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Common Roommate Problems and How to Handle Them

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Living with another person that isn't a member of your family can bring on a whole new set of responsibilities. You may not always see eye-to-eye with your roommate, and as a result, conflict can arise. However, if you make yourself aware of some common roommate problems and how to handle them beforehand, you can potentially avoid an argument altogether.

Roommates with very different personalities

The messy roommate

This can cause serious friction between two people, especially if you live in a small apartment with a lot of shared space. Whether you're the messy one or the neat one, there will probably be a time when your roommate's habit becomes a nuisance. Either you're upset about dishes piling up in the sink or annoyed with the vacuum running more often than you'd like.

Ideally, you should find a roommate who shares the same views on housekeeping prior to moving in with them. But sometimes, there's a difference in definition from person to person. Your idea of clean may be having an apartment that always smells like cleaning products, but your roommate's idea of clean is nothing rotting in the refrigerator. Either way, you'll need to come to some sort of compromise in order to live together harmoniously.

The Fix: Talking to your roommate is always the best way to resolve any conflict. Don't start a passive-aggressive war by throwing out your roommate's stuff. Alternately, don't start leaving a mess all over the apartment because you know it bothers your roommate. Most likely, you can come to an agreement somewhere in the middle.

The noisy roommate

Are you getting home from a party as your roommate is sitting in the kitchen drinking their morning coffee? One roommate may tiptoe, another roommate may stomp. We aren't always so lucky to be living with people who share the same sleep schedule, so compromises need to be made.

The Fix: Listen to music with headphones and try not to tread too loudly when passing through common areas. If you are generally mellower and maybe a light sleeper, try earplugs to drown out any unwanted noise going on during your sleep.

The irresponsible roommate

There's always someone who will be late with bills or has a habit of leaving the door unlocked before leaving the apartment. If your roommate has habits like these, a conflict is almost unavoidable.

The Fix: Many roommate conflicts can be resolved by beginning with an open conversation. For anything, you may consider a bad habit, explain to your roommate that you both share the space. They might not even realize they are doing it!

The decorating conflict

Decorating your apartment can be a way of self-expression and a way of finally leaving your individual mark on the world outside of your parents' house. It may not be a priority to some, but for many people, it's a serious business.

When it comes to holidays, see if you can combine decorations if you and your roommate are of different faith. For example, some roommates will have a menorah next to a small Christmas tree on the dining room table. Or they may even decorate the Christmas tree with white and blue lights and dreidels.

TIP: If you can't come to an agreement on a color scheme, types of furniture and wall hangings, the best option would be to keep your common areas neutral. Save the more personal touches for your bedroom area.

Roommates with different financial backgrounds

Financial responsibilities are laid out in your lease, but depending on your landlord, there may only be one name allowed. Your landlord usually looks for a single payment of the total rent each month, so it is best to have a lawyer draw up a legal agreement stating the portion of rent each renter is responsible for.

Always thoroughly read a lease and understand the terms before signing it.

Some tips to remember:

  • If all roommates sign the lease, the landlord will hold each roommate accountable if rent goes unpaid
  • A different payment plan may also be put in place for variables like bedroom size or parking garages
  • If your rooms are the same size with the same common space, then typically you would split the rent 50/50

Whose name should the utilities be under?

There are a few variables that come into play regarding utilities, since it will all depend on the unit you are renting.

Some apartment complexes come with some or all utilities included in the rent. If this is the case for you, it makes it that much easier to split everything down the middle.

Whose name should the bills be under?

There's no right or wrong answer to this question. If you and your roommate(s) share the costs evenly, it really shouldn't matter. You may want to discuss having one roommate's name on the electric bill, another on the water bill, another on cable/internet services, etc.

The important thing is to come up with a plan that all parties feel comfortable with prior to hooking up the utilities. If your name is the only name on the lease, then maybe it will be a good idea to have your roommate's name on all other bills related to the apartment.

If one roommate plans to use one utility more than the other roommates, look into a way to split the cost fairly. For example, if one roommate has a heavy-duty air-conditoner in their bedroom that uses a lot of electricity, they should pay more than one only using a fan.

TIP: Cable and internet providers look at credit scores when opening up new accounts. If you have a lower score, you may be subject to a significant deposit. It may be best to put these types of accounts under the roommate with the best credit score to avoid any deposits.

Should you split the groceries?

The grocery bill is another gray-area, that if not handled correctly, can turn a perfectly good co-living situation into an uncomfortable way to live. The easiest way to tackle the groceries would be to simply split costs evenly, as you would the rent.

This method works well for many people, for couples or for individuals with the same eating habits. Sometimes, however, splitting food bills evenly may cause an unfair balance depending on items purchased.

TIP: Organic and specialized diet foods can be pricey at times, so it may be best to discuss what food items are common between the two of you, and only split the cost of those items. Or, you just simply agree to replace the item in a rotation as it runs out.

Should you split the cost of furniture?

On occasion, apartments come furnished. More often than not, you'll need to supply your own furnishings. You can split the bill for pieces of furniture purchased for the apartment if you so choose, but this could become a potential problem later. You will have to decide who gets what when you move out, and what money is owed to the other person.

TIP: The last thing you want is to play tug-of-war regarding furniture and electronics when you're trying to move. If you do decide to co-buy items with your roommate, it is probably best to discuss who takes ownership of each item prior to purchase.

As far as bedrooms are concerned, you and your roommate should be responsible for furnishing them on your own.

Jenna Farmer  Posted by Jenna Farmer on December 4, 2018

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