Roommate Rules - Preventing Roommate Conflict
Yes, it's absolutely true that everyone is their own special snowflake, and we don't imagine any one-size-fits-all set of roommate rules will work for everyone. However, something that's been observed to work for an awfully large number of folks . . . well . . . if you go in another direction entirely without a full and certain knowledge based on a detailed conversation with your roommate that it's going to be okay, you're probably at risk for CONFLICT!
The Space - (or taking up more than your fair share of it) - This can be tough, especially if one of the roommates was there first. However, unless you're charging well under market rate for a roommate share in your city, the new roommate should be entitled to decorate some of the common areas too. Don't charge someone 1/2 of your rent/mortgage but expect them to exist like a teeny tiny mousie in their room alone while your stuff covers the rest of the spread. Or, at least if your stuff absolutely must remain everywhere, make sure that's made clear and happily agreed upon as acceptable in advance.
Security - Yes, we imagine most reasonable humans feel it's best to lock the door when all roommates will be gone for a while. But it can get more complicated than that.
Is it ever acceptable to leave the house without locking up? When? Running a quick errand? What if other roommate(s) are still home? What about the windows? Do you have an alarm? When is that set? Does anyone other than the official set of rent-paying roommates have a key? Who? Is that okay with everyone? Are any keys left outside, or with neighbors? Where, and who? Can any non-paying "roommates"/visitors/guests be in the residence even when all the official bill-paying roommates are gone?
Who is responsible if something gets stolen? If one roommate left the space unlocked/unsecured in such a way that violated the roommate rules, then that person probably is but . . . there would need to be a clear set of roommate rules agreed upon in advance regarding security before anyone could really violate them, see?
Your Roommate's Personal Possessions - If it's not yours and there's no explicit agreement with the owner of the item that you can use it, touch it, eat it, wear it, consume it, borrow it, or otherwise use it in the way it was intended to be used (or even in a way it wasn't), you can't.
Sex - Your roommate probably does not want to see or hear you having sex. (Or if they do, that's probably more than just a roommate relationship, so we're not getting into that here.) But if it is a standard roommate thing . . . probably not. If you can't honestly say you're sure they can't, you probably need to deal with it.
White noise machines? Additional sound-absorbing barriers? Confining your crazed monkeylove to the hours they're not home? Figure something out and just fix it already. (see also the section on Guests)
Noise - For most folks most days, your roommate rules should involve some scheduled "quiet hours." Unless you really almost never have anything important to do, or are an extremely heavy sleeper, you'll need some peace to get some sleep at some point.
Exceptions can always be made on any given day should the roommates collectively decide upon one (PARTY!) but unexpected loud noise possibilities 24/7 will eventually prove hard on the physical and mental health of most adults.
Smoking - It's a rare roommate that does not mind smoking indoors at their residence unless they also smoke indoors at same. Even if they say they don't mind, they might be too shy or passive to speak up (but they should get over that, but that's another topic area). Also, a lot of roommates that do smoke occasionally make a point of doing so only elsewhere (they'll only stink up environments other than their own) . . . or at their residence but only outside, on a patio, balcony, etc. Better make sure by asking 3 or 4 or 94 times, or risk your roommate resenting you.
Basically, if you plan to smoke inside on a regular basis at the shared dwelling, you're better off with roommates that want to as well. If happy compromise is to occur between smokers and those who don't, it will probably mean the smoker going outdoors 98% of the time.
Also, even if you are both non-smokers but may have smokers as visitors, clear roommate rules with regard to that should be discussed as well.
Finally, even if both smoke and indoors, is one of you planning to quit in the near future? There's no one more anti-smoking than one who just gave it up.
Music - When it comes to music, most roommates aren't on the same page at the same time. Even if you find your musical soulmate, you may be in the mood to listen when they aren't, or vice versa. If you haven't agreed that being loud (something able to be heard clearly outside your private area by your roommate) is acceptable at a given time, it probably isn't. Headphones and/or a lower volume are probably more harmonious choices. This is more or less applicable based on the size of your abode. The smaller your space, the more considerate you need to be to avoid a roommate seething with resentment and/or frequent complaints.
Roommate Duration - Be wary of the totally temporary, unless you're sure you're both on the same page. Anyone's circumstances can change suddenly, but some folks more likely than others. Were you thinking of staying for a year or two, when your would-be roommate is thinking about marrying/shacking up with their significant other within a couple of months? Assuming the roommate relationship goes well, what sort of duration are you both thinking of, optimistically? Don't assume, ask.
Guests - Even if your roommate(s) already OK'd it in a general sense, it's still best to give them an event-specific heads up about upcoming overnight guests or get-togethers involving multiple people in your shared space. They'll likely be more amiable coming home to something that is not a surprise. You can also work out conditions acceptable to everyone ahead of time rather than cope with an angry roommate afterward.
Garbage - There are two types of roommates with regard to the garbage issue: One of the ones that takes it out regularly, and one of the ones the other roommate(s) begin to despise for not taking it out regularly.
And it's a sure bet that the How High Can We Pile The Can game is going to severely annoy the one upon whom it eventually topples.
Consumables - Decide upfront what items are to be shared, how they will be procured, how that will be paid for. Don't be the asshat that always uses the toilet paper someone else bought but never replaces it or contributes to a fund for whomever likes to go shopping.
Here's a list of consumables you may want to consider: toilet paper, paper towels, trash bags, light bulbs, dish soap, household cleaning products, napkins, shampoo, stamps, toothpaste, mouthwash, edible condiments.
Dirty Dishes - No one wants to wash your dirty dishes. They might do it in exchange for something else they want, but if it's less than that and on a regular basis they'll begin to resent you for it.
Cleaning Up After Visitors - See Dirty Dishes.
Basic Household Chores - Unless you're paying more than your fair share of the rent, your roommate(s) will mind if you're not doing your fair share of the chores. And what exactly is a necessary chore and how often that's necessary is something that really should be incorporated into the roommate rules upfront.
A lack of agreement now virtually guarantees a lack of getting along with regard to these issues later. Be as flexible as you can be while still living within a home that doesn't gross you out on the cleanliness and hygiene front. Don't become unhappy, but don't be a severe stickler for detail either. If you just can't be bothered to clean up after yourself, consider paying someone to come clean up after you. It will no doubt be money well spent.
If two or more roommates that are around regularly have to share one bathroom, you're probably going to need some sort of schedule. For using it and cleaning it.
Your science fair project in the fridge is probably not nearly as fascinating to your roommates as you might imagine.
The laundry machine/dryer is not your personal laundry hamper or closet. The last step in that cycle isn't when the buzzer goes off, it's actually removing your wardrobe. People who frequently fail to heed this recommendation will eventually have their clean clothes thrown all over the floor. It is a Law of Nature.
Personal Odors - Your roommates probably do not want to smell you. This includes body odor as well as excessive use of scented products, especially cologne, perfume, and aftershave. It might also include air fresheners, room "deodorizers" (in quotes because these really introduce rather than remove odor), incense, and really smelly candles unless specifically discussed.
Postal Mail - Don't hide or bother your roommate's mail. If you get their mail and do anything other than immediately place it unopened and unadulterated in a pre-designated place, consider it inappropriately hidden and bothered.
Food/Meal Sharing - Sharing food/shopping/cooking with another roommate with whom you mesh culinarily can be a happy convenience. But if the other person wants to eat many things you don't, more expensive stuff than you usually eat, or regularly eats more than you do, you'll end up resenting the menu and/or feel you're paying more than your fair share.
Don't agree to longer-term food sharing other than basic condiments unless you hash out the details and know the arrangement really fits the way you eat and your budget. You might want to try the collective food thing for an agreed upon period of time. If any roommate(s) don't feel it's still in their best interests gastronomically or financially after the probationary period, they can bow out with no hard feelings.
Breakage/Damage - If you break or otherwise damage something belonging to your roommate, just fess up and make amends already. They're going to figure out you did it eventually, don't kid yourself. If you really were the successfully sneaky sort, you could have avoided breaking whatever you broke in the first place.
In the long run, the stress of the damage to the relationship (and what your roommate is going to do once they decide they hate your sneaky little guts) is going to be worse than that one conversation admitting your blame, so you're really even doing yourself a favor as well. Your roommate won't forgive you until you apologize, and a roommate that hates you will impact your life negatively. Plus, you'll be their "horror story" during their next roommate search.
Deposits/Utilities - Unless you collect a sizable deposit from your roommates or you own the home and collect an "all-included" rent from your roommate/tenant, don't allow all the utilities to be registered in your name and yours alone. Spread the fiscal accountability around. It helps keep everyone honest, and insures no one will be left holding the financial "bag" all by themselves should the roommate situation turn sour.
If you own the dwelling and have a roommate/tenant, a good deposit might be the deductible on your homeowner's policy, if that's within the realm of the reasonable. That way the new roommate won't cause much in the way of damage that will come out of your pocket. Hopefully!
If all roommates are renters, someone's lack of willingness to have anything whatsoever put in their name might be a deadbeat warning sign. There's no reason a bill at least one bill can't be in their name, unless they're not planning to pay it.
Collective Bills - If a particular collective bill is in your name and you collect money from your roommates to pay it, keep that bill and show or at least offer to show it to them each time you ask for money. We'd advise hanging onto any collectively paid bills for a few months, in case someone has doubts.
Sometimes people harbor strange ideas about how much stuff should cost, and others can be paranoid. Don't allow yourself to be in the position of asking others to cough up their fair share with no paperwork to prove the expense.
Random Generosity - Don't expect your roommate to pay more than their fair share for anything just because they have/make more money than you do. Someone in that situation might choose to be generous, but roommate does NOT = spouse or family member. If on some occasion they do choose to be generous with you, be grateful in the moment for that episode of generosity, but don't assume it will necessarily continue. Most folks are actually more likely to be generous with someone less flush if they don't act entitled to it.
Phone Bills - With the widespread use of cellphones and super cheap calling plans, this is increasingly becoming a potential problem of the past. However, if you're one of the few that will share a phone line with individually charged long distance calls, force everyone to keep careful logs (less likely) or get prepaid calling cards or passcodes for any charge calls (better).
And 1-900 numbers? NOBODY remembers calling those! If you even suspect a problem is developing, force a situation where all roommates are accountable for their own non-local and/or non-free calls, or you could be left holding the bill for freaky phone sex or a bosom buddy in Botswana.
Phone (or any other social/dropping by, etc.) Messages - If your roommate situation is such that you could ever take messages for a roommate, add it to the roommate rules that everyone write them down immediately in their most legible printing on a clean piece of paper, then place them immediately in a pre-designated place. Write down at least the caller's name, telephone number, and the reason for their call, if they're not already a good friend whose number is known. Anything less is social sabotage, and will come back to haunt you, you bastard.
Cars - Borrowing a roommate's car can be more complicated than you might initially imagine. Even if the owner doesn't mind, and even if the borrower fills it up with gas afterwards, what happens in the event of an accident? Does the owner's insurance cover that? Even if it does, it might raise their insurance premiums. A situation that seemed free or low-cost involving automobiles can quickly turn otherwise.
Household Improvements - Don't plan or agree to contribute to any household fixer-uppers unless you get a very clear idea of what and how much in advance. If the household needs a new (insert whatever here), it's right you should pay your share, but make sure the cost and the thing are agreed upon first.
Leaving the chore of shopping for your new shower curtain for your roommate(s) then protesting you don't like their choice enough to pay your share isn't going to be seen as cool.
On the other hand, unilaterally deciding you need a super expensive designer handwoven then platinum-plated shower curtain that costs 25 times much as any other shower curtain in town, then asking your roommates to pay much more than they'd previously imagined probably won't go down so great either.
Where the %$# Did My Roommate Go? - If you're going to be gone for longer than is typical for you, let your roommates know. Even if you feel some of the more specific details of your activities are none of their business, acting like Secret Agent Man with even the broader strokes (when can they expect you back, is there an emergency number if you're gone much longer than you said you'd be, etc.) is rude and will justifiably seem a little psycho.
Common consideration could be just letting them know you didn't die during the week you went on vacation, or letting them know you'll uncharacteristically be gone overnight, depending on your relationship and how often you typically see each other.
Maybe you'll get lucky and they'll take the opportunity to get that country music karaoke party out of their system entirely in your absence! Or, if your mom calls unexpectedly, she won't hang up, then dial 911 and your entire extended family tree right after your roommate says they have no idea if you're dead or alive. It's not just consideration for them, it's bound to work better for you as well.
Illness - Everyone gets sick from time to time. Show a little compassion for your roommate when it happens to them, go on a chicken soup or pharmacy run, whatever. Not only is it the nice thing to do, but you'll probably need a little compassion someday yourself, cowboy.
Your Roommate's Sex/Love/Romance/??? Life - If your roommate is having girlfriend/boyfriend/hookup troubles, it's best to be sympathetic and supportive, but keep most of any negative opinions you may have to yourself, even if specifically asked. Even if it's not their fault their Love Connection is behaving badly, at the very least, they chose that person . . . didn't they?
Besides, chances are good they'll end up staying together/getting back together at least for some period of time with whomever(s) you criticized, and will then discuss with them what YOU had to say about the whole situation. Guess who will be cast as the villain in that drama? Few people welcome being the in middle of that sort of nonsense, especially when you can't just leave the situation and go home (i.e., it's happening AT your home).
"Morality" and Your Roommate - It's best to try to find a roommate with whom you're already compatible on any "moral" issues of importance to you. We recommend you investigate that in advance.
HOWEVER, if a roommate surprises you by doing something you consider inappropriate or ill-behaved . . . but something that actually isn't dangerously illegal and actually has zero direct or specific personal impact on you, try to keep your judgments to yourself. You probably can't NOW incorporate it into your roommate rules, and they're probably going to keep right on doing whatever they're doing no matter what you say, but attempt to hide it from you and resent you for judging them.
If it bothers you severely, another roommate search may become necessary. But expecting that criticism will result in anything other than household tension is usually unrealistic.
Roommate Gossip - In the course of sharing a residence you'll probably discover one or two things about your roommate that would be fun to blab to their friends or relatives. On the other hand, it's likely so shall they with regard to you and yours.
Blabbing may be fun in the short run, but in the longer run you're just encouraging your roommate to disrespect your privacy as well, as who could really blame them if you were the Blabby Betty first?
Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow - Even if you are certain you and a roommate are going your separate ways in the near future, and even if that's a result of incompatibility, attempt to remain at least civil. Whether or not you want them as a friend in the future, you may need to remain in touch to settle up final bills, and additional animosity now will probably PROLONG rather than limit future interaction. It's not only the way emotional grownups behave, but life's hard enough without causing people you might run into around town to hate you.
No matter what you think of them, strive for a peaceful conclusion, not them out to kick your ass.
Moving Out - Is the situation month-to-month, or is there a lease with a definite term? If month-to-month, what amount of notice is considered adequate? What if someone absolutely has to move out early? Are there any financial penalties for that on your lease? Despite best intentions, these things can happen, and are better incorporated into the roommate rules in advance than negotiated in the heat of an emergency-esque moment.
If someone has to leave in the middle of a previously agreed upon lease term, who is responsible for finding the new roommate? There are pros and cons here. If the person moving is responsible, they absorb more of the hassle, but the remaining roommates will have to live with their choice. Also, if the roommate that must leave is doing so due to a personal emergency, they might not have the time.
There are no right and wrong answers to this one, but again, discussing in advance and having a plan is a better way to go to keep things civil.
Roommate Dregs - When you move out, don't leave anything behind, unless you made arrangements that leaving that item was acceptable. You might kid yourself otherwise, but anything YOU couldn't bother to pack is unlikely to be viewed as a priceless treasure by the roommates you're also leaving behind. Don't disgrace yourself by taking anything that doesn't belong to you either.