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Roommate rules: how to live with roommates

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Roommate horror stories are all too familiar. Stolen food, loud music and skipping out on rent are but a few of the more common situations that happen when you share a space. There’s worse, but it doesn’t have to get even a little bit bad if everyone involved understands how to appropriately share living space. Learning how to be a good roommate and learning how to live with roommates is integral to a great co-habitation arrangement. The key is to set-up roommate rules. Having an established set of house rules before, or shortly after, you all move in together will go a long way to establishing a peaceful place to retreat and relax.

To help make these “roommate rules” effective — and to use these as a way to find a good roommate — consider these following tips for living with roommates.

The roommate stereotypes

Throughout your experience, whether you are buying a house or renting your space, you are likely to encounter a few stereotypes — characters that so easily epitomize classic roommate types that you can’t help but slot them into a category. But wait, perhaps you are not yet familiar with roommate stereotypes? If not, take a moment to study these personas. The more knowledge the better chance you have at avoiding significant roommate problems. Additionally, if you find that you have any of the tendencies below, you may learn something about how to be a better roommate yourself.  

No. 1: The neat freak

This type of person prefers order and cleanliness in their living space. This has advantages: dishes are done regularly and you’ll rarely find piles of clothes in common areas. But if the potential roommate is a neat freak, you may be put off by the person’s insistence that the photos in the house need to be dusted every day! The problem with overly neat roommates is that resentment can build. Nobody likes to feel as if they are being taken advantage of, and, if the neat freak’s cleaning schedule is different than your own, the cleaning load will appear unfair. Conversely, bickering back-and-forth about the fork you’ve left in the sink for a couple of days isn’t exactly a recipe for stress-free living.

A neat freak, just like all roommate types, can be a good roommate if you can both come to the understanding that your standards of cleanliness are different. However, let it be known that your personal space is your space, and you can keep it however you want — as long as the mess doesn’t spill into common living areas. For the best outcome, discuss your own standards for cleanliness and come to an agreement together regarding cleaning responsibilities and standards on shared spaces before deciding to live together.  

No. 2: The slob

Angry Girl Scolding Her Messy Roommate Sitting On A Couch In The

This is essentially the arch-nemesis of the neat freak. The “slob” seems to have an inherent disinterest in basic hygiene and/or cleaning practices. You may begin to believe that they are actually scared of the shower, or allergic to picking up after themselves. The primary issue with the slob is that their lifestyle impacts your shared living space. Again, your personal space is your space, but if smells or it’s cluttered with stuff, then it becomes a sore spot. If your roommate is a slob, have a chat with him or her. Impress upon her that it’s important to keep the shared space clean and tidy; tell him that he needs to chip in and do his fair share of household chores. If this request isn’t respected, you may be forced to do one of three things: accept the situation, find another roommate or find another place to live.  

No. 3: The passive-aggressive

You and your roommate may get along swimmingly, until one day you don’t. At this point, if you get the silent treatment, followed up by a sarcastic sticky note message — like snarky reminders to wash dishes — then you may be living with a “passive-aggressive” roomie. Passive-aggressive roommates won’t voice their frustrations to your face; they won’t confront you with their feelings or make direct requests. Instead, they’ll make sly comments, leave less-than-positive notes, send snarky texts or tease you, all in the hope that you get the hint and change your behaviour.  

Easing the stress of a passive-aggressive roommate is tricky: you could fight fire with fire, and respond sarcastically in turn. However, this type of behaviour may find you stuck in a vicious cycle. In many cases, it’s best to take the core message from your roommate to heart and to try to understand the issue at the heart of the matter. If you haven’t done the dishes in weeks, and you get passive-aggressive reminders about it, maybe you should actually do the dishes. If what they are asking is outside your ability or is actually their responsibility, you should have a direct, respectful and clear conversation about your respective roles and responsibilities.

No. 4: The party animal

Play Guitar. Musician With Beard Play Electric Guitar Instrument

Drinking, cranking the music up loud late at night, and making a nightmarish mess are all qualities of the “party animal.” A party animal may not only be a detriment to their own health; they can be a disaster for any sort of quiet time in the home, including when you’re trying to sleep. If you’re living with or considering living with this type of roommate, there are some crucial discussions that need to happen. Set boundaries together for parties in the house in terms of hours, frequency and how many people will be considered too many. You’ll also want to establish clear boundaries in regards to guests respecting your space, furniture and food in the house, and expectations related to your roommate if these boundaries are violated. If you can’t reach an agreement, it may be time to look for a different living situation.

No. 5: The over-sharer

An “over-sharer” talks constantly — about whatever, whenever. Sometimes revealing intimate details that may leave you feeling uncomfortable. Somehow you know everything about them, despite the fact that they are essentially a stranger. Furthermore the words “too much information” don’t mean a thing to them. In the case of an over-sharer, make the effort to get a word in edgewise and tell them about your boundaries — what type of communication are you okay with and what you would prefer not to discuss. You can make a few rules, like room-time is alone-time, where you can only come if you are clearly invited.   

No. 6: The ‘what’s yours is mine’

Roommates jumping and laughing and sharing a good time

In a perfect world, this may seem like an agreeable roommate to have, if they honoured the other half of this saying of ‘and what’s mine is yours’. However, this balance usually ends up in their favour, and you may find yourself giving 90% to their 10%. Even if you can reach a 50/50 split, there are just some things that you may not be willing to share — your favourite pair of shoes or that really expensive skin cream. Regardless of what you’re each willing to share, this type of arrangement will only work if you’re willing to openly communicate and treat each other — and things — with respect and kindness.

The roommate contract or tenant agreement

Most of the above issues can be minimized by drafting up a roommate contract. Having two (or more) roommates sit down and hash out some roommate rules, will lay out the groundwork to resolve any potential problems before they become actual issues. It’s important to note that a roommate contract is not a part of your lease, but rather a set of rules that housemates agree to follow, out of respect for everybody involved.

The roommate contract is not a part of your lease, but rather a set of rules that housemates agree to follow, out of respect for everybody involved.

As a home buyer/owner, you can sometimes feel like you are the landlord when you look for roommates to help you pay for your mortgage. A set of tenant rules can create mutual respect between you and your tenants that lets them know you are willing to cooperate and compromise on some things, but pretty adamant on other matters. Additionally, this mutual respect, along with a traditional rental lease agreement, will help make sure your mortgage is paid on time, every time.

Setting ground rules

Laying down some house rules for roommates will help ease tension and set the tone for what is expected of each roommate right off the bat. Come to an agreement about when you both can have friends or a significant other over, or, what times are “quiet times” for sleeping or studying. This contract and the house rules between roommates can be adhered to strictly or be considered as more general guidelines — depending on the seriousness of the rule. For instance, you might want a no-smoking rule in the house to be a rigid, inflexible rule, whereas quiet hours may fluctuate depending on the day of the week.


Sticky notes Zolo Realty

If your roommate is doing something you are not comfortable with, it is your responsibility to let them know as soon as possible. While this seems like common sense, the reality is that many people adopt the “wait and see” method when it comes to discrepancies, thinking that the other housemate is going to pick up on their frustrations, eventually. Clear, concise communication, especially when setting rules, will be vital in moving forward with any roommate.

Don’t be passive-aggressive

As mentioned above, passive-aggressive communication is not explicitly voicing your frustrations to your roommate. Instead, you are avoiding direct confrontation. Making your frustrations known shouldn’t create conflict — and with good communication won’t. Instead, good communication can successfully alleviate your concerns and help return the household to peaceful coexistence among all inhabitants.


Not everyone has the same schedules. For instance, your roommate might work nights, while you are a morning person. It will help immensely to know your housemate’s agenda and vice versa.

Knowing when your roommate is going to be home can help you plan the discussions you need to have with them. Additionally, you may find that you like to have friends or a significant other over while your roommate is at work or school. You can respect their privacy, while maintaining yours, by knowing when they’ll be out of the house. Scheduling can also make it easier to understand who needs to do certain chores and at what times.


a couple moving out of a rental apartment

When sharing space, it’s important to split the household chores and cleaning duties and, just as important, is agreeing, communicating and adhering to this schedule. The idea is that communal rooms, such as kitchen, bathrooms, living room, and other areas should be kept consistently clean. As you and your roommate will both be using these spaces, it is up to the both of you to take on these duties.

If you are a homeowner renting to multiple tenants, it means more clutter, mess, accidents. This will require more cleaning and other maintenance will need to be completed regularly both indoors and outdoors. Many of your tenants may feel like these are your responsibilities as the homeowner/buyer, however, some rules and clauses in your tenant agreement need to clarify exactly who is responsible for what to ensure that the interior and exterior of the house is maintained.  

How to share the burden

Any home has a variety of cleaning duties. As you share this space with your roommate, you can create a schedule for washing dishes, or cleaning the bathrooms. If you are not organized enough to keep a schedule, establish some rules for cleaning up after yourself — wash your own dishes, take out the trash when you notice it’s full, etc. Staying on top of, and sharing, your cleaning duties can keep things at a manageable level. If you or your roommate are not doing your share to help clean, you may find that it’s impossible to keep up on all of the chores.


If your housing scenario allows pets, you or your roommate may, at any time, choose to become a pet owner. If you haven’t discussed it together, it may be assumed that it’s alright to do so without coming to a few crucial agreements. Don’t make this assumption. Have a conversation regarding pet ownership and responsibilities before taking in a furry friend. By talking first, you get buy-in and that’s important if you want to go away and need someone to look after your pets. Just remember, as roommates, you are not required to help with pet responsibilities.

Food and cooking

Grocery shopping and cooking can be negotiated and managed between you and your housemates to avoid some fairly common issues. Most people have heard a story about a roommate who ate their housemate’s food, whether intentionally or accidentally. It is essential to establish some ground rules about food and cooking.

Will you share?

If you have rules in place, you can share food with your roommate, and this may work best for you. If you have similar tastes, you can split the grocery bill evenly. But, you and your roommate might also have foods that you enjoy separately. Don’t feel you should have to pay for your roommate’s sardines if you won’t eat them.

If you have different tastes in food, it may be better to shop on your own. Sharing food is easier if you have the same tastes, however, even if you don’t you can put rules in place. If you split the grocery bill evenly, make sure you are eating the food equally as well. If your roommate eats more food than you, you may ask that they pay more. One rule that many roommates have when they shop separately is only to eat the food that they bought, and labelling your food or having your own section in the fridge and pantry to help keep your food separate.

Who will make the food?

roommates cooking together

If both of you know how to cook, you may take it upon yourselves to prepare your own, individual food, or take turns cooking a family-style meal if you come to an agreement to share. If you don’t have the same tastes as your roommate, you will want to cook your own food to your own liking. However, if you do share food and the grocery bill, rotate the cooking duties of the house. In these instances, you can create a schedule and even agree to wash dishes if the other cooks, and vice versa.

Shared expenses

It is important to respect everyone’s income when factoring in expenses while making sure they pull their own weight — someone may pay a smaller share if they have a smaller room, while you may pay more for food if you eat more, etc. Due to the flexible nature that can happen with expenses in correlation to roommate income, it is important to have clear agreements about who will pay what as this reduces a source of conflict that can prompt major arguments. In all of these cases, communication will be vital in drafting your roommate’s contract to make sure all expenses are accounted for and agreed upon.


saving for a down payment. Couple laughs and chats

You may decide to split the rent evenly. However, if you or a roommate has come to the agreement that one will be paying less due to income or because room sizes differ then make sure this is spoken about agreed upon and in writing before moving in together. Speak with your roommate about paying rent on time and in full, as an agreement here can ease the tension of you having to make up your housemate’s half of the rent in the event they fall short.


A mortgage may be a little trickier than standard rental payments. However you split up your mortgage, it should be explicitly laid out in your roommate contract. If you are the homeowner it should be included in your lease agreement for your tenants.

You have more to lose if you can’t pay your mortgage than your tenant. In certain cases, your mortgage may not be the top priority for your tenant. As a result, a tenant may be more lackadaisical on paying their portion of the mortgage on time. To avoid this conflict, establish some firm rules on when and how to pay the rent.


Relaxed Roommates In Winter At Home

Utilities can be a little more nuanced because there are so many of them, and everyone uses services more or less frequently than their roommate. For instance, you may need more light to study at night, while your roommate likes to take long showers. You can create roommate rules to help regulate utilities and keep them at a consistent rate — lights off at a specific time, 10 to 15-minute showers, etc. If you can keep rates steady, you can agree to split the bills evenly. Or, if you’d rather use utilities to your liking, consider paying more of the bill to accommodate your usage. Most commonly though roommates tend to split utilities equally, unless a roommate isn’t using a particular utility, like internet or cable service.


An incidental expense of your roommate is not usually your responsibility. Your own transportation costs, hospital bills, etc., should be paid by you. There may be unfortunate times, however, in which you can ask your roommate to reimburse you for an incidental expense. For instance, if your roommate has someone over who steals something of yours, you are well within your rights to request that your roommate works with you to help make the situation right.

What to do if your roommate is your significant other

Roommate rules, expenses, and chores may be different if you are living with your significant other. For instance, you may just decide to flat out split every cost evenly if you have a joint bank account. However, a roommate contract can still be drawn up in any of the cases above. Since you may be more willing to accommodate your partner than a stranger or even friend, your rules could become more flexible. In many instances, you will be sharing most things above more evenly with your significant other, but schedules and rules can be implemented.

A roommate contract may be a good reference to use until you both are ready for marriage. You might not be ready to take on each other’s finances, and a roommate agreement can keep your finances separate. For instance, while you might skip adding your significant other’s name to your tenancy agreement you can work together to pay joint expenses. Master that and when you are ready to combine your finances and share a joint mortgage, it will be that much easier.

The golden rule

Above all else, and when considering any rule, expense or chore that should be included in the roommate agreement, the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have done to you. The golden rule embodies mutual respect and can keep roommate issues to a minimum. If you wouldn’t like it done to you, don’t do it to your roommate.

Image of Romana King

Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance writer, real estate expert and the current Director of Content at Zolo. Romana has contributed to business and lifestyle publications including, Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, MoneySense, Globe & Mail Custom Content Team, and The Toronto Star. Among her achievements, Romana won silver for her annual Where to Buy Now real estate package in the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. In 2015, she won a SABEW Business Journalism award. When she was editor of CI Top Broker, Romana helped guide her team to obtain its first KRW Business Journalism nomination, and in 2011, she was part of a small team that helped MoneySense win Magazine of the Year at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards.

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