Handling Difficult Roommate Situations

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? I think it’s a right of passage into adulthood that you must, at one point or another, find yourself in a difficult situation with a roommate. I have had more than my fair share of awkward roommate situations, and I have learned (mostly through doing things the wrong way), how to handle certain types of roommate situations you may encounter in your life. Here is a list of 9 possible awful roommates/situations and how to avoid them.

  1. Be Healthily Cautious Before Living with a Friend

    In my experience, it’s difficult to live with friends. If you’re about to enter college for the first time, opt for a random roomie! Who knows, you might make a new best friend! My freshman year, I decided to live with a really close friend from middle/high school and it didn’t go well. I found out very quickly that we had very different definitions of what our room should be like. I’m not talking about decorations, but lifestyle differences. I’m the type of person who likes to stay in on week nights. My room is my sanctuary and should be treated as such. She, on the other hand, felt that our room should be an open place for friends (and strangers) to congregate. Because we decided to bunk our beds, we had a lot of open space and thus, I would come home to lots of random people in our room. She also loved to stay out late and skip early morning classes. Because of this, she would make lots of noise, frequently until 2am or later on school nights and it drove me nuts. This led me to spending nights with other friends and avoiding her completely because of our different lifestyles. Needless to say, I haven’t spoken to this friend in many years. I often wonder if we could have remained friends had we chosen not to live together…

    Bottom Line: Make sure you know your friends’ living habits before you agree to live with them! They may utterly clash with yours.

  2. Two is Company, Three’s a Crowd

    You might disagree with me here, but in my experience, living with two other people – three roommates total – is a bad idea. Remember how above I pointed out that I hung out with others because my roomie and I clashed? So the following year, I decided to live with one of those friends, also someone I had known since high school. We, plus one of my best friends, decided to live together in an apartment off campus. It was just the three of us in our apartment and the year started off promising! We each had our own bedroom – yay private space! But it turned sour very quickly. The first “friend” immediately started excluding me from events, often just inviting my other roommate. This continued throughout the whole year and I was miserable. I had nobody to share my unhappiness with because both of my roommates often ditched me for other plans. Eventually I made other plans and this escalated into that first “friend” spreading rumors about me cheating on my then boyfriend and passing this misinformation around to her other friends, my other classmates. It was an absolute disaster and I was constantly devastated. Being lonely is no fun, especially when you did nothing to deserve it. My theory was that she was jealous I was becoming better friends with our third roommate, so she did everything she could to tear me down. Ultimately, she ended up failing all of her classes, getting pregnant, and dropping out of college, so hey, karma for the win!

    In my second example of Three’s a Crowd, the following year I decided to live with two other people, a boy and a girl. Both of whom, again, I knew from high school, though one better than the other. I wasn’t particularly close to either, so I figured it should work out ok, right? WRONG. The year started off pretty poorly when the girl and I were the only ones doing any of the work to find a place to live. The boy was so particular about location that we were always trying to please everyone (him) with what we needed. Meanwhile, he was more than 100 miles away basically just vetoing all of our suggestions. Finally we found one very close (yet expensive) to our school that he agreed on. Unfortunately, one of the rooms was significantly smaller than the others. Since he was moving in later than the other girl and I, we decided to take our pick of rooms first. Granted, we should have been more upfront with him (honestly, I thought she should have done it since she was friends with him, not I) about how we picked the rooms. He wanted to draw straws, but we kind of told him since we did all of the looking, cleaning, painting, fixing up, etc. that we took our pick of rooms first. He agreed that made sense, but was bitter about it for the whole year. It was a disaster. He didn’t help clean, buy products (soap, cleaning supplies, bathroom things, anything), and all but refused to socialize with us. He ended up throwing a big party when the other roomie and I were gone (I was working late), and ended up destroying my living room end tables, ripping our shower rod out of the wall, and littered the place with beer bottles and even a drunken, passed out guy on the floor. That was fun to come home to. At the end of our lease, he went behind our backs and found a sub-letter for the summer, breaking his portion of the lease. I know he felt frustrated by his bedroom situation, but at a certain point you have to just get over it if you want to be happy…

    Bottom Line: In my experience, when living with three people, someone always feels excluded or frustrated. For a happier living situation, live with just one other person, or at least more than two others.

  3. Too Many Roommates = Trouble

    This is a big one for me now that I’m living in Spain. I know so many people living in terrible housing just to find a place to stay. (Hello, Madrid!). People here are desperate to find somewhere to live and they end up with about nine roommates, just to have a bed. While the idea of having tons of roommates may initially sound appealing, you’ll soon regret it. Sure, the idea of making tons of friends and always having something to do may sound great at first, but when everyone wants one night a week or so to have friends over, you’ll find that things go south very quickly. Apartments get dirty (and the friends never help stay and clean), dishes pile up, hot waters is always gone, and it’s never quiet. Good lucky studying or getting anything done! Also, when you put this many people together, fights are inevitable and you know you’re going to be asked to take a side. Who wants to live like that? You might save some money on your rent (unless you’re in Madrid), but otherwise, it’s just not worth it. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

    Bottom Line: Living with too many people is the worst. You never get quiet time, things are always a mess, and personalities are bound to crash. Drama central. Know your limit before you agree to a place. (For me it’s about two, haha).

    Too Many Roommates

  4. The Couch Surfer

    Hopefully you never run into this situation, but I (and many others) have. This is that awkward situation where you agree to let a friend stay with you for a while… And then a while turns into longer than anticipated. Then, you’re bound to have unpleasant conversations that you typically just want to avoid. Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t let a friend stay with you for a while, if needed. I’ve been that friend and I’ve been very grateful for the help! But I’m not the type of person to take advantage of another person’s generosity. My mistake is thinking that others feel the same way. So here’s what you should do if a friend approaches you and asks to stay: 1) Set up clear expectations – you must be gone by this date, or pay this much, or if you’re still here by this date, we need to have another conversation 2) Follow through – don’t be passive. If you’ve set up the expectations ahead of time, your friend won’t (or shouldn’t) get mad at you for following through. 3) Suggest alternatives – if your friend can’t find something else, help them locate an AirBnB or a hostel or a place on couchsurfing.com! Once they have alternative housing, there are no excuses for them to continue living with you. Plus, it’ll probably light the fire in them to find their own place! 4) Alternatively, just say no – You’re by no means required to let a friend stay with you, especially if this friend is known for taking advantages of situations. Simply say, “I’m worried that living together might ruin our friendship and I value that so I’d appreciate it if you found another place to go.” Then suggest alternatives if you have any. It might be awkward, but you know what’s even more awkward? Living with someone you didn’t want to live with.

    Bottom Line: Don’t let others take advantage of you. You’re not a hotel and shouldn’t be treated like one. It’s ok to let friends stay with you if you’re comfortable with that, but set up expectations before you agree to it.

  5. The Roommate Fights

    I think this is inevitable. You may have grown up with siblings… did you always get along with them? My guess is no, you didn’t. You just can’t expect to live with someone and always have things go perfectly. It’s unrealistic. Humans aren’t perfect (remember that you’re no exception) and sometimes we do careless things. You might offend your roommate with something that doesn’t bother you and they might do the same. The key here is to remain calm and keep the lines of communication open. If someone upsets you, speak up! I’m awful at confrontation, but it doesn’t have to be aggressive. If the idea of talking to them face to faces freaks you out, start out with a text. Something like, “Hey [roomie], I’m a bit concerned about [action that upset you]. Can we talk about it tonight?” That’s a great way to get things out in the open and (if you’re like me) prevents you from backing down and bottling it all up. Your roommate probably was oblivious that they upset you in the first place, and keeping the communication open will help prevent you from making mountains out of mole hills.

    Bottom Line: Fighting with the people you live with will happen, it always does. The key to avoiding long term ill will is to keep communication open. Nobody wants to hate the person they live with, so they’ll appreciate getting issues out of the way as much as you will.

  6. Someone Isn’t Contributing Enough

    This could be financially, with items, shopping, chores etc. In my experience, this also happens frequently. Again, I will reiterate that before living with someone, you should make sure your personalities mesh before signing a lease. I’ve had more than one experience where someone is messier than I am and it drives me nuts. Everybody likes to live in a clean house, yet nobody likes to clean! What’s up with that? Here’s the thing: I’m not your mother. I shouldn’t be expected to pick up after you. I shouldn’t have to ask you to do your dishes. I shouldn’t be scraping your hairs out of the sink. I can’t be the one paying for all of the laundry detergent, toilet paper, soap, whatever! (As you can tell, this one really gets to me, haha). The fact of the matter is that this should also be discussed upfront. If things aren’t working out, make a chart. I know, I hate it too, but it’ll get your roommate to physically see everything you’re doing – that they’re not doing. Writing things down makes a difference! They may actually be blissfully unaware that you’re contributing more than them. Meanwhile you want to Nair their hair off while they sleep. If worse comes to worst, sit them down and have a talk. Yes, it’ll be uncomfortable, but you’re going to be glad you did it. Otherwise you’ll probably explode with frustration and nobody wants that.

    Bottom Line: Some people are unaware that their living habits are… unacceptable. The easiest thing to do is to set up clear expectations (cleaning chart, shopping chart, etc) before things get out of hand. If you didn’t do that, then sit down and have a chat. Remember to keep a list of your cleaning habits, communal shopping purchases, whatever, to reference if a conversation does need to happen!

    Lazy Roommate

  7. Blatantly Inconsiderate or Intolerable Roomie

    These are the types of roommates who need professional help – I’m talking psychology or psychiatric help. Unfortunately, some people just suck. You can try and try to talk to them, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll change, or even any signs that they want to change. These are the absolute worst kinds of people. They’re 100% selfish and don’t give a damn about helping you or making you feel comfortable in your own home. They might play music at all hours of the night, watch tv and ridiculous volumes, “borrow” or steal your personal items, lie constantly, and they have absolutely no remorse for their actions. When you try talking to them, nothing changes, and it’s beyond frustrating. These roommates will eventually wear you down. Your quality of life will be poor and you’ll be constantly miserable. The worst part is, there’s not much you can do. Of course you can try talking to them, talking to their friends (who are hopefully less awful), talking to their family (though you might make things worse)… but in the end, they have no desire to change. This is when  you get out. You can try to tough out your lease, but if your quality of life is diminishing, it’s just not worth it. If you’re in a dorm, you can speak with your RA. Most universities allow you one or two switches (beyond that the problem is probably you) before you’re stuck with your roommate. If you’re in an apartment, then it might be worth it to break your lease. This probably means forfeiting your deposit, but if you can find something better, it’ll be worth it.

    Bottom Line: Some people are impossible to live with. They have no empathy or care about your personal feelings. Avoid beforehand if possible, otherwise, look elsewhere for living. You’ll be happier for it.

  8. Avoid Being Passive Aggressive

    I’ll admit, I’ve been passive aggressive in the past. In the end, however, nothing really gets done with passive aggressive behavior. You can leave sticky notes all around your apartment, but I guarantee that your roommate will roll his or her eyes and continue doing what they’re doing. You can subtly express your frustration, refuse to clean (“but it’s their turn!”), hoard your belongings in your room, and put a lock on your door, but in the end, you’re not being productive. It might feel good in the moment, but turning your anger into passive aggressive behavior isn’t going to benefit anybody, especially you. If you’re prone to passive aggressiveness, I encourage you to stop and think. Ask yourself if your behavior is actually changing your roommate’s, or if you’re just doing this to avoid confrontation. As I mentioned above, it’s always better to clear the air rather than to sit and stew on your anger. If you’re scared, shoot out a quick text message asking to speak in person. Don’t try and air things out via text – it will end poorly – but it might be the easiest way for you to build up the courage to have that face to face meeting.

    If you find yourself the object of the passive aggressiveness, my advice for you is to stay calm. It’s so annoying when your roommate won’t say anything to your face, right? Well, it might be easier for you to just say something to them. If they leave notes on their fridge food, refuse to help buy things, make a mess for you to clean – ask them about it. They might have the personality type that doesn’t do well when faced with confrontation. Yes, it’s annoying, but mention it – “Hey, I noticed that you stopped buying toilet paper. I appreciate it when you help out around here, so I was wondering if I did anything that might have caused this change in your behavior?” Be calm and collected. This will probably be the best way to help them feel comfortable when addressing their frustrations.

    Bottom Line: Passive aggressive behavior doesn’t solve anything – it often makes things worse. If you have a tendency to be passive aggressive, avoid that behavior. Figure out the root of your frustration and talk about it. If your roommate is being passive aggressive, it’s easy to spot. Be the bigger person and ask them what’s up.

    Passive Aggressive

  9. Dealing with Roomie’s S.O.

    Everybody wants to be happy and your roommate is no exception. Expecting your roommates to remain single is unrealistic. People date and find happiness together. It just happens. However, it can be a problem when your roommate thinks it’s ok for his/her significant other to live with you (Broadcity anyone?). The fact of the matter is that you signed a lease with your roommate(s), not their lovers. To a certain extent, you should expect your roommate to have overnight guests, as they should extend the same courtesy to you. But if your roommate’s SO seems to be living with you, that’s another matter. If they’re using electricity, showering, cooking, eating your food… You might get frustrated. Again, I encourage you to avoid passive aggressive behavior here! It’s easy to start leaving notes and silently stewing in your anger, but it’s not going to improve your living situation! Sit down and have a chat with your roommate. If they’re allowing their SO to basically live with you, ask them to pay more of the bills! “Hey, I noticed John is over almost every night and he showers here, uses our water and electricity, and eats our food. I like John, but I think if he’s staying over this much, he needs to help us out. Can he split the utility bills with us? Help us clean? Repurchase supplies he uses, like toilet paper, hand soap, etc?” Alternatively, you can ask if the SO can spend less time at your place, maybe your roommate can go to the other person’s house! If phrased politely, your roommate shouldn’t get mad at you. Think about what frustrates you and what you’d like to see change. Do you want help financially? Do you want your roommate’s SO to be around less? Do you want him or her to help replenish things they use? Knowing what frustrates you is key to having a successful dialogue with your roommate.

    Bottom Line: People date and your roommate probably will too. It’s ok to have an overnight guest occasionally, but when you inadvertently get another roommate, it’s time to speak up. Figure out what upsets you and open a dialogue with your roommate to help fix the situation.

9 Difficult Roommate Situations and How to Deal with Them


Like I said before, there is no such thing as the perfect roommate. People bump heads and get frustrated, but the key to maintaining a healthy relationship with anyone is communication. Keep a level head and talk about the things that upset you. That’s the only way that you’ll be happy! If possible, set up boundaries ahead of time. It’s always easiest to refer back to something previously discussed than it is to bring up something new. Of course, if things aren’t going your way, you always have the option of moving out, finding new roommates, or living alone! Good luck out there, amigos!

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