Best Friends, Worst Roommates

OYO columnist Jessica WrightBy OYO columnist Jessica Wright

During our freshman year of college, my friends and I couldn’t wait to live on our own. As soon as we were eligible, we rented a U-Haul and moved to a furnished apartment near campus.

Everything was great until we received our first utility bill. We were shocked at how expensive it was. Due to the hot Louisiana summer and poor ventilation, the back two rooms felt like saunas unless the air conditioning was on full-blast. This made the front two rooms freezing.

The roommates who lived in the front felt it was unfair that they had to pay for air conditioning they didn’t need. They were rarely in the apartment and, when they were, they used fans to stay cool instead of the central air.

Looking back now, it’s clear we should have talked about it. Instead, we left demanding notes, bossing each other around. Communicating on paper rather than in person complicated a situation that could have been settled with compromise and communication.

What could have been a small issue changed the dynamic of our friendship and led to bigger issues between us. We developed a “me first” mentality, no longer selfless in our acts of friendship toward one another. Eventually we went our separate ways.

Many people have rushed into a roommate situation with best friends only to become enemies by the time the lease was up. Here are 10 things to consider before committing to living with friends.

  1. Look for red flags. If you are aware that your potential roomie has trouble managing his finances or shows disregard for paying bills on time, you might want to reconsider signing a rental agreement with him. If you have evidence that your friend is financially irresponsible, don’t knowingly drag yourself into debt or, even worse, eviction.
  2. Communicate about your own financial challenges. Life has a crazy way of throwing things at you for which you are unprepared. If you are living on a tight budget and have no emergency savings, all it takes is one unforeseen expense such as a car repair or medical bill to prevent you from paying your rent or other housing expenses on time. It’s important to talk to your roommate about your financial burdens—especially if your friend’s habits could affect the living arrangement. It is easier to ask for help when you need $100 than when you need $1,000.
  3. Be considerate when lending and borrowing money. If you fall short on a bill one or two times, your friend might help cover your portion for you—but not if it becomes a habit. If you must borrow money from your roommate, be sure to pay her back in a timely manner or, at the very least, communicate honestly and make a plan to pay her back as soon as you are able. On the same note, if you loan money to a friend, make sure you set the terms of your arrangement before money changes hands. And in the worst-case scenario, be prepared for the possibility that you won’t be repaid.
  4. Don’t take advantage of the friendship. Just because your roommate is a family member or friend doesn’t mean that person will always cover your expenses. Set money aside for bills and consider your debts to your friends before you go shopping for nonessentials. Your roommate’s trust and friendship is worth more than a cute new outfit or a night on the town.
  5. Choose your battles. No matter how well you think you know your friends, you learn a lot more about them when you live together. Keep in mind that everything your roommates do is not meant to annoy you. If they have a habit that you can’t learn to live with, ask them to stop. They can’t know what bothers you if you don’t tell them.
  6. Be respectful. If you didn’t buy it, ask before you use it. If you must partake of your roommates’ things, make a plan to replace it at equal or greater value. Sharing equally is one thing, but drinking all of your roommate’s expensive juice without asking and then replacing it with cheap drink mix is another.
  7. Set house rules. If you can’t handle loud music before noon or you can’t stand your roommate’s friends hanging out in your living area all the time, say so. It is important to be respectful and upfront about issues that may cause a rift in the friendship.
  8. Make a cleaning plan. Just because your roommate takes the initiative to clean up your messes doesn’t mean he enjoys it. Set a cleaning schedule for common living areas such as the kitchen, living room and bathroom. Or designate one day a week when all the roommates clean everything as a household so that no one feels taken advantage of.
  9. Pay bills together. Determine the best time of month to talk about bills (after most or all of the bills have come in, but before the due dates) and sit down as a group to plan payments. Determine who will pay what and who will mail or process the payment. This way all the roommates are aware of what has been paid and there is accountability when someone falls behind.
  10. Evaluate your friendship. Prior to moving in with a friend, ask yourself how comfortable you are discussing touchy subjects such as money and personal space with her. If you have any doubt that you will be able to speak to your friend about potential issues, think twice before signing a lease.