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Roommate from hell? Choose wisely

Merril Diniz | June 16, 2006

I once had a roommate with whom I didn't have real conversation for six whole months! We exchanged monosyllables, mostly when we had to split the dabba bill or pay the house help.

ilustrationWe attended the same college and had met whilst scanning the admission lists. Being new to the city, we teamed up and settled for a paying guest accommodation, where we had to share a single room.
The first few months we were inseparable; we attended lectures, studied and worked on projects together. As time went by it dawned upon me that we were like chalk and cheese; our lifestyle, beliefs and attitudes were radically difference. I constantly felt her animosity simmering under a cool exterior.

Sharing a room in such a  state of incommunicado was a nightmare; at home I couldn't be myself and didn't know when the dam would burst and there would be a confrontation. 

When I think back in retrospect, neither of us made any real effort to communicate and if nothing better, at least agree to disagree. But many roommates and living arrangements later, I feel slightly wiser.

If you are moving out of home for the first time, my sincere advice to you: consider various aspects before agreeing to share a living space with someone you don't know.

The issues vary depending on whether you live as a paying guest or share an independent flat. Here's what to keep in mind in both scenarios.

Paying guest accommodations

This is how it works. You will share a single room that is let out by your landlady/lord on a cot-wise basis, which means that you don't really have a say in who your future roommate is going to be.

i. Meet the roommate

In such a scenario, it's a good idea to meet before taking up the accommodation anyway, something that most people never do.

Simple things like whether s/he keeps the light on all night to read a novel (meaning you get to work all groggy-eyed and irritable the next day) can turn into a bone of contention.

Other issues: s/he maintains the room as if a hurricane has just hit it, has a habit of borrowing clothes/stuff, has erratic timings AND makes extremely noisy exits/entries, nipping all possibilities of a decent night of sleep in the bud.

Articulate such concerns clearly, but politely of course.

ii. Me, my roommate and the landlord

Once you have whetted the roommate and s/he seems okay, you may even become good friends in the long term. However, make sure to communicate with your landlady/landlord directly, so that there are no misunderstandings courtesy a third party.

On the other hand, your roommate may get along like a house on fire with you, but may buck heads with the landlady/lord. Make sure you don't become the mediator. In the long run, it will be a headache and you could jeopardise your own relationship with the landlady/lord.

By virtue of this slightly insipid living arrangement, there's not much else to worry about like who your roommate brings over and how loud s/he plays her/his stereo system. This is because in all probability you won't be able to get anyone over and, in the second scenario, the landlady/lord will immediately demand that the volume be turned down.

In extreme cases, like if some of your things go missing, immediately tell the landlady/lord so they can intervene and sort things out.

iii. Moolah talk

It's a pity if money is the root cause of your roommate troubles. To avoid this, note down all your expenses in a little pocket diary dedicated to what you spend on home. You can refer to it anytime, like for instance if share a dabba and it's time to pay the bill. 
Independent flats

This living experience is priceless; you can get friends over, do your own cooking and turn the place into your second home. On the flipside, it could be a volatile arrangement if your roommate/housemate (if you have a room to yourself) has radically different habits from you. It's best to set the ground rules before signing on that agreement.

iDiscuss your lifestyle habits at length

Be honest on the outset about your reservations on various issues.

For instance, if s/he has a boyfriend/girlfriend who practically lives over, this could infringe on your space. Even if you have separate rooms, you will still be sharing a bathroom and kitchen. Find a compromise that is suitable to you both.

Parties or get-togethers are common when one is on their own. If it happens on a weekday and you have separate rooms, then a low-profile get-together seems all right. But try and reserve heavy-duty partying on weekends, unless of course you are both party animals!

iiMoolah talk

You will definitely need to split the bill for the following:

  • Monthly rent and deposit
  • Charges for the house help
  • Electricity bill
  • Household maintenance expenses.

Other possibilities could be:

  • Rent and deposit for the refrigerator/ gas/ air conditioner
  • Groceries, if you plan to cook and eat together 
  • Cable television rental

Maintain a list of all expenses in a notebook, file your electricity and other bills and keep a separate list for deposits you have paid together for renting any appliance etc. Keep a copy of your agreement safely too.

Before teaming up, make sure your roommate can afford to pay the rent every month without fail, or you may be looking for a new one very soon.

iiiOne-month notice

Even though you have an agreement for, say, 12 months or more, there is a possibility that your roommate might want to leave mid-way due to various reasons (marriage, job transfer). The unwritten rule is to give a one-month notice so that a replacement can be found. Make this clear before moving in.

ivCleanliness matters

Another issue that could really bother you: how messy or, worse still, dirty, your potential roommate is. I once had a housemate who was so dirty she could probably win a contest. She left food to rot on top and under her bed (I have no idea how it got there), literally inviting the rats to feel at home. She was a nice person, but if I had to share a room with her I would feel suicidal.
vHousemate or house guest?

You have another type of roommate who behaves like a houseguest, never taking any responsibility with the house chores, be it getting curtains made, supervising the maid on a Sunday or getting the repairs done when an appliance goes bust.

Each person should be responsible and not be a parasite on the other, as this can be draining in the long term.

Quick tips

Two people who don't have much in common can be the best of roommates. And sometimes the best of friends can make the worst of roommates. The bottom-line: It is important to have a good working relationship with your roommate, whether you hang out together or not.

Respect the other person's privacy and space, and vice-versa. Do not interfere in his/her personal affairs or get possessive.

Last but not the least, know your own mind. If you are not comfortable lending something, don't be confused about it. Take a stand, politely but firmly. You roommate should not have to read your mind. Try and find ways to resolve your problems and as far as possible nip them in the bud. Like for instance, if s/he reads every night, request her to get a night lamp, so s/he does not have to curb her reading habits.

In spite of all your efforts, if it isn't working out, move on. After a hard day at work, your home away from home must be a peaceful haven where you can be yourself, unwind and feel at home.

Have you had a good or bad experience with a roommate? Share your experiences, tips and suggestions with other Get Ahead readers.


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Number of User Comments: 19

Sub: Got a roommate from hell?

Hai Guys/Gals. I\'m Dileep. I\'ve stayed away from home for about 15 years, right from my childhood in hostels and also sharing rooms/flats during my ...

Posted by Dileep

Sub: Re: Roommate from Hell

I totally agree with the author. It happens not only with strangers, it can also happen with your friends. The worst part is that you ...

Posted by Shyam Kumar N

Sub: RE: Got a roommate from hell?

For 3 years of my graduation I stayed with Roommates and we used to have helluva fun and I miss those days. But in my ...

Posted by Nik

Sub: girls!!!

Its mostly a problem with girls. they can not live peacefully with another girl. All the girls I know have had some trouble with their ...

Posted by viv

Sub: Roomies

I have just left my acco to go back to parents. I was staying away so that I could save commuting time and manage to ...

Posted by Shilpa


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