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Looking for Roommates - Shining a Light on How to Keep Control of Your Space

Updated on March 26, 2011

Dear Veronica,

My flatmates are all in the process of leaving. All for good things mind you. Two of the are marrying next week and the remaining one has had a wonderful job offer in another country.  I am in the unique situation of interviewing potential new roomies. Do you have any tips for me?  I’ve just read your article with mates not getting on. How can that best be avoided from the start? I’ve lived in this apartment for 12 years. I adore this place and it is just perfectly situated for me regarding my family friends and career. I do not wish to become uncomfortable here. I’m doing well in regards to career but I should need at least 2 roommates to cover the expenses. It’s a rather large flat with 4 bedrooms, a converted warehouse of sorts. I know I’ll never find anything like it again. Any tips you have for me would be appreciated.




Dear Daphne,

Since you’ve lived in this great place for 12 years and you care about it so much, I’m gearing the advice I’m offering to you in a very specific way. I want to encourage you to keep control. Unlike Mira’s situation in the Hub where you first commented, you can’t really just go seek out another place if the new roommates don’t work out.

There’s a difference between having roommates and renting out some rooms. You may want to consider making that distinction in your search.

Since you have the history there, you may want to this new crop of strangers to understand from the get-go that this place is yours, not “ours.”

In most situations a roommate carries an equal portion of responsibility. Decisions like painting and buying furniture are everyone’s. Cleaning is everyone’s responsibility. Things are negotiated or agreed upon like how food shopping and sharing will be handled. Things that you’ve probably taken for granted with long-term flat mates are now things you have to think about and design your way. If you all split the rent equally and you all list your names on the lease, you’re all equals in the apartment. 

In your situation it might be a brighter idea to consider renting out rooms. 

Renting out rooms is a different scenario. If you choose to do that it means the apartment is yours except for their bedrooms. You would be in charge of furnishing and cleaning the kitchen, living room, and other common rooms. You don’t have to check with anyone if you want to redecorate, have guests over, or set a bathroom schedule.

When people are looking to rent a room, they generally expect to pay much less then they would if they were sharing an apartment. You may find you can’t charge as much to room renters than to roommates. And that’s fair.

People looking to rent a room are sometimes a little more transient than people looking for roommates. Someone usually rents a room for a shorter or predetermined amount of time. Perhaps they’re newly separated, waiting for remodeling to be done on their house, can't afford the rents in the area yet or because they travel frequently and can’t keep up their share of an apartment while being gone so much.

I’m guessing your apartment isn’t in the US. Here it is customary for room renters to have month to month leases. The turnover is more than it would be with roommates.

This is good because it’s easier to remove someone that isn’t working out. Depending on your area this also might be fun, getting to know different people. I know a couple in California that have a fabulous apartment in a two family house. They rent out two rooms all the time. They are close to a University and often have teachers as their renters. Teachers come who’ve been newly assigned, or teaching for one semester, etc.

I had a reader comment once that he has a house close to the airport. He used to work for an airline and has since retired. He has a few rooms to rent, and collects rent from about 10 different people for them. His tenants are flight attendants or pilots who live in other cities. They wind up in his city so often that it’s just cheaper for them to be able to have a room there instead of staying in hotels. I spoke with my good friend Susan about this. She explained to me that in her industry these are called Crash Pads. Airline pilots and attendants often wind up spending overnights in the cities they’re based out of, and wind up renting Crash Pads together. They rarely see each other, so it probably works out just fine that he has several different people taking turns with his spare rooms as needed. They're allowed to help themselves to whatever food is there as part of the agreement, and they can do laundry, shower, watch TV and sleep until they have to leave. 

Renting rooms out certainly has its advantages and gives you a lot of control but with that comes responsibility. It is your responsibility to handle anything that comes up or goes wrong. You would be the only one dealing with the landlord. Whatever is entailed in your living arrangement with the owner of the building, it would be up to you to know and uphold it. Problems with the plumbing or electric, contacting repairmen, handling routine maintenance or updating the place, furnishings, appliances… it all falls on you to oversee. And if one room renter misses their rent payment, it falls on you as the person in control of the flat to cover it. You have to deal with them and you have to make sure the rent gets paid to protect yourself and the other room renters who’ve paid on time.

A roommate situation is different. Everything is shared. Even if you’re the one with seniority you will have a hard time maintaining control if everyone is on the lease equally especially if other roommates align.

If you can come up with a firm idea of what you want you can interview potential roommates in an authentic way. Making agreements ahead of time on how things are to be handled is wise. But you still have personalities involved.

You could find a roommate with whom you fundamentally agree about everything from cleaning, to money, to furnishings and food. Yet they are just impossible to live with for other reasons. Maybe they are mean spirited and hurtful, maybe they find your sense of humor offensive, or maybe they try to befriend your friends in an appropriate way. Maybe something intangible about them makes you uncomfortable. Maybe they become depressed or they’ve gone off their meds, or started practicing self-destructive behaviors. Maybe they like you and become clingy or invading of your personal space. Maybe they wind up in a committed relationship and everything changes in spite of what you’d agreed upon. Maybe they are very religious or have strong political beliefs that they like to talk about. Even when you agree to be just roommates and to keep your personal lives personal, shit happens.

You live there, you wind up talking and sharing. You may be hanging out casually with a roommate one night who tells you something from their past. It may be something that goes against every fiber of your being, something you can not get passed or forget. It has nothing to do with your living situation, but it has changed the way you see this person, and now you can’t unsee it . Sometimes you wind up getting friendly, and for whatever reason you discover this is a person you simply don’t like.

And then what do you do.

My best advice to you Daphne is to assume the role of control even if it’s not natural to you. Rent rooms at first, or if you do look for roommates somehow make it clear that this is your place and it will be only your name on the lease for the first year until you’ve made final decisions. Maybe you can even speak to your landlord about how to handle that. Something, somehow, like that, may just be the bright idea you need to insure your future security in your home of 12 years. Good luck.

Famous roommates Oscar Madison and Felix Unger in The Odd Couple

For those who used to have roommates, and now live alone or have started families, are you still friends with any of your former roommates?

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Submit a Comment

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    Hey Veronica,

    I'm in the process for looking for a roommate as well, but I am looking for one for college. I'm going to be a freshman next year and since I'm somewhat conservative (i.e. I don't drink or smoke and I believe in not having sex until marriage) I don't think I would be able to handle having a roommate who did any of those (although I think if needed I could handle a roommate who drank as long as she didn't come home drunk out of her mind every night or even every weekend). Do you have any ideas on how I can find a roommate (the college I'm going to allows us to room with people we choose and there is a Facebook group to facilitate that, but I really don't know how easy it is to tell this stuff online, especially since a lot of girls my age lie about those things because it's illegal to drink at our age). Any insight would be greatly appreciated :)

  • Lindsey79 profile image


    7 years ago from CA

    Last little part that got cut off...

    (6) Add pictures or video. Being able to add pictures or a youtube link to a video of the place will help out a lot. People can get a really good idea of the space, especially with a video, and it makes your place stand out sooo much more. People will be able to self-select more easily if they have pics or a video to preview the place.

    (7) Describe some interesting facts about yourself. What would make you a good roommate? What makes you an interesting/fun person? Are you looking for roommates to purely pay the rent or with the potential to be friends? If it's the latter, then this section will be all the more important. I personally wanted roommates who had their own thing going on (i.e. weren't recluses that would hang out in their room all day or were desperately looking for their new best friend in a roommate) but would ideally grow to be friends over time -- even doing the occasional dinner together or a movie night. And that's exactly what I found.

    (8)Pets. If you have any, say so. If you'll allow any, say so. If no pets are an option, be clear so you won't have any of that "oh, little fluffy is so great, I know if you only meet her..." from candidates. If you do have pets, be clear about your concerns with living in a pet friendly place for a non-pet owner or concerns about your pet interacting with a potential roommate's pets. If pets are involved, have them meet before signing on the roommate. I have a dog, so it's important for me to either have other dog owning roommates or roommates that really know what it's like to live with a dog -- the hair, the occasional barking, etc.

    Okay, that's all the stuff I had in my ad. I hope it works out well for you -- best of luck.

  • Lindsey79 profile image


    7 years ago from CA

    Daphne -- the only thing I'd add to what Veronica has said is that you can choose to divide the responsibility how you like, so long as everyone agrees. It doesn't have to be all-or-nothing in regards to roommate responsibility.

    I personally do something that's more of a hybrid to what Veronica describes. I am the "master tenant" meaning that I am the only person on the lease with the landlord -- I'm the tenant to my landlord but I'm the sublandlord to my roommates who are my subtenants. I have a separate sublease with them that incorporates the original lease -- you can find stuff online for this pretty easily. If my roommates fail to pay rent (they write checks directly to me and I write one to the landlord), then it's on me to make it up. However, most rental agreements have the roommates bound to rent both joint and severally, which means if one of your roommates fails to pay rent, the landlord can come after the other roommates for the shortfall instead of only the defunct roommate -- it's the landlord's choice (and then the roommates can go after the defunct roommate, but it just assures the landlord that he gets his money, and he doesn't care from whom it comes).

    So I figure even with more traditional roommate situations, you'll all be on the hook for rent anyway. So you may as well set up a situation where you're the "master tenant" or sublandlord and then you sublease to your roommates/flatmates -- just make sure your lease allows this. This way you're not really assuming anymore liability, but you maintain more control. You can get rid of your roommates if things don't work out much more easily as even most rental control ordinances except the sublandlord from certain for-cause eviction limitations if you live in the unit.

    Now, such a situation means that you would have to be responsible for all the maintenance, if something breaks, etc. But I've found I'd naturally do that anyway, so it was no big deal for me. After all, how hard it is to call the landlord to get things fixed anyway?

    But as far as the non-legal components of the living situation go, that can be all up to you. You can have as much roommate participation as you want. In my situation, I let people know how I already had the common rooms furnished, what extra furniture/appliances/art work could or could not be accommodated. Some people tried to argue that they had more furniture and it wasn't "fair" that I not allow them to bring it -- I just simply replied, then this isn't the right living situation for you. I also made it very clear that I'm big on sharing so people were always welcome to use any of my stuff in the common rooms that they'd like, from couches to kitchen appliances and the hot tub out back, but I just asked that they be respectful and treat it well. If anyone ever mistreated stuff (and some did -- mostly neighbors in other flats with the hot tub), then they lost access. I'd also have their security deposit to cover any damages -- both those of the unit that would be ultimately owed to the landlord via my lease and those to my stuff in the communal areas (I had one roommate's dog chew up a chair so this came in handy).

    Looking back at my ad, things I'd specifically include are the following:

    (1) Detailed description of the place. What size is the bedroom? How big is the closet? Does it get good light? For the common areas -- carpet or hardwood floors, dishwasher, disposal, laundry (in unit or in building), how many common rooms (living room, dining room, den, how many bathrooms -- will they have a private or shared bathroom), gas or electric for the stove, central heating, etc.? Is there a backyard -- is it private or shared with other flats? What's the cost of utilities? What utilities do you expect them to share -- gas, electricity, cable/tv, internet, garbage, water, cleaning service, etc.?

    (2) Description of what your cleaning expectations are. Are you really anal and like things to look like a museum or are you more relaxed? Clutter okay so long as not dirty? Do you want dishes cleaned immediately or can they wait a day? Can they wait more than a day? I'd strongly urge you to be as honest about this as possible. Don't sugar coat because you think it will sound too anal or too sloppy. I find this is the biggest issue between roommates/flatmates, so lay it out on the line -- the good, the bad, the ugly. I also opted for a biweekly cleaning service, letting roommates know right off the bat that it would be split between all of us. I've found most roommates LOVE this and agree to it readily, then there are no concerns about who cleaned the bathroom last (and for us, it's $40/month each -- best $40 I spend every month).

    (3) Your preferences regarding common spaces and kitchen stuff. Do you share? Do you expect your roommates to share? Do you plan to buy communal food and everyone pitch in on the food bill? Or everyone buys their own? Do you have separate shelves? Do people need to mark their food, etc.? I personally came from a large family, so I'm used to things being generally communal. Everyone buys their own groceries, but we share a lot of common things -- bread, milk, eggs, etc. and I even make trips to Costco for household stuff we split like toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, etc. -- but respect each other. If you eat the last of any of the communal food, then you replace it immediately. This only works if everyone is on the same page and uses the same respect and consideration (moochers are not tolerated). Just be clear about what you want and what you'd like from roommates -- those that have similar values will respond to your ad. Also if you have any food restrictions you need roommates to be aware of. I always said I was an omnivore but am open to other stuff so long as it doesn't require special utensils or special accommodations (I've had some vegan/vegetarian candidates in the past that told me they'd require separate pots, pans and utensils and we'd also have to cordone off part of the fridge with plastic wrap to "harness my beef" -- needless to say, they weren't a good match).

    (4) Lifestyle. Think about the type of social environment you want in the house. Do you want it to be a quiet place -- a soft place to land after a hard week's work? A party house? What sort of hours would you like respected -- do you work a typical 9 to 5 or something more unusual? If you've got any issues with sexual orientation, this is the time to say whether you'd prefer gay, straight, bi or have no preference. Some people only want to live with someone of the same sex -- this is the time to be frank about that. Also think about potential roommate's relationship status. Are you open to couples? If not, what if they have a long term significant other (just have to watch out about this because it can turn into a default extra roommate)? How would you feel about someone that brought someone new home from the bar every night? If you only want overnight guests approved by you or all the roommates -- this is the time to say so. For me, I opted for something in between. Being a woman, I was concerned about lack of discretion and safety issues of waking up to a different strange guy at the breakfast table every morning. Or I'm cool with bfs/gfs, just keep in mind that I don't want them being a defacto extra roommate (i.e. probably shouldn't be over 5+ nights a week). Frankly, if they're cool, I probably wouldn't care, but if they're annoying, it could become a BIG deal.

    (5) Smoking/drugs/alcohol -- if you're cool with certain recreational drugs, say so. If you're not, say so. Same goes for smoking cigarettes. If you have a sober household, say so upfront. Some of these things may seem very obvious to you and you think they go without saying, they don't. People come from all sorts of different backgrounds and expectations -- this is the time to be as obvious as possible. Err on the side of too much information, not too little.

    (6) Add pictures or video. Being able to add pictures or a youtube link to a video of the place will help out a lot. People can get a real

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from NY

    I hope you find his number, Chuck.

  • poorconservative1 profile image


    7 years ago

    I haven't seen my old roommate Jeff in a long time, I think I'll give him a call (if I can find his #). See if he wants to get together for a beer.



  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from NY

    Thanks Earth Angel! I'm glad you liked the photos, I've been trying to do different things and themes just to keep it fresh and interesting.

    Best to you always.

  • Earth Angel profile image

    Earth Angel 

    7 years ago


    Another GREAT Hub! I especially like the subtle way you used photos of the lights/lamps to show difference!

    Yes, Namaste'to you as well! EarthAngel!


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