From the MailBag: “What to do when your roommate doesn’t follow the house rules?”

Having a roommate (or two or three) can be a really great experience. Roommates can turn into great friends, if they aren’t already, and they can make your time in a shared apartment a really fun journey. And, being able to split the rent with someone else is an awesome bonus, if we do say so ourselves. But, we don’t have to tell you that not all roommates are created equal. Some roommates are awesome friends. Others are real life nightmares. Here at My First Apartment, you guys don’t reach out to us when you’re having an awesome roommate experience — you reach out to us when your roommate is driving you to your wits end. Most notably, you guys come to us for roommate advice when your roommate is making your life miserable in one of these two ways: 1). By being obnoxious with/about their significant other (having him/her over constantly, invading your privacy/space, etc.) 2). By disrespecting and breaking the house rules. Sometimes, it’s even a combination of these two things; a fact that many of you know all too well.

A few days ago, one of our readers emailed us with that exact problem — her roommate is constantly breaking the house rules they set together when they moved in, especially in regard to having her new boyfriend over constantly without giving forewarning. As we mentioned above, this isn’t an uncommon problem to have (the countless emails, comments, pleas we get from you guys on a weekly basis prove it). So, without further ado…let’s talk about what to do when your roommate breaks the house rules.

First of all, the best way to avoid problems with your roommate right off the bat is to agree on house rules for the apartment together before you move in. Sit down, come up with dos and don’ts, work on compromises that work for you both, and finally write it all down. This sets a clear standard for you both from the beginning and makes it easier to talk about problems when they arise.

But, as we explained above, setting ground rules isn’t a fool-proof system. New things will come up that you likely didn’t address in the initial house rules, and often, as time passes by, some roommates start to bend or flat out break the apartment rules you set together. What do you do when new talking points present themselves, or when a roommate starts acting like the rules no longer apply?

As in most situations, communication is always the best first step. When your roommate breaks a house rule, the first thing to do is to decide if the offense is really worth bringing up. If it’s a small thing, let it go. If it’s a big thing or a repeat offense, then we suggest sitting down with your roommate in a no-pressure environment and talking it out (over pizza or a lunch date together is a great way to reduce awkwardness and make it clear that it’s a conversation between friends). There is no reason to attack your roommate right off the bat, or even lose your cool. Simply state that you’re upset that he/she is disrespecting the rules you made together as a team and talk about what you can do together to make sure you’re both still happy with the house rules. As we said, sometimes situations change, and the rules may need to be added to or edited.

When you bring up your grievances with your roommate, it’s always better to approach him/her with solutions rather than accusations and anger. (Never ever leave notes — they’re passive-aggressive and immediately cause conflict). So, if you’re roommate isn’t doing the dishes on their turn, talk about why and suggest that you maybe rearrange the schedule so it works better for him/her and whatever they may having going on in their life. If you’re roommate has a new boyfriend/girlfriend (and rules for significant others weren’t address in the initial apartment rules), speak to your roommate about how you she/he can still have special time with SO without completely taking over the apartment you share every night of the week. Perhaps set up a system: Whenever your roommate wants to have a date with her boyfriend in the apartment, they let you know the night before. When you want some time alone (or time with just your roommate), set up some days to have the apartment to yourself or hangout with your roomie without the SO.

The three C’s of roommate living, communication, cooperation, and compromises, are excellent tactics when roommate issues come up, so definitely employ them first. However, while they work most of the time, they, just like setting house rules, aren’t bulletproof. There are still those roommates that will disrespect you and break the house rules regardless of how understanding, compromising, and nice you are. In fact, some people out there will take advantage of you for being the bigger person. If conversations upon conversations don’t work and it becomes more than your can bear before the lease ends, then there are a few options you can consider where either you leave the apartment or you have your roommate legally evicted. The latter is tricky, but subletting your room can be an option if things get too horrible. Here‘s a breakdown of options should this be your case. Hopefully, it will never come to this with just by being open and honest with your roomie.

Best of luck with roommate living MFA’ers!

Audra & The My First Apartment Team


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Author My First Apartment

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Audra is a recent college graduate and an aspiring writer based in her home state of Georgia. She’s a lover of the sweetest Southern tea, warm weather, and decorating with lots of color, DIY projects, and shabby chic pieces. Her apartment living journey is still young, so she’s busy navigating the ups and downs and learning along the way. For more from Audra, follow her on Pinterest or check out her website

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Comments (1)

  1. Avatar Roommate Harmony

    That really is the ultimate frustration for any shared living situation. When you do everything right — set up mutual rules, communicate and make an effort to be considerate — and still receive disrespect in return. If this is the case, make sure to really take a hard look at yourself — are you really respecting space and making the proper effort? (It’s very easy to side with yourself :) If so, and you are miserable with the environment, nothing is wrong with parting ways respectfully. We say make the effort to improve the situation, but not at the cost of being taken advantage of.

    Great article!