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My biggest regret each time I move to a new place — which, being a college student in New York City, means I have moved a lot — is that I failed to set roommate ground rules with half of the roommates I’ve lived with. It happens so quickly when you’re meeting strangers: you are overly polite for the first several weeks, and then you do not realize that the entire time, you have been doing something your roommate detests. Or vice versa. It can be the tiniest thing, but considering that living with another person means you will be crossing paths during all of your daily rituals, it will build and build and build until someone cannot take it anymore. So better safe than sorry!

What are Roommate Ground Rules?

Roommate Ground Rules are a set of clearly laid down rules that both you and your roommate have agreed upon. The conversation that leads to your agreement should be a calm discussion of what you both agree on and what you would like to avoid.

Why are Roommate Ground Rules Important?

It’s highly necessary for 3 reasons: 1) you are both accustomed to certain lifestyles, which will be affected when you begin living with each other; 2) you want to make uncomfortable topics approachable from the beginning to ensure open communication; 3) you want to make sure your habits won’t annoy the heck out of your roommate from the get go.

When to Set Roommate Ground Rules?

The sooner, the better. It can be before you meet in person, it can be once you’ve both moved in and unpacked. My university had a policy that you settle in for a week, and then they handed out roommate agreements (and once, my RA didn’t pass them out until a month into the school year–way too late). You should approach the topic of roommate ground rules when you are both polite and slightly uncomfortable in the living situation so that you both don’t settle into your own ways and begin to clas.

Where to Set Roommate Ground Rules?

Agreeing on your roommate ground rules does not have to be in person. You can facebook chat about it, you can email, you can talk on the phone. I believe that it’s best to agree on things in your shared living space. Oh, and make sure to run through every rule you’ve agreed on at the end of your conversation so you won’t have any misunderstandings! Writing it down might seem a bit much, but I think it’s a good way to make sure you’re both agreed on the rules.

What topics to cover?

With each roommate, I become more of an expert at what topics to discuss. This is mainly because there is always that one topic I missed with the roommate before that I really regretted. For example: not discussing guest policies, such as how long they can stay and how many people can stay, max. I’ve walked in on a party I wasn’t invited to the night before my midterm. It was not pleasant. So here’s a list of things you should set guidelines on:

  • Overnight guests (how many and for how long)
  • Guests of the opposite sex (are they okay?)
  • Cell phone use (when it’s okay in the room, when you need to talk out in the hall, etc.)
  • TV, music, and other volumes (are headphones preferable, and at what times?)
  • Study time (will you study here, etc.)
  • Borrowing clothes and other personal belongings (is it okay, what can be borrowed, do you have to ask each time, and what condition must the belongings be returned in)
  • Sharing food (is it okay?)
  • Locking the door
  • Lights out time
  • Shower time (if you have a bathroom–how long can you be locked up in the bathroom, etc.)
  • Alarm clocks (how many snooozes are allowed before your roommate can throw your alarm out the window?)
  • Trash (who should take it out)
  • Cleaning (frequency and who should be responsible for what)
  • Using each other’s things (TV, microwave, fridge, etc.–is it okay to split half and half, or is permission required?)
  • Anything else you are worried about

These topics are likely going to be covered when you first start asking your new roommate questions, and just to make you feel better, this does not have to be an awkward conversation! It allows you to get to know your roommates pretty well early on, and you can be silly about some of the topics and share some of your roommate horror stories (if you know or have any). It’s a necessary task to conquer, but make sure to have fun doing it instead of dreading it!

Photo courtesy of Paul Downey via Flickr (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

What rules do or did you have with your roommate? Post comments below!