6 Rules for Talking to Your Roommate About a Problem

For most people, roommates are a simple fact of apartment living. Whether you source your roommate from friends you already have, or whether you conducted a laborious roommate interview to find someone suitable, you’re most likely stuck with your current roommate – at least until end of the lease.

Roommate ProblemSo what do you do if you find yourself with a roommate issue? We’ve already broken down five of the most common roommate issues, and provided suggestions for how to solve them. Our number one suggestion: set expectations and boundaries before problems start.

Which is well and good – but once a problem has started, it’s too late for preventative measures. It’s time for the dreaded ROOMMATE TALK. Yes, the one where you sit down and discuss an issue with your roommate. I know. No one likes doing this – but sometimes it’s necessary to get things back on track.

Here are six rules for making sure the talk goes smoothly:

1.) Passive-aggressive notes don’t work. Few people like confrontation. I get that. And it might seem that leaving a note that’s not too direct might just solve the problem without your having to come out and say anything. Well, think again. When someone gets a weird note from the person who lives down the hall, they show it to their friends and talk about how unfairly and ridiculously you’re acting. Don’t believe me? There’s a whole website devoted to laughing at passive-aggressive notes. The same theory goes for bringing up issues via texts and emails. In-person is better.

2.) Check yourself. This is not to say that your beef isn’t legitimate. But before you go into the talk, think about whether you’re doing something that might be contributing to the rift. Doug has some pointers on making sure you’re not also annoying your roommate. After all, it’s always easier to go into the talk knowing what to expect – and if you’re partially to blame, it becomes easier to strike a compromise where you both change your behavior.

3.) Perspective, perspective, perspective. How big of an issue is this? A roommate who’s a little messy and occasionally too loud after a late night of partying is different from a roommate who asked you to cover rent last month and still hasn’t paid you back. With the first problem, a casual talk is probably fine – and if you have a formal, scheduled sit down where you present it as a huge problem, you may come across as overreacting. Whereas the second problem needs to be addressed immediately. Plan your tone and approach accordingly.

4.) Timing. When you get angry, your urge is to confront your roommate right away. In a loud, angry tone. Occasionally, this is appropriate. Often, though, what ends up happening is you get in a shouting match, nothing gets resolved, and you’re sore at each other. So, unless your roommate is in the middle of doing something horrible and you just have to yell at them right then to stop, a better approach is to calm down and bring the problem up when you’re in a better mood. You’ll likely get a better outcome, and your roommate won’t feel accosted.  Also, don’t bring up a problem when your roommate is upset about something else, rushing out the door, or sick. Wait until there’s a good time. You’ll get better results.

5.) Be serious. What I mean is this: if the problem is serious enough for you to bring it up, treat it as such when you talk about it. Assume that your roommate respects and values your opinion. No need to apologize profusely for discussing an issue. And no need to be condescending towards your roommate just because they’re doing something you don’t like. Be fair and direct and respect both points of view.

6.) Let bygones be bygones. Once the problem is solved, or a compromise is worked out, it’s over, period. Don’t let one issue infect your entire relationship.

A roommate relationship is ever-changing. This means that successful roommates communicate with each other and adjust to changes on the fly. While no one likes to bring up problems, you’ll find that your roommate relationship will be far stronger in the long-run if you occasionally talk things out.

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Author My First Apartment

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Alex has rented in Minneapolis, Queens, Brooklyn, and now Chicago. He can kill rodents and roaches when required, and loves picture-hanging projects. If you're ever in town, give him a shout.

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Comments (3)

  1. Avatar Yemina

    After 8 months of living with my roommate, she would do small things that I don’t agree. I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news or problems. But I can see clearly that she wants to impose her.own rules and I am not comfortable with that. I need to talk to her but I’m afraid she will get offended and the tension will increase in the everyday environment. Should I talk to her?

  2. Avatar Blake Rothrock

    I have a passive aggressive roommate who recently started posting rules on the wall after 7 months of me living here. She doesn’t understand the concept of a common area. The rules she post she doesn’t follow herself