How To Deal With Uncomfortable Roommate Situations

In 2015, Forbes cited a study which showed that the number of millennials with housemates had risen significantly compared to the previous generation when they were the same age. They wrote, "the number of 25 to 34 year old living with housemates increased by a whopping 39 percent from 2005 to 2015." That's a whole lot of new roomies out there, not to mention the older generations who were already doubling and tripling up to reduce expenses.

Along with this trend comes more of the same problems that have plagued roommates for decades. Fortunately, I gathered some advice that could help prevent some common points of contention.

Do your due diligence

Whether you're half of a roommate twosome or have a houseful of roomies, there is always potential for conflict and, as Nicole Zangara LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) told me, the best way to head them off is by addressing possible pitfalls before jumping in. As the author of Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, she offers her number one tip for roommate survival.

"When there's clear expectations, there's an agreement between the two of you regarding how you will live peacefully together," advises Zangara. She urges co-habitants to communicate their expectations up front, everything from finances to cleanliness.

I spoke with the founder and CEO of (an app he says others call "Tinder for finding roommates"), Paul Burke, and he agrees that boundaries should be set initially. "Be honest and open with your roommate early on so that you both feel comfortable with each other's personal habits."

Ask them important questions

In the best of all possible worlds, you have an opportunity to interview your potential roommate before anyone moves in together. If you can do this beforehand, check out this list of 20 questions provided by the New York real estate website Brick Underground. Be respectful, but don't be shy. Remember that a good match will eliminate many possible future problems.

Set realistic relationship expectations

Often stories passed down through generations of how life-long friends were made between college roommates lead to expectations that this person you're sharing a room or home with is going to end up being your very best friend. The same hope can spring up when you decide to move in with someone who's already a friend — and the result can be a disappointment.

Nedda Gilbert, a clinical social worker with 25-years' experience in helping college students adjust, warns Forbes readers not to expect too much too soon: "Don't expect a BFF on day one...The idea is to have a good, not necessarily great — and definitely not bad — roommate: someone you can live well with..."

Talk about it

Harlen Cohen, New York Times best-selling author of The Naked Roommate, targets advice to college students and their parents on his blog.

In one post, he suggests that parents remember, if their kid complains about their roomie, it could be them who is the terrible roommate. The same holds true for any roommate — no matter how old. It's easy to think that everything is the fault of the other person, but Cohen says it's best to talk to your roommates about both what's bothering you, and asking the roommates if anything is bothering them — don't assume that you're without flaw.

Whether you're a dorm-living college student or an adult already out in the world, discussing your issues honestly is the best solution. Make a list of what you want to talk about to keep the conversation focused. Then, you can even write up an actual contract to preserve the agreements you come to, heading off future issues.

Mutual respect and compromise are paramount

Dr. Frederic Neuman wrote about approaching a co-living situation considerately in Psychology Today. The psychiatrist stressed respecting each other's space by not entering another's room when they are not present, and recognizing that dealing with certain traits — like messy or neat — will require compromise.

Following through on obligations — like paying your portion of rent or doing your share of the chores without being reminded — is simply respectful. He also urges roommates not to be scorekeepers, expecting a return of every favor, which sets up disappointments and hard feelings.

Come up with a roommate agreement

The best way to avoid conflict from the beginning, and even resolve it after you've been living together for a while, is to work through a roommate agreement. This will give you an opportunity to discuss situations in a businesslike manner, without emotion getting in the way.

You can create your own roommate agreement online in just a few minutes, with a free form from However, there are lots of free forms online, in varying formats, so shop around until you find one that you're comfortable with.

What exactly should you discuss?

You'll want to make sure you cover some of the most common issues, even if you're not currently experiencing them or don't anticipate running into them. Some of the big issues are listed on, plus you'll get an idea of what your end product should look like.

Of the top issues that tend to come up, be sure to cover the following: noise levels, sleep schedules, bathroom cleaning and supplies, considerate bathroom time usage, visitor rules, schedule conflicts, division of chores, bills and expenses, food storage, temperature control and the use of common areas.

Schedule regular house meetings

Roommate-living is such a big part of society now that even Canadian bank CIBC weighed in on the subject, offering several suggestions, including the need for regular house meetings. Scheduling meetings, either weekly or monthly, provides a forum for discussing issues, rather than only calling a meeting when a problem arises. Sometimes, the meeting may be very positive and result in acknowledging a new way of doing something that benefits everyone, rather than just being a nag session held only when there's tension.

Finding harmony

In most situations, working through issues with the help of one of the roommate agreement forms will solve the majority of your problems. If it doesn't, remember that working through these problems is a negotiation and that will often raise standard defense responses.

The Negotiation Experts offer four ways to overcome defensive attitudes: remembering both parties must choose to cooperate, realizing fair cooperation is a two-way street, both sides must believe there is hope for a successful resolution and then, finally, trust and respect that resolution.

Whether you have a roommate from hell or your soul-roommate, most cohabitants encounter conflict at some point. The only way to deal with the issues are honestly and calmly. The best approach is to plan for how to handle certain common issues before they happen, and make sure to communicate with your housemate.