Have you ever been in a difficult roommate situation? Or perhaps, you thought it would be great to live with your bestie, only to realize that you’d rather not live with them after moving in together? This usually happens when roommates fail to communicate about their living conditions and preferences. If this applies to you, keep reading…
Having a roommate can help save money but it also uncovers a lot about your level of comfort about sharing your space. Some people share rooms i.e. like in a dormitory at college/university but in the real world, the majority of roommate situations means that you’re sharing the rest of the house/apartment (i.e. living room, kitchen, bathroom etc.) with others, but have your own private room. It’s one thing to deal with your own dirt and filth if you live alone, but when living with other people, they may be on another level of filth that may make you uncomfortable.
“I had a potential roommate once say “I like a clean bathroom, but I don’t really like cleaning it”. And I thought to myself: “Welp, who’s gonna be your cleaner then?” Everyone of course, likes a clean space, but it’s important to determine how okay you are with having to constantly clean up after others. If cleanliness is important to you, my advice is that you save yourself the unnecessary trouble and argument and look for someone whose values align with yours.”
After graduating from university, I moved 5 times in Boston and as a result, have interacted with different types of people with unique idiosyncrasies. Most people have their minimum acceptable criteria and are not tolerant of extreme deviations, so it’s important to consider these 10 factors when you interact with potential roommate(s):
10 Questions To Consider
Depending on your level of cleanliness, you should be upfront about asking what your potential roommate(s) feels comfortable with. This helps to ensure you don’t end up rooming with a yes man/woman who would lead you to believe they are on the same page, just to secure a place.
Ask open ended questions like: “On a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being OCD clean and 0 being filthy dirty), how would you rate your level of cleanliness?”
This is an effective question because it doesn’t disclose where you fall on that scale. However, it gives your potential roommate a chance to share their honest truth before you do. For example, some people can bathe in a dirty bathtub for months OR be comfortable with not wiping down kitchen counters or the stove after cooking. As a result, it’s essential that you determine how important that is to you, and elicit those specific responses in your “interviewing”.
There’s no point infringing on the other person’s freedom or compromising on what makes you uncomfortable. If they’re too dirty for you, you shouldn’t agree to room with them in the first place, because it could spell trouble down the line. So be honest with yourself about what standard you can and cannot accept, and stick to it.
Another follow up question to ask is regarding whether to have or not have a chore schedule. Ask if your roommate will be open to that, and what frequency is considered acceptable. In my past roommate situations, a weekly cleaning schedule is generally acceptable, where each roommate picks a room in the house to clean OR one person can clean the entire house every week/end, and it continues on a rotating schedule.
I had a potential roommate once say “I like a clean bathroom, but I don’t really like cleaning it”. And I thought to myself: “Welp, who’s gonna be your cleaner then?” Everyone of course, likes a clean space, but it’s important to determine how okay you are with having to constantly clean up after others. If cleanliness is important to you, my advice is that you save yourself the unnecessary trouble and argument and look for someone whose values align with yours.
2. Noise level
Are you a light sleeper of a heavy sleeper?
You’re a light sleeper if you’re easily awoken by disturbance. On the other hand, some people can sleep soundly through an earthquake and not realize what is going on around them. Depending on which category you fall under, coupled with your daily routine, you can determine if and how much noise can disrupt your life. If you’re a student that needs a relatively quiet environment to study in the evenings, a roommate that blasts music around that time would not be a good fit. Similarly, if you have to wake up for work very early in the morning, having loud roommates disrupting your sleep will be a challenge.
Tip: If you’re a light sleeper, you want to invest in a white noise machine, or noise cancelling earbuds to help make things easier. It’s REALLY a life saver!
Another thing to consider is roommates that are loud during sex (yes that’s a thing!) – is that something you’re okay with? From experience, most people agree that it’s basic etiquette to be respectful of your noise level if you’re sharing a space with others. Nobody needs to know what’s going on in your room. However, if you both feel being loud accentuates your experience at the detriment of others, the respectful thing to do is to move it to your partner’s place or a hotel.
Overall, communicate with your about how noise can affect you and also get a sense of where your potential roommate(s) stands before deciding to hunt for a place together. By doing that, you may be able to come to an arrangement on when parties can be allowed and till what time so that every tenant has a chance to enjoy the space without causing unnecessary disturbance to others.
3. Guests or romantic partners
Living with other people does not mean that you cannot have guests over to visit. However, I’ve found that it’s important to have this conversation with potential roommate(s) instead of making the assumption that they will be cool with it. If you’re an international student or a young professional living outside your home country, your parents may want to visit you at some point. The assumption is that they will stay in your room, but since they will be sharing the space with your roommates, they may want to know how that affects their schedule for example. Will you parents/guest shower around the same time as them, or watch TV loudly late into the night? etc.
Couple looking at a laptop
A general rule of thumb and from what I’ve observed from most immigrant parents is that they tend to observe the same house rules, which you of course will be responsible for communicating to them. It’s important you reassure your roommate of this, as this may be their concern. However some may simply not be okay with an additional person sharing the space with them, no matter the arrangement. If it’s important to you that your family can visit, and your roommate does not approve, keep it moving. It’s important you find someone who can understand why that is important to you, and can be flexible.
On the other hand, knowing whether it’s ok to have friends or romantic partners visit also needs to be discussed and an arrangement needs to be made. From previous experience, an example is communicating (i.e. in group chat) when a romantic partner is around so that your roommates know how to conduct themselves i.e. not walk around naked…basic things like that. The frequency of guests visiting also needs to be communicated to ensure that everyone is comfortable with it.
“What is your daily schedule like – both at day and night?” Asking this open ended question allows you to understand how much of your roommate’s behavior interferes with yours. Say for example your roommate has to be at work by 9am, it’s important that you know so you can coordinate the use of the shower if it clashes with your schedule.
5. Smoking or drug usage
Most shared roommate situations have a no smoking and drug policy, however that is not always the case. If you’re a non-smoker it’s important to ask this question so as not to interfere with your roommate(s) recreation and also not compromise your health. In some situations, compromises can be made where roommates agree to only smoke outside – so see if you’re willing to explore this as a viable solution.
Group of friends eating and smoking
6. Employment or Income source
The ability to pay for an apartment can determine whether you and your roommates will have an easier time with securing a unit. In cases where there is competition for a unit, this will give you a better chance of success. Ask your roommates what they do for work, or if they have savings that can cover for at least 6 months rent. This will help prevent issues with paying rent and default with your landlord, as this responsibility could fall on you if that happens.
If finances are a hindrance, your best option will be to look into renting an apartment on a month-to-month basis. This will give you or your potential roommate less pressure to be committed to a longer contract while giving you time to secure a job.
7. Conflict resolution
“What is your approach to resolving conflict?”
Asking this question helps you understand a bit about your potential roommate’s personality. Some people prefer to address a problem in person while some would rather ignore it and not speak about it. The latter however is likely to stir up bitterness and future problems. If your roommate is not the confrontational type, ask them how they would prefer to initiate a conversation or resolve issues.
Communication is key when living with other people, and the more effective you and your roommate(s) can manage conflict, the better. Conflict could arise with chores, noise or simple disagreements. Creating a roommate contract can help clarify and ensure there is an agreement amongst the tenants, and that can go a long way with resolving conflicts. Google “roommate contract templates” and modify it to work for you.
8. Communal resources
Do you want to share resources with your roommate(s) or keep your own things separate? Most people prefer to share kitchen utensils (e.g. pots, pans, plates) but not food. In cases where roommates insist on not sharing kitchen wares, it’s usually because the person has dietary restrictions e.g. are a vegetarian or vegan. Asking about this helps you plan for moving cost and knowing what to buy before moving in.
Roommates sharing a pizza & wine
Are you comfortable living with pets?
Man sitting on couch with dog
If you are allergic to pets it’s important that you communicate this to your roommate in case they have or plan to get a pet. Some apartments require that tenants do not have pets so it’s important you have this conversation so it does not disqualify your application.
Location can be a deal-breaker for some people. As a result, this can make it difficult to find roommates. Some people may prefer to live in the suburbs vs the city so it’s important that you’re on the same page before you waste time searching for a place together. If you live in Toronto, check out How To Find Affordable Apartments to Rent In Toronto.