How to Deal With a Crummy Roommate

No one tries to pick an incompatible roommate, but it happens. If you feel like you and your UC Davis roomie are on the slippery slope toward roommate divorce, here is some sage advice from

Tandem has a great roommate matching program at Adobe at Evergreen with a high success rate, and we’ll help you set up and navigate realistic expectations. Call or email us for more information.

How to Live with a Terrible Roommate

How to Live with a Terrible Roommate

Dormitory life is a keystone of the American college experience. You head off to school and sign up for classes and then spend a full year (sometimes more) in a room where you can often touch the other bed from your own. It’s an odd way to live, and often fraught with conflict.

By the end of my freshman year, my roommate and I said less than twenty words to each other per week. We had little or nothing in common, and an unfortunate habit of annoying each other with both our habits and personality quirks. It was tense and uncomfortable.

Despite this, my dorm experience was overwhelmingly positive. So based on that (and my subsequent experiences sharing apartments and houses with both friends and strangers) here are my nine tips to life with a terrible roommate.

Set Up Expectations

Figure out the things that are important to you, and try to set up “rules” or “agreements” early on. Frequent problem areas are:

  • Cleaning

  • Noise

  • Visitors

  • Borrowing things

  • Coming and going at night

  • Drinking/drugs

Figure out your expectations early. Have a conversation about how often you plan to clean, or what a reasonable time is to turn the lights off at night. If you’re noise sensitive, talk through what time noise should stop at night (for example, that the roommate wears headphones for music or TV and talks to friends somewhere outside of the room).

But as you’re having these conversations, you should be reasonable, too. If you’re the noise-sensitive one, get earplugs. If you’re the late-night party animal, try to set up your room so you’ll make minimal noise when you come back. Set expectations early, and be flexible.

Communicate Early and Often

Most roommate conflicts arise from not setting clear expectations, or not communicating when a problem first arises. It’s awkward to talk about talking, but try to figure out a way that the two of you communicate best.

The general rule of thumb is to always talk in person. That’s good advice for most people, but for others it’s much easier to send emails or texts. Try to get in a habit of how you talk through issues. Some tips:

  • Talk through conflicts outside of your room. Find somewhere quiet and semi-private to discuss things so that you’re not in your shared space and fighting.

  • Don’t talk about the conflict with mutual friends. Keep a positive spin on things as much as possible—anything else can spread gossip and bad feelings fast.

  • Try to talk about your experience, rather than their actions.

Develop Routines Outside Your Room

No matter how good or bad your roommate situation is, everyone appreciates some space from time to time. Establish study space, hangout times, and lots of activities that make you happy and improve your life outside of your room. You’ve got the whole campus to work with.

My freshman experience was saved by spending most of my time studying, hanging out, and having fun in other people’s dorm rooms.

Ask for Help

Your residence hall and college should have staff dedicated to helping with your living experience your freshman year. If you need help, just ask for it.

Document and Report

If things get really bad or dangerous—such as finding that your roommate has illegal drugs in your dorm room or if their behavior is truly out-of-bounds or dangerous, then report the incident and document what has happened. You should not be made to feel uncomfortable in your own home.

While a certain level of conflict is almost inevitable, there are clear lines that should trigger action on your part.

If you want to see the rest of the advice, please click on the link above.