Common Roommate Conflicts, Solved by a Former RA

Cassandra Cloutier

By Cassandra Cloutier

May 16, 2023

I always imagined that living with adult roommates would look a lot like my favorite TV shows. But while I was a resident assistant charged with mediating conflicts between college roommates, I saw that these living situations can sometimes look more like horror movies than Friends or How I Met Your Mother.

And while your RA may have been the person you tried not to look drunk in front of when you locked yourself out of your dorm room as a college student, we were also trained to help with conflict resolution — and that training prepared me to handle adult roommate conflicts, too. So, I went to social media and some professional Slack groups with the question: “If you and your adult roommates still had an RA, what common roommate problems would you ask them about?”

As an adult with roommate issues, you may not be able to request a room change, but there are a few solutions I can recommend that may prevent a premature move out.

What do I do when my roommate won't do the dishes?

Ahhh, the classic dishes conundrum. The solution: Set clear expectations and ground rules. Is someone going to do all of the dishes once a week on a rotating basis? Do you and your roommates agree to deal with your own dirty dishes within 48 hours?

Keep in mind: Creating an agreement around dishes is more than just setting up a cleaning schedule. How you’ll hold one another to this expectation should also be a part of the agreement. If you know you struggle with verbal conflict, a system of reminder texts might work best. If that would feel passive aggressive to you, it’s probably best for you all to communicate in person. Just promise me you’ll talk it out instead of hiding the forks from your messy roommate (yes, I’ve seen it), or growing more and more resentful as the dishes grow mold (yep, this one too).

How do I ask for help around the house and express my feelings when my roommate isn’t a significant other?

Think of it like a professional relationship where you have a shared goal. If you and a coworker were working on a presentation that you thought was for your friendly boss but your coworker thought was for a team of investors, you’d probably butt heads on strategy. Similarly, if your goal is to make the apartment a warm place where friends are welcome whenever, and your roommate's goal is to maintain a pristine, living space with quiet hours and lots of alone time, that’s a mismatch.

A morning person and a night owl can get along, as long your expectations for each other are reasonable. Consider asking your roommate if you can set up a time to chat (rather than confronting them when they’re in the middle of something) and working together to find tactics that will make your living situation feel like a win-win.

How can I create a concise roommate agreement to avoid conflicts after the fact?

I love the proactive thinking and the word “concise.” No one will be able to follow a 10-page roommate contract. But if you each come up with two to three things that are really important to you and your lifestyle, that will feel much more manageable!

This approach challenges the assumption that we should be able to read each other's minds. For example, I can’t handle food grime or smoking. But in a 4/20–friendly home where everyone else is fine with weekly cleaning, the other roommates might perceive these as no big deal. If you know yourself and can clearly communicate your needs from the outset, that could prevent most of the conflicts you’re likely to encounter with a new roommate.

What should I do if my roommate wants to start a romantic relationship with me?

First, figure out what you need to protect your physical and emotional boundaries, which could look like staying somewhere else until you’re able to speak to this roommate in a public space or enlisting a third roommate as a temporary buffer.

Next, you can deal with the communication piece. I recommend going in with a plan. What do you want out of the conversation and what do you need from the other person? A conversation where you’re trying to determine what a romantic roommate relationship might look like will sound very different from one where you’re setting a firm boundary against any future advancements. If you need a third party, call them in, and make sure you both leave the conversation with a clear understanding of what comes next.

I’m the only one buying shared apartment supplies – how do I get others to pitch in?

Create a system! First, figure out your primary pain point. Is the issue that you’re the only one who takes responsibility for shared items? One option would be to make a grocery list in a shared space and add items as they run low. Then, you could establish a rotating schedule for who will make the grocery run or place a shared order and charge the others.

If sharing costs is the issue, you might establish monthly “dues” that each roommate pays in cash to a community jar or virtually via a shared account. Then, each roommate can take money from the shared pool when they go to purchase the toilet paper, cleaning supplies, etc. If you have money left over at the end of your lease, you can split it up or treat yourselves to a group outing!

How do I know if a friend will make a good roommate?

Consider drafting a roommate agreement even before you agree to live together. Are each of your non-negotiables manageable for the other person? Do you have a lot of common ground? If not, that doesn’t mean either of you are bad people or unfit adults; it just means that you are better friends than roommates! A best friend may not be your best roommate, and that’s okay.

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