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How To Deal With A Bad College Roommate Without Going Insane 

No roommate is perfect. Whether you’re living with a notorious bad roommate from Craigslist or a stellar roommate with some quirks, you’ll likely encounter problems.

So, how do you handle roommate conflicts? You might be inclined to avoid problems or leave passive-aggressive notes. However, there are better ways to deal with roommate problems.

The following 10 tips will help you learn how to deal with a bad roommate, which in turn will improve your roommate relationship.

1. Set rules and boundaries.

Bad roommates throwing a house party
Don’t want a house party every night? Then establish this up front. | Photo credit: adifansnet

When you first move in together, it’s important to establish rules and boundaries. This remains true even if you’re living with a good friend or if your new roommate seems like they’ll be the perfect roommate.

To establish and solidify these rules, create a roommate agreement. This written document outlines house rules and gives you something to refer back to. Some items to include in a roommate agreement are:

  • Quiet times
  • Guest policies
  • Personal space and privacy
  • Each roommate’s rent and security deposit responsibilities
  • How you’ll divide and pay bills such as utilities
  • Cleanliness standards/cleaning schedule
  • How to handle payment for communal items
  • What happens if someone moves out early

Chances are, you won’t address all future conflicts in your roommate agreement. After all, who thinks to establish rules regarding who gets to decide what Netflix show you watch on the shared living room TV? When you require a new apartment rule, discuss with your roommate and then append the initial agreement.

2. Address problems early and directly.

Bad roommate leaving passive aggressive note
Don’t be petty and use passive aggressive notes like this. | Photo credit: Cory Doctorow

When a problem happens, address it ASAP. If your roommate tracked mud throughout the house, let them know you’re unhappy with this. If you don’t address problems right away, chances are your roommate will think you approve of their behavior.

While you should address a problem the first time it occurs, wait until you’re both calm and collected. No toilet paper at a crucial moment? Don’t storm out of the bathroom waving and yelling. Rather, calm down and then politely remind your roommate you agreed whoever uses the last of the toilet paper is responsible for replacing it.

If you talk to your roommate about last week’s problems, they might not remember what you’re talking about. So, address problems when they’re fresh in everyone’s minds.

Remember, this isn’t high school, so don’t use passive-aggressive notes! Be an adult and converse with your roommate in person. Rather than pointing fingers and making them feel embarrassed, start a welcoming conversation.

3. Provide specific examples.

Bad roommate listening to the TV loud all day

Rather than saying your roommate is loud, tell the TV was too loud last night. | Photo credit: Aleks Dorohovich

When you talk to your roommate about their mistakes, provide specific examples. Don’t say “you’re loud at night,” but rather “I’m a light sleeper and last night around midnight the TV was too loud for me to sleep.”

Providing specific examples is especially important when you talk about the cleanliness of your living space. Rather than asking your roommate to clean after themselves, name specific dirty areas of the apartment. For example, tell them they’re leaving rotten sandwiches in the refrigerator or they’re smearing toothpaste all over the bathroom sink.

4. Suggest effective solutions.

Roommates shoes piled at the front door
Dirty floors? Ask your roommate to take their shoes off at the door. | Photo credit: Britt Reints

While it’s necessary to address problems, you must also suggest solutions that are practical to daily life. When you provide your housemate with suggestions on how they can resolve the problem, it’s more likely this problem will become a thing of the past.

If your roommates spread their items throughout common areas, ask them to keep belongings in their bedroom. If you realize the apartment is constantly dirty, suggest a cleaning schedule. If your roommate keeps drinking your milk, ask if they want to start purchasing communal milk together.

5. Work together to solve problems.

Female roommates sitting down to talk
Don’t just accuse your roommates; talk with them to solves problems. | Photo credit: CoWomen

When you address your roommate about problems, don’t be accusatory or holier than thou. If you call them out, they might get defensive and become closed off to your requests. Rather, make the conversation about both of you. Remember, you’re sharing your living space.

If the kitchen is a mess (because of their dirty dishes and crumbs), don’t yell at them for not cleaning up. Rather ask if they want to work together to clean up the kitchen. While you’re cleaning, you can mention you would appreciate it if they attempt to keep the kitchen neat.

6. Set a good example.

Good roommate washing dishes
If you don’t want your roommate leaving dishes in the sink, set an example by washing yours. | Photo credit: Tina Dawson

To get your roommate to pitch in, try leading by example. For instance, if you don’t want dirty dishes left in your sink, wash your dishes every day. If you loathe when the TV keeps you awake at night, lower the volume when you’re watching TV during established quiet hours.

Along the same lines, apologize when you make a mistake or upset your housemate. When you say you’re sorry, you show you care about your roommate and the quality of your relationship. Remember, nobody’s perfect; not your freshman year college roommate, not your best friend, and not your mom. So, accept their apologies.

7. Ask how you can help.

Stressed roommate with head in hands
If your roommate seems stressed, ask how you can help. | Photo credit: Christian Erfurt

Before you assume your roommate is actively attempting to be a horrible roommate, engage them in conversation. Most times, there’s an explanation for their actions.

If your roomie is angry or stressed about something in their life, the dirty fridge or paying rent is in the back of their mind. If they are struggling, ask how you can help them. Maybe they just need a few reminders.

Although you don’t want to hear this, they might think you are the bad roommate! Why should they try to be a good roommate if they think you are a bad one? If you realize your roommate is upset with you, remain collected. Listen to what they have to say, and then figure out a plan to improve your shared living situation.

It’s a good idea to schedule regular check-ins. While conflict adverse people might never bring up they’re upset, if they’re directly asked if anything is wrong, they will be more likely to answer honestly. Also, life gets busy. Designated check-in times ensure problems are discussed before they reach a boiling point.

8. Use headphones.

Good roommate using headphones at laptop
Use headphones if you’re listening to music or watching TV when your roommate is home. | Photo credit: Wes Hicks

Not everyone has the same schedule or preferred noise levels. If your roommate insists on an 8 PM bedtime, put in some headphones when you’re listening to music or watching television. It’s better to take this easy step than create unnecessary conflict.

If your roommate naturally talks loudly, they probably can’t help it. Rather than asking them to stop talking on the phone when you’re home, just pop in some earbuds and relax to your favorite tunes.

9. Find a place you can go to escape.

Relaxing by reading a book outside
Some time relaxing outside of your living space can help reset your mind. | Photo credit: J Shim

No matter how hard you try to create a positive roommate situation, your roommate might still annoy you. If you’re fed up with them and they’re constantly ignoring your grievances, find a place you can go to escape. Shoot some hoops at a basketball court, dive into a novel at a cafe, or wander through a local park.

While this place should not replace your home, it can help you relax by reminding you you’re never trapped in your apartment. After spending some time away from your apartment and roommate, you’ll be refreshed and ready to address any problems.

10. Get others involved.

Police standing in Grand Central Station
If your roommate is doing something illegal, don’t be afraid to contact police. | Photo credit: Michael Descharles

Sometimes, you’re living with a truly horrible roommate. There’s a big difference between leaving dirty dishes atop counters and stealing your belongings. Although everyone wishes they could handle problems on their own, sometimes you have to involve authorities.

If you are a college student, you can always talk to your resident assistant. They aim to help you have a good year of college. They can help serve as a mediator and help you address any problems with your roommate. If things are really bad, they can help you take the steps to turn your bad roommate into an ex-roommate.

If your roommate is stealing your belongings (I’m talking more than just a few Doritos), physically threatening you, or making you feel unsafe in your living space, it might make sense to contact the police. Before you do so, make sure you’ve confronted your roommate and tried to solve problems yourself. FYI, called the non-emergency number, unless it’s a true emergency.

If you’re a renter, you probably signed a lease agreement. If your roommate is violating the terms of your lease by damaging the apartment or not paying rent, talk to your landlord. The property owner wants to protect their space, so they might be willing to work with you to expel your problem roommate. If nothing else, they’ll know you’re trying to solve the problem.

By Briana Yablonski

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