same name(s) that are on the lease, so that everybody suffers if someone's delinquent (and so all roommates have an equal interest in making them pony up or kicking them out);

4. Everyone pays the fixed bills one month in advance to the same person every month, and a delinquency on that advance payment gets treated like a real delinquency;

5. One of your fixed bills must be a bi-weekly maid service, who does bathrooms (but not laundry.)

Oh, and an aside: if you have a nice computer and your roommates do not, keep 'em off of it. Keep it in your room, put a password on it, and pay for your own dedicated connection. Set up a guest account with extremely limited access, and let 'em use that if they beg you to use it "just for this thing I gotta do." There are *so* many reasons for this, too many to list.
posted by davejay at 4:01 PM on July 16, 2007

Others seem to have the online chore sorters covered. For enforcing house rules, have a house meeting and formally talk about everything. EVERYTHING. Google "roommate contract" or "roommate agreement" to get some ideas for things to discuss. (Some of those results seem a little business-y for my taste, but again, this is just to get some ideas.) Ask everyone how they feel about noise, hours, cleanliness, pets, overnight guests, shared spaces, food, storage, parking, and yes, chores. Talk about those things that you don't think will be problems... especially those things. One good long talk can help head off any problems, and if you do it as a group, everyone gets a say. Write down the rules. Live by them. If they need amending, meet again.
posted by juliplease at 4:35 PM on July 16, 2007

when i lived in a house with a bunch of guys we did a couple things:

1. we had a piece of paper on the fridge where we tallied expenses. a typical response from a visitor who saw it would be "man, you guys buy a lot of groc"

2. after some grossness issues, we instigated dish day. I think there were only three of us, so you'd only get it once a week, but every day or two someone would do all the dishes in the sink.
posted by snofoam at 5:21 PM on July 16, 2007

davejay has excellent advice, although i've never done the maid thing.

after years of share house experience i heavily second the concept that as far as possible, variable-cost bills such as phone or internet access should be set up per-person. even with the best of intentions & efforts all round, no phonecall tally in history has ever matched up to the number of calls on the bill, and it's always "everybody else" who failed to tally their calls properly.

you will probably have no choice but to pro-rata things like electricity, gas & water. this sucks for somebody like me in winter, who prefers to put on more clothing than to sit around in my underwear with heaters blasting 24hrs, but you can easily compare winter v summer bills & apportion the extra to the heater sloths. be upfront about this.

in terms of housework & groceries, the golden rule that cannot be stressed enough is that people *always* notice when they do some cleaning or buy supplies, but rarely, if ever, notice when anybody else does. the result is that it's very common for every member of a household to bear secret grudges that they buy or clean things more than everybody else in the house. unless people are good friends, and are laid-back & accommodating, this is the issue that is most likely to cause your place to implode. you need to have clear communication &/or records for this (um, which is probably why you asked the question).

varying schedules will also thrown things into disarray, and you will need to be upfront about how cleaning etc will be apportioned. people who spend a lot of time away, or who rarely cook, for example, will be resentful if they feel they have to work or shop to support others. pay attention when drawing up rules not only to what %ge of time people spend in the house, but also to their usage patterns.

your shift worker, for example, might always shower at work. somebody else might only ever eat takeaway, and have no responsibility for kitchen mess. they will probably be quite resentful if they feel they are cleaning up others' mess, when they make none in those areas themselves, and those kinds of resentments tend to play out as subborn, passive-aggressive wars of attrition, so it's useful to meet from time to time to ask if anybody feels like they're getting a raw deal.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:32 PM on July 16, 2007

Community starts in the kitchen, then works out to the bathroom, then seeps into other shared spaces.

If you manage to agree on only one house rule, make it this one: the kitchen is always to be left in a cleaner state than it was before you used it. Leaving a used food bowl behind on the kitchen counter is never, under any circumstances, acceptable.

Do this, and the rest will just follow naturally.
posted by flabdablet at 7:20 PM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

(From someone with a very similar situation) - How are bills usually paid in this situation?

Housemates checks / cash -> one guy -> check -> rent / utilities?

Or multiple checks? Cash? Ideas? Sorry, I'm a housing n00b.
posted by tmcw at 7:42 PM on July 16, 2007

tmcw: in my experience, one person should be responsible for the payment to the landlord / agent / utilities.

they can collect first, then pay, or else pay & then collect from the others, depending on the relationships involved. typically, these things are set up in only one person's name (except rent) so they are the ones who pay. credit card is the default method. nobody asses around with cheques any more.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:49 PM on July 16, 2007

Set up a guest account with extremely limited access, and let 'em use that if they beg you to use it "just for this thing I gotta do." There are *so* many reasons for this, too many to list.

I would add to this that you should not only give it very limited access (and make sure you can't do something like: log in to the guest account, go up to C:, and then go down to other accounts' files and settings), but very few programs installed. Like, a browser (one that's not the preference of anyone who would be using the guest account, if you can manage it), word processing, antivirus and nothing else. No access to Solitare or anything fun. And no ability to install programs.

You might consider a minimalist Linux live cd (sorry, can't link directly to search results) instead. It's not difficult (you just have to download it, burn it, and make sure it works), but it could make it a little more hassle (and less appealing) for them, too--depending on your roommates, of course--and make it harder for them to actually fuck up your computer. Make sure you can't get even read-only access to your hard drive using it, though, if you do this.
posted by Many bubbles at 9:28 PM on July 16, 2007

Um... no. Linux live CD's are the tool of choice for getting at things on hard disks that can't be got in other ways. Using one to try to prevent access to a hard disk is kind of wrongheaded.

If you're using Windows XP, the standard Guest account is fine for shared use, provided your hard disk is formatted NTFS and not FAT32. Guest is pretty locked-down; it can't even establish an outgoing dialup connection.
posted by flabdablet at 10:33 PM on July 16, 2007

That's MetaFilter for you. Somehow, it's all about hard disk formatting & crazy-ass Linux things that nobody else understands. Back in the real world, what you need most is a refrigerator with a lock on it. And a secure, lockable bathroom cabinet to store the emergency extra roll of toilet paper.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:20 PM on July 16, 2007

You're right; I'd forgotten about that part and got it mixed up with something else... ignore that bit, then.
posted by Many bubbles at 12:15 AM on July 17, 2007

Use ideas from here (or suggest them) but consult your housemates first before taping the 10 commandments to the fridge. Ideally, get everyone together and decide en masse what the best way to do things are. I know this is somewhat tricky with your situation of varying schedules, but at least a majority would be ideal. Unless you're the landlord or the bills/rent are in your name, you have exactly 1/7th of a say in the matter. Dictators tend to get overthrown.

As for enforcing house rules? Hopefully you'll be living with adults and won't have to have a naughty-chair or penalty-fees for people who break the house rules. Peer/social pressure (as someone mentioned above) is a pretty persuasive force.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:58 AM on July 17, 2007

Here's my situation now:
Each person pays 1/7 of the rent and gives me a check for the landlord, which I drop off. Recurring bills are in one person's name (Comcast, Electricity, water/sewer/garbage) so we use a random person's name for the cable/internet to get the best deal, and my name on the others since they won't allow more than one or two names on the bill (in Seattle). I like the Billmonk suggestion so I'm going to try and use that. I've started using Chore Buster but will have to put more time into it to make chores more fair.
As for the computer suggestions, everybody has their own and the one person who doesn't uses only one person's computer, so that's a non-issue, but I appreciate it.

We tried having group meetings at the beginning to sort stuff out like chores and bills and quiet hours but every time we came up with a time that worked for people, there was SOMEONE who had to work or be somewhere else. Needless to say, I'm sure, it doesn't work so well to have a meeting to decide these things when some people are missing. After they are decided, sure enough, there are people complaining that they didn't get to make a decision. I'm thinking of getting a giant whiteboard and writing suggested rules down and having people edit them on their own time. I'm also a computer nerd so I'll probably copy it over to google apps and share them.
posted by pontouf at 5:01 PM on July 17, 2007

Whiteboards are the original wiki, but you can't do reverts easily. If you're using a whiteboard as a policy exploration tool, you will need to be very very careful not to start Note Wars. Whiteboards are very fertile soil for passive aggression to flower in :-)

What's your current kitchen rule? Because that one really, truly, is the key to the whole thing. Once you establish a culture of respect for shared space in the kitchen, the rest of it really does just fall into line.
posted by flabdablet at 10:22 PM on July 17, 2007

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