What You Need to Ask Potential Roommates to Avoid a Living Nightmare

roommates
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Everyone has a horror roommate story.

Mine are pretty typical. During my second year of university when I ended up living with an engineering student who didn’t wash her dishes for more than a month – yes I counted the days – even though we had a dishwasher. Then I lived with a roommate whose mom visited every month and was very okay with being naked. Finally, there was the roommate who’s boyfriend moved in on week two, never paid rent or utilities and left pubes all over the bathroom. Cool cool.

READ: How Much Money You Need to Live in Downtown Toronto in Your 20s

While they all sucked in their own way, nothing compares to Anne Goad’s roommate drama. Goad is a teacher who’s gone through seven roommates in the last five years. She told Toronto Storeys she had to evict her last roommate after she came home one day with the oven open, raging at 500 degrees and three candles lit. The fact that she didn’t come home to a pile of ash is a miracle.

Home is supposed to be where you can let your hair down and take your pants off. Not somewhere you dread being or have to worry about still being there when you get back from work.

With more people likely to have a roommate than ever before, and for longer than ever before, how do you make sure that your future roommate isn’t a complete psycho?

Well, I’ve combined my own 10+ years of living with roommates with the advice of friends and strangers who’ve gone through the process of hunting for good roommates to come up with a list of questions that will help you find your perfect match.

What are your cleaning habits?

Your version of “clean” isn’t necessarily someone else’s. Probably one of the biggest pain points when it comes to living with another person is cleaning. We’ve all seen some version of a chore wheel – but has it ever worked? No.

So find out how they feel about dishes in the sink. Ask, how often do they vacuum? Clean the bathroom? And whatever else you care about. It doesn’t matter if you’re clean or messy as long as you have similar standards.

If you’re both super busy and won’t have time to keep your place clean it might be worth bringing up splitting the cost of a cleaning service.

Do you smoke?

Whether it’s cigarettes, weed, cigars or vaping, it’s important to know so you can decide if that’s a deal breaker or not.

You may also want to know how often they smoke. While you might be okay with someone getting high every now and again,  a total stoner who leaves the place constantly reeking of weed may be a blunt too far.

Also, just as an FYI, it’s worth double checking what the smoking rules are for your building. The Smoke Free Ontario Act prohibits smoking in common areas of multi-unit buildings, but it is legal to smoke inside private units unless the landlords have made the building smoke-free.

How often do you drink?

This question sounds a bit like the question you get at the doctor’s office and you’re never sure if you’re supposed to lie or not. But it’s important to make sure your drinking habits (kind of) align. Hangovers are rough, so it’s better to have someone who’s in the same circle of hell as you.

Are you still friends with your old roommates?

You can tell a lot about a person by how they maintain relationships with their previous roommates. If they parted on good terms, chances are you will too. If they do nothing but talk trash about everyone they lived with alarm bells should be ringing.

Also, if they’re hesitant to talk about their past living situation that’s also a red flag… what are they hiding?!

READ: Toronto Neighbourhoods with the Most Affordable Rent Right Now

What’s your usual bedtime?

Sure, you’re not their babysitter asking when they need to be put to bed, but if you go to bed early and they’re up all night making noise that could be a problem.

It’s also worth finding out what their bedtime routine is. Do they have a 12-step skin routine that means they hog the bathroom for an hour? Do they spend hours on Skype with their parents or long-distance significant other? Or do they just quietly disappear into their room to watch Netflix until they pass out?

Do you expect a lot of out-of-town visitors?

Speaking from personal experience, having someone’s parents or friends crashing in your house on a frequent basis can be uncomfortable, especially if they’re staying for longer than a a few days.

Because as soon as there are strangers in your house you start questioning every move you make. Like, is it okay for you to walk in a towel from the bathroom back to your room? Do you have to make small talk with them every time you run into them in the common areas? Can you watch TV while they’re having dinner?

House guests just throw a wrench into normal everyday routines. Air mattresses, suitcases and other people’s mess can be maddening if prolonged.

How do you view your home?

Tracy Rowland, a writer and producer from New Jersey who’s had more roommates than she can count, explains that people tend to view their home as one of three things. According to Rowland, it’s either a place of solace where they can sit quietly and regroup, the centre of their social universe where they can host and entertain, or as a place to keep their stuff.

If you think of home as a solace, someone who thinks it’s the party hub is going to drive you crazy and vice versa.

Do you have any pets?

Regardless of your personal opinions on pets, you need to first abide by your landlord and building’s policy on creatures.

You also need to consider your specific situation. For example, do you have pet allergies? Do your other roommates? If so, you may want to rule out pets entirely or make sure they have a hypoallergenic breed. It might also be a good idea to meet the pet, because pets have personalities too! Finally, check how they plan to handle pet-owner responsibilities. You don’t want to suddenly find yourself picking up the pet-parenting slack (no matter how cute they are).

How will you pay for rent?

In other words, what’s your job? Being left high and dry for rent is far from cool, so make sure they have a steady enough income to afford your rent and utilities.

What’s your workday routine?

If you have overlapping routines you might run into issues with sharing the bathroom or kitchen. So find out what time they need to be at work, if they shower in the morning or at night etc.

It’s often better if you have opposite routines. For example, I once lived with someone who had to be at work for 7 am, while I was working late night shifts in a newsroom. We were like ships passing in the night. It was glorious!

But just be mindful that if you have complete opposite routines you might be disturbing someone else, by say, using a blender at 6 am.

Do you work from home?

This can either be awesome or far from it, depending on your own situation.

For example, I now work from home and if my roommate was here during the day it would ruin all my productivity. She likes to listen to podcasts and music while she works. I prefer dead silence because I have a tendency to type what I hear.

Two people working from home also means higher utility costs.

But if you go to an office for work than having someone who can accept your Amazon deliveries and be there to let repair people in is always a nice to have.

Are you in a relationship?

While there’s nothing wrong with being in a relationship, sometimes significant others can quickly turn into a third roommate you never wanted.

Adding an extra person to a likely already too tiny space is a recipe for disaster. Not only that, but you can end up feeling like a third wheel in your own home. Or worse, you end up being their mediator when they fight and that shit gets awkward real fast.

If you are cool with a couple moving in then at least talk about sharing costs so you don’t grow resentful for having to pay for their significant other’s extra long weekend showers.

How often do you cook?

Shared living spaces, such as the kitchen, can often be a strain in small apartments. So if you’re both big cooks you might struggle to share the kitchen, especially if you have the same dinner time. This question also will help you figure out how much fridge real estate is going to need to be allocated.

And it’s worth finding out when they cook. Nothing is worse than listening to pots and pans bang around while you’re trying to get your beauty sleep.

What do you want in a roommate?

This is a classic interview question but worth asking. Whether they’re just looking for someone to split the bills or a new BFF, it’s good to know up front.

How long do you plan to stay?

While they don’t have to stay forever, your apartment isn’t Hotel California, you want to make sure they’re not gonna bail before you can find a replacement. While short-term renters can be great, if that’s not what you’re looking for be up front about it. It will also help you discount students and summer interns who are here for a good time, not a long time.

Regardless, make sure you put an agreed upon end date in your lease so that you protect yourself in the case that they do need to unexpectedly move out.

What are your pet peeves?

Everyone has pet peeves. People who say they don’t are LIARS. My pet peeves are old food stuck on the stove and hair left anywhere. So figuring out what drives your potential roommate up the wall is good so you don’t do it and vice versa.

But just be wary of someone who has a long list of pet peeves – that’s a recipe for disaster.

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What are some challenges you’ve faced with previous living situations?

Another classic interview question, but this question will help you find out what they do when things go wrong – because things go wrong all the time and landlords are more often than not negligent.

Goad told Toronto Storeys that her last roommate (the one who got evicted) would threaten to sue the landlord every time something happened, which jeopardized her own relationship with the landlord. Not ideal. But you also don’t want a roommate who just ignores things until the situation is unliveable.

This question will also let you know if they deal with confrontation head on or they’re more passive aggressive about it. Lest you find a post-it note on the fridge one morning…

How often do you have friends over?

Some people are all about that open door policy, while others are less so. Depending on how they answer this question, dig a little deeper. Do they host weekly brunches or poker games? Or is it more of a one off dinner party?

I once lived with a girl who was still a student while my other roommates and I were working. She would have all her friends over for drinks on a Wednesday night because they didn’t have class on Thursdays. They would party until 2 am in our living room and I showed up to work like a zombie every Thursday.

So whatever your feelings are towards house guests just make sure you’re clear from the start so you don’t have to have a harsh talk later.

What do you like to do with your time off?

This question is great for finding out if they’re a homebody or if they’re the after-after party type. It might also help you find out if they’re going to host their improv group practices at your house and force you to be an unwilling audience member.

How do you usually handle splitting essentials?

I’ve lived with people who didn’t want to share costs for anything. We were each responsible for our own food, TP and cleaning products. I’ve also lived with someone who became like a life partner and we shared everything from groceries to clothing. It was very much a what’s mine is yours type of relationship. So, while talking about money can be uncomfortable, figure out what you’re willing to share costs on and how you’re going to handle repayment.

Why do you want to live here?

Apart from the obvious reasons of needing a roof over their head, asking them why they want to live with you — and in this place — can be very illuminating as to whether they know (or are interested) in the neighbourhood, if it is close to work, they’re looking for a fresh start, etc.

You can use these questions like an interview or like a Buzzfeed quiz – the key is that you and the potential roommate match up on the fundamentals. Otherwise you might soon find yourself coming home to a house of horrors.

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