From early morning bathroom run-ins (when you’re not even in the mood to face your cat) to tiffs over paying the shared bills (do you really need HBO when GoT isn’t playing new episodes?), you have to be prepared for the everyday hiccups that bubble up when you’re sharing space (at least with apps like Roomi, you’ll have the transparency you need to prepare for your roommate’s quirks). The good news is that even the most seemingly unsolvable squabbles can be squashed amicably. To help you and your roommates settle your differences and live harmoniously (because there will always be some bumps on the way to roommate bliss), we asked the experts on how to help solve these five co-living conundrums, brought to you by real roommates.
1. Flush Factor
Sharing the bathroom is always challenging for a multitude of reasons, regardless of who you’re sharing with. But when the issue is more than someone hogging the shower, things can get real awkward — real fast. When Boston-based Erica Betcher moved in with her new roommate, she says everything was going great — until the bathroom “surprises” became a point of contention.
“I guess she was afraid of making the water too hot or cold or something, but my roommate would go to the bathroom, take a shower, and then leave for class with it sitting there all day,” Betcher says.
“And this wasn’t just your occasional morning pee — this was gross. I put up a note about flushing, which she saw, but I finally had to sit down and talk to her about it. It was kind of funny, but super awkward.”
While it almost seems more polite not to confront your roommate about — shall we say — such a personal issue, it’s only a matter of time before your annoyance/resentment/disgust builds up and boils over. And even if you’re not the passive aggressive type, bottling up something that’s obviously affecting you can bring out this behavior in anyone, says John Kim, life coach, therapist and founder of The Angry Therapist.
“Ignoring something like this can create a lot of anxiety for you and actually lower your quality of life. So, like in any relationship, communication is the best way to go. And by communication, I mean discussing the issue with your roommate straight up.”
But be careful to avoid the blame game, which can aggravate the situation further and potentially cause new problems.
“Make the conversation light and funny, but also be sure to address what’s really bothering you. It may be tough, but know you’re also laying the tracks for a healthy co-living relationship,” Kim adds.
2. Privacy Predicament
When you’re sharing an apartment with another individual, you’re sharing much more than that —the fridge, the couch, etc. And while Brendon Graffum from Ipswich, Massachusetts says he was totally cool with this part of co-living, he was not okay with his roommates treating his personal stuff as communal property.
“I started living with my two roommates because they were friends of friends, and everything was fine in the beginning. But then I started noticing small things like my sheets were all crumpled while I was away on a vacation, and my laptop all of a sudden had a virus due to certain applications I hadn’t downloaded,” Graffum says.
“I realized my roommates were using my room, bed and electronic devices. When I found out, I tried to react calmly by telling them my room was off-limits, but that only put a strain on our relationship. We didn’t talk for almost a year before we moved out.”
The first thing to do in a situation like this is to put some security measures in place and learn to protect your electronically-saved sensitive info like a pro. But if there’s a serious boundary issue, you’re eventually going to have to put your foot down.
“This one is tough because we learn a lot about our friendships when we live with them,” says Nicole Zangara, a social worker from Scottsdale, Arizona and author of “Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly“.
“If you keep talking to your roommate and they continue this behavior, you have to decide whether it makes sense to continue living with them — and inevitably keeping them in your friends circle. Roommate tiffs come and go, but conscious disrespect for personal property is blatantly rude and something that just won’t change on the drop of a dime.”
If you can’t change them or their behaviors, you might have to be the one to make the change (i.e., move out!).
3. The Occupational Roommate
It’s not always easy to find someone to take over a lease or sublease your room, especially when it’s last-minute or for a short amount of time. But while it’s tempting to jump the gun and choose the first interested applicant, it’s a decision you always want to make carefully. Yulia Vereshagina from New York City learned this lesson the hard way when she make a snap decision out of desperation.
“I found a random Craigslist roommate to replace my friend who moved to Texas. I thought she was super normal, but I also thought it was odd that she had no social media presence of any kind. Nonetheless, since I was desperate to fill the spot, I let her move in,” Vereshagina says.
“She paid rent on time but was never at the apartment. About two months after she moved in, I realized her room was completely empty — she didn’t even have bedroom furniture. When I confronted her about it, she made up a weird story about having another apartment closer to work, even though she worked like a mile away. After a few more strange interactions, I found out that she was an escort and stripper. I felt betrayed and a little unsafe living in my apartment because I questioned everything else she might not have been telling me.”
So, your roommate is keeping secrets. You can’t force them to tell you the truth, but once trust it broken, it’s hard to rebuild. What now?
“First off, you need to be more cautious about who you live with,” advises Zangara. “Before letting this girl move in, you should have asked more questions so as to ensure that she couldn’t pose a threat of any kind to your living environment.”
With so many different means of finding a good roommate these days, take advantage of your options to get to know each other. Ask them important questions, grab a coffee before move-in day to feel them out, and sign a roommate contract. Don’t forget: You’re going to be living with this person every day — don’t take it lightly. And if you’re worried about getting too personal, remember that you aren’t the only one who needs to know.
“Landlords often ask to see pay stubs, so it’s not unusual to ask more personal questions about the person you plan to live with,” adds Zangara.
4. A Big Mouse-take
To have a pet or to not have a pet has to be a unanimous decision among roommates. Unfortunately for Brooklyn roommate Emily Elveru, her roommate made the decision for the entire household when she brought home a pet rodent without warning, leaving no room for discussion.
“One night my roommate drunkenly asked me how I would feel if she got a pet hamster or rat. I told her no — for many reasons. They’re dirty, smelly, we have cats who kill rodents as a hobby, and keeping critters out of the house in the city is already a challenge. But apparently the next day she decided I would get over it and came home with a pet rat.”
The key to making the decision about pets is giving each roommate the opportunity to have a say. Ultimately, though, you all have to agree on the same thing.
“It’s important to be firm with the ‘Can I have a pet?’ question, especially when you’re living with other people,” says Kim.
“Because — whether your roommate intends this to happen or not — everyone in the home winds up caring for the animal in some way, shape or form. Think of a shared apartment as a voting democracy. If not everyone is in agreement about a decision of that grandeur, it should be vetoed.”
5. The Passive Poster
They say communication is key in relationships. Roommates have to be able to have all sorts of conversations — from whose turn it is to buy toilet paper to whether it’s okay to have overnight guests and everything in between. For Boston roommate Nicole Niss, the key to conversation was via Post-Its.
“My roommate apparently had an issue with the level of cleanliness in our apartment, which I could have understood. But instead of actually talking to me about it, she decided to leave sticky notes around the place on objects she thought were ‘gross.’ One time I even caught her leaving one on two empty, rinsed-out bowls left next to the sink for less than a day. They were clean, too!”
It’s safe to say that everyone has their own idea of what “clean” or “dirty” is, but even if your beliefs don’t align with your roommate’s, it’s not the end of the world. All clichés aside, just remember that two wrongs never make a right — so don’t fight fire with fire.
“It seems like this roommate was also obsessive compulsive on top of being passive aggressive,” says Kim. “The best way to handle this is to be direct and consistent. Every time she does something of this nature, address it immediately in a kind, direct way. Eventually, she will dread the communication so much, given her natural demeanor, that she will stop leaving the sticky notes.”