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How to Deal With Roommate Problems

This article was authored in partnership with wikiHow, the world’s largest “how to” site, and also featured here on the wikiHow website.

Having a roommate can be a fun, exciting experience. It comes with many challenges. You may be living with a person who is completely different than you. You do not have to be best friends with your roommate. Most problems can be resolved through good communication, compromise, and respect.

Setting Boundaries

Discuss the cleaning schedule. You and your roommate probably have different ideas about what is considered clean and neat. This can be a major area of conflict. Make a chore schedule and determine who will do what and how often. For example, you two may designate Sunday afternoons as your cleaning day. Choose a time that works with both of your schedules. Responsibilities you may consider include: [1]

  • Taking out the trash
  • Sweeping the floor
  • Cleaning out the mini fridge
  • Washing the sink
  • Straightening up the room
  • Washing dishes

Develop a plan to handle visitors. Talk about how you will handle friends coming over and intimate visitors. Conflicts are more likely to occur when it involves an intimate partner. Set up a system that both people are comfortable with. [2]

  • What is the time limit for guests?
  • Can intimate visitors spend the night?
  • How will you notify the other person that you need privacy (e.g. rubber band on the door knob, a symbol on your name tag, a certain color of paper on the door)?

Discuss your phone policy. You will probably talk on the phone and video chat with your friends and family while you are away at school. Are these conversations private? Should these conversations take place in the room or outside the room? [3]

  • Consider having different rules for daytime talking and nighttime talking.
  • You may say talking in the room is fine as long as the other person isn’t studying.

Determine a lights out time. You and your roommate probably do not go to bed at the same time. You may prefer a 9:30 pm bedtime while your roommate doesn’t go to sleep until 2:00 am. To compromise, set up a time when the lights have to be out. During this time, headphones should be used to watch movies and listen to music and a personal light should be used for reading instead of using the overhead lights. [4] For example, a fair compromise between a 9:30 pm bed time and a 2:00 am bed time may be to turn the lights out at 11:00 pm, however you may set a different time for weekdays and weekends.

Sign a roommate agreement. Once you have developed ground rules for common situations, write them down and sign them. This will keep both of you accountable. If you someone is not holding up their end of the bargain, you can use the agreement as a starting point for the conversation.

You will have to compromise to come to an agreement. Both of you should get some of the things you want, but things may not be exactly how you want them to be. [5] Be sure that both you and your roommate are comfortable with the terms of the agreement and keep in mind that you may have to modify and change some of the agreement as the school year goes on.

Working Through Problems

Choose the right time. Do not go to your roommate when you are super annoyed and irritated. You may say something that you regret. Also, if your roommate is studying or getting ready to leave the room, wait to have the conversation. [6] The conversation will not go well if your roommate feels like they are being ambushed.

If you are not sure of a good time to speak with your roommate, you may ask or send a text that says, “Hey, when are you going to be around? I wanted to have a chat about something.”

Talk in person. An in-person conversation is much better than texting or venting on social media. It is easy to misinterpret what someone has said when you are only reading their words. You do not see any of their body language or facial expressions. People also will say things over text that they would not say to your face. [7]

Posting how you feel on social media often makes things worse. Imagine how you would feel if your roommate tweeted about how messy you were or that you snore all night long. Not posting on social media also keeps other people from interfering in your roommate problems.

Focus directly on one problem. This could be studying or talking on the phone with all the lights on while you're trying to sleep, using all the hot water in the shower, or not cleaning up. Try to talk to your roommate about this one big issue, and offer a suggestion for how to make it better. Allow your roommate to disagree/agree with your suggestion until you work out a solution.

If you try to discuss too many issues at once, your roommate may feel like you are attacking them.

  • Talk about the behavior not the person. [8]
  • You may say, “It’s hard for me to sleep when you talk on the phone late at night,” instead of “You’re rude and disrespectful when you talk on the phone at night.”
  • Focus on the behavior and how it makes you feel. Your roommate may not even realize how their behavior affects you. [9]

Listen to your roommate. Once you have told your roommate the problem and how you feel, allow them to speak. Your roommate has a different perspective than you and may say something that you have not even considered. When you listen, ask yourself what you would do if the situation was reversed. [10]

  • After you have spoken, you may say, “What do you think?” or “How do you feel about the situation?”
  • When your roommate speaks, do not interrupt.

Communicate with your roommate. Spend time getting to know your roommate. Talk to your roommate about their likes and dislikes, what they did in high school, and what they are looking forward to in college. [11] You are going to be living in tight quarters with this person for the whole year. It is worth the effort to get to know them. Here are some questions to get you started.

  • Are you a morning person or a night person?
  • How will you handle boyfriends/girlfriends? How long can they stay?
  • Do you want to share food, clothes, and/or school supplies?
  • Do you sleep with the TV on or with music?
  • Do you sleep with the lights on?
  • Are you super neat or are you messy?

Develop a solution together. Once you and your roommate have had a chance to speak, it is time to come up with a solution to the problem. If it something that has already been covered in the roommate agreement, the solution is simple. If it is a different situation, you will have to negotiate something that works for both of you. [12] Ask your roommate, “What do you think we should do?” or “How can we fix this together?”

For example, maybe your roommate has a new partner that spends a lot of time in your room, but you need quiet time to study. The solution may be to have designated days the partner can come over, and you agree to study at the library 2 nights a week so they can have privacy. Both of you make a compromise to get something that you want. Your roommate gets private time and you have designated days that you can study in your room.

Seeking Outside Help

Try to keep an open mind. You and your roommate might not have much in common, but that does not mean that you cannot be friends. Work on trying to appreciate your roommate's differences and enjoy the experience of getting to learn some new things while living with him or her.

For example, your roommate might be a fan of a sport you have never taken an interest in, a type of music that you don't enjoy, or a hobby that you have never even heard of. While your roommate's engagement with these interests might get on your nerves from time to time, remind yourself that learning about these new things is something that not everyone gets to do. Try to be grateful for the experience.

It might also be helpful to remind yourself that living with a roommate is a temporary situation, but it can lead to a life-long friendship.

Talk to your Resident Advisor. If talking to your roommate doesn't work, try talking to your Resident Advisor (RA), Resident Assistant, or Resident Director. [13] Your resident advisor can help you deal with the situation or help mediate the situation between you and your roommate.

See your Resident Advisor immediately if your roommate is engaging in unsafe behaviors such as binge drinking, illegal drug use, self-harm, or an eating disorder. [14] If your roommate is breaking the dorm rules by drinking alcohol or doing drugs in your room, you can get in trouble too. It’s best to let your RA know instead of handling this issue on your own.

Talk to your friends. It is likely that other people at your school are having problems with roommates too. This can be a great way to bond with friends, and to make more friends. Socializing with people who share similar problems is a great way to learn more about yourself and take advantage of all the benefits of college. A friend may have a suggestion that you have not thought of, or if you are looking for a new roommate, one of these friends might need a new one too.

Tip: Talk to your roommate about the problem before you tell a friend. [15] Your roommate will be very upset of they find out you were talking about them behind their back. This can actually make your problems worse.

Spend time elsewhere. You may be stuck with a roommate that you just can’t get along with. Consider spending more time in the library, coffee shop, or with other friends instead of in the room. If you spend less time with your roommate you may gain peace of mind and calm down by removing yourself from the situation.

Remember that your roommate situation is temporary, and you just have to make it to the end of the school year.

Request a room change. Some situations cannot be fixed. If you have tried talking to your roommate, compromising, and working with your RA, it may be time to request a room transfer. Room transfers are typically a last resort after all other methods have failed. [16]

Each school has a different process and criteria for a room change. Check with your RA or the Office of Residence Life to get the details.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to connect to a local crisis center or text MHA to 741741 to connect to a trained Crisis Counselor 24/7. You can also call 911 or visit your local emergency room.