Living with family members is one thing, friends another. But strangers? Now that's a horse of a different color. The only perfect roommate is one who pays for their share of everything, spends all their time elsewhere, restocks the fridge and cabinets with all your favorite foods and doesn’t mind if you borrow their favorite shirt without asking. Unfortunately, this description probably doesn't apply to your roommate. Your roommate is always around, a slob, a smoker, listens to the TV and stereo too loudly, is always on the phone, and never pays the bills on time, if at all.
How do you avoid roommates from hell? The first thing you need to go over some basic rules for a peaceful cohabitation. Lets call it a roommate pre-nup. You may find it helpful to put it writing and have everyone sign it, but if this is too much, you should at least discuss the essential potential hot topics such as rent and other shared bills, living space, who gets the good room, cleaning, food, guests, noise, moving out and the best way to handle disagreements.
Rent and other annoyances
Rent is almost always due on the first, so I like to pay all other bills on the 15th. This is a pretty good rule of thumb to even out the money for the month. This will also let everyone know what’s due when so you can all plan accordingly.
It is also a good idea if you or one of your roommates is a phone hog to go the cell phone route. It means you’ll never get stuck with someone else’s $500 phone bill that goes unpaid and a potential mark on your credit. So get a phone line for your DSL and have everyone go wireless and split the cost.
If you’re renting an apartment or house with different sized bedrooms it’s a good idea to charge (or pay) a bit more for the bigger bedrooms or ones with an attached bath. This way no one feels cheated.
Make sure you keep accurate records of all your bills and who paid what. Money is the number one cause for disagreements and accurate records can easily help in the dispute.
Nothing comes between roomies like a wall of dishes or trash, which also doubles as an all you can eat buffet for rats and roaches. The best rule of thumb is to clean the kitchen before you leave the kitchen. Unfortunately, school, work and dating schedules might preclude you from doing the dishes each and every time you eat, so get to them when you return or at least before you go to bed. If you wait, the dishes will pile up and may go unwashed for days or weeks. If you or your roomies never seem to get them done maybe a class in time management should be on next semesters schedule. Germs are not your friends.
If you’re a neat-nik and your roomie is a huge slob, talk to him/her right away and find a middle ground that works for everyone. Surely you can both find some ways to compromise. And when the trash is full, take it out next time you’re leaving the apartment. It’s not that difficult.
Everyone is a slob in the bathroom. It’s the smallest and busiest room in the house. Ladies keep your make-up and toiletries organized and not all over the place and clean up the make-up spills. It’s gross. Guys put the seat down and clean the sink after you shave. Also, if you’ve got bad aim clean up the mess, nobody likes the smell of urine. Everyone, put a matt down next to the tub or shower to keep the floor from being a wading pool and hang up your towels.
As for the living room, bathroom and other shared spaces try setting aside an hour a week where everyone is together, breakup the chores, crank up the tunes and get the apartment clean enough to get you through the week. Mom may send a care package but you can bet your school loans a maid isn’t part of the package
Food: Yours, Mine and Ours.
Don’t eat someone else’s food without asking. If you do “borrow” their favorite snack food, tell them and then replace it quickly. In order to keep moochers from accidentally eating your food try writing your name on the containers with a marker. Another way is to assign everyone his or her own food cabinet. This is my preferred method. Choose what works best for the house. As far as condiments go, everyone should chip in; otherwise you’ll have two or three of everything in the fridge and no room for beer and cheese wiz.
Guests or Pests
If you have roommates you can also be sure their significant others and best friends will always be around unless you come up with some house rules for guests. It's one thing to have boyfriends spend the night once a week, it’s another for them to stay every night, eat your food, use your phone, computer and never help with the household chores. This is a major annoyance and must be dealt with before it happens.
The best way to handle the situation is to lay out the ground rules for overnight and weekend guests with your roommates in the pre-nup. Personally, I always feel they can stay over as much as my roommate stays over at their house as long as they're respectful of my space. That means replacing all my snacks they chow down and cleaning up after themselves.
Be respectful. There’s a time for cranking up the tunes but not every night. Even if your roommates are into it your neighbors may not be. And unless you live in a soundproof apartment or dorm, 10p during the week is a good cutoff time for noise too loud to study or sleep. Midnight on the weekends.
If you or your roommate has a pet, that person should be solely responsible for the care and well being of the animal. Don’t assume that when spend the night out your roommate will automatically take your dog for a walk the next morning. They may have stayed out too. It’s unfair for the dog. If you have a cat, clean out the litter box often. It gets stinky quick. Smelly cat, smelly cat…it’s not your fault.
Are you leaving your roommates behind for greener pastures? If your name is on the lease, you're required to give 30 days notice to the landlord. Why not give your housemates the same courtesy? Even if your name's not on the lease, give at least a month's notice so they've got time to replace you.
Get the ok from your housemates before you invite your graduating class over for a night of unbridled debauchery if you don’t want them breaking out the jackhammer at 7am to help you get over your hangover. Besides, if everyone is in on the party, then everyone is in on the clean up.
If you want to live in peace then don’t antagonize your roomies. Be honest, respectful and up front about your feelings and actions. Remember, if you want a good roommate you also have to be a good roommate.
By Scott Acord