19 Rules for Having Reasonable Roommate Expectations


My first experience in understanding reasonable roommate expectations happened in college. I was assigned an apartment in the dorms with another young woman who I didn’t know.

When I first arrived, I found about a dozen small notes posted on the walls in every room. My roommate was expressing her ideas about the house rules she wanted us to follow. I found this behavior obnoxious, and it got us off to a bad start as roommates.

The funny thing is, I agreed with most of what she had posted in the notes. If she had only had a conversation with me rather than laying down the rules on her own, we probably would have gotten along much better.

Living happily with roommates depends on mutual respect and the right balance of open communication.

Reasonable expectations between roommates are about common decency, common sense, and whatever you and your roommate or roommates decide are the rules in your house.

However, there are some basic roommate expectations all reasonable roommates would agree to, including:

  • Everyone pays their share of household bills
  • Everyone respects other’s privacy and property
  • Everyone abides by the lease
  • Everyone chips in on shared household supplies
  • Everyone helps clean common areas
  • Everyone strives for good communication when conflicts arise.

But there’s more. Read on for 17 rules for creating reasonable house rules when living with roommates


1.  Have a Roommate Agreement


Having a conversation and coming to a mutual agreement is fine. But how often do you or someone else forget something that was said?

And, have you ever said something you thought was perfectly clear only to find out the other person somehow misinterpreted your meaning?

Because it can be so easy to misunderstand or forget what people say, many roommates now use written roommate agreements to write out their house rules. A written agreement is much harder to dispute than words someone said weeks or months in the past.

You can easily find templates for roommate agreements online, and many are free. 

Some of the most common items people discuss and agree to in a roommate agreement are:

  • The date when rent and utilities are due and what happens if someone is late paying a bill.
  • Is it okay to leave dishes for later, or do roommates agree to clean up right after meals?
  • What are the roommate’s expectations for cleaning common areas like the living room, laundry area, and bathroom?
  • What are the consequences if someone does not do the cleaning chores they agree to do?
  • Is smoking or drinking alcohol allowed in the house? Only in specific places? How often is the smoking area cleaned?
  • What are the policies about guests, especially overnight guests?
  • How much noise can everyone tolerate, and at what times of day or night?
  • Is it okay to have a pet? Any pet? An iguana or a pet rat? Birds? Insect terrariums or large fish tanks?

Agreeing about these issues and anything else of concern between you and your roommates can reduce friction and make living together easier from day one.

If there is something you can’t handle living with at home, now is the time to say it and to ask your potential roommate to do the same.


2.   Don’t Violate the Lease or the Law

lease agreement

It’s totally reasonable to expect all roommates to abide by the provisions in the lease or rental agreement and not to break the law at home. Someone breaking the law elsewhere is not as likely to affect your housing situation.  

If your lease says “no pets” and someone goes out and gets a dog or a cat, that person is jeopardizing the living situation for everyone else, even if everyone loves pets.

Read your lease or rental agreement carefully before you sign it. If you didn’t read it then, read it now, and be sure you and your roommates all understand what this document contains. Not doing so could get you evicted.

It’s also vital that roommates do not violate the law, even if the lease doesn’t say anything on the subject.

For example, many communities have strict rules about Airbnb rentals. To engage in this type of short-term rental, you need permission from the local planning department or another agency.

If you start advertising your room on Airbnb without permission, you are at risk of getting caught., and t This might get you an eviction notice from your landlord because you broke that clause in the lease where it says you agree not to violate local laws and regulations. You could also get a fine from the local authority.

So, even if your lease does not specify that you cannot Airbnb your room, make sure doing it is not against the local regulations.

Don’t jeopardize your or your roommate’s living situation by violating the law or your rental agreement. 


3.   Paying Rent and Utilities and Sharing Household Expenses


Paying bills on time is crucial for keeping a household running smoothly.

No one wants to fork over extra money to cover someone else’s power company payment or keep being the one who buys all the toilet paper or dish soap.

And landlords don’t put up with renters who don’t pay the rent.

It is entirely reasonable to expect all roommates to pay rent, utility bills, and a share of agreed on household supplies each month, without excuses.


            Paying Rent and Utilities

How to pay the rent depends on more than what you and your roommate decide.

  • Will your landlord accept an automatic payment from each person through PayPal?
  • Does your bank allow money to be withdrawn by the app you want to use?
  • Does the utility company accept payments using the out of town check from one of your roommates?

Paying the bills can be done by app, automatic deductions from someone’s account, a written check, a credit card, a money order, PayPal or another online transaction broker, or even with good-old cash.

It all depends on what is acceptable to the person or business you are paying. Check this out before deciding on how to pay the bills.


Apps that help roommates pay on time

A lot of roommates are now using apps to keep everyone on the same page about shared household bills. Apps are convenient and easy, but not everyone wants to use them.

Apps make it easier to do the math if you and your roommates pay unequal shares for something. For example, if one person pays more because they have the nicest bedroom, using an app can help you avoid mistakes when you calculate the bill.

Many apps also let you pay your share of the rent directly to the landlord’s account. But ask your landlord first.

If this is okay, it simplifies life. Nobody has to collect from everyone else and go through the effort to send off the payment.

An app can also be useful if someone has a habit of paying late. Setting automatic reminders starting about five days before the payment is due makes it harder for a roommate to say they forgot the date.

Or, have the late-paying roommate’s share deducted automatically from their account to keep the payments on-time. Venmo and Square Cash are payment methods to check out for this feature.


Sharing Household Supplies

cleaning kit

Flickr, go_greener_oz, Cleaning, My green cleaning kit

Shared household supplies for most roommates include everyone chipping in for stuff like

  • toilet paper
  • dish soap
  • trash bags
  • light bulbs
  • brooms and mops
  • sponges and scrubbing pads
  • laundry soap
  • paper towels
  • cleansers like scouring powder and bleach

Roommates usually supply their personal hygiene items like toothpaste and dental floss. But you can have your own rules as long as everyone agrees.

If you don’t like apps, another common way to share these expenses is by using a jar or basket where everyone puts in a specific amount of money each month for shared home supplies.

When someone buys a needed item, they can put the receipt with their name on it in the basket. If necessary, your household can sort out who is paying for what and if someone needs to chip in to even things up.

It’s helpful when a dispute arises to keep a folder with all the bills and household receipts organized by month.

You can also just toss them willy-nilly into a box and sort through them if you ever need to. Doing this might be time-consuming, but at least the information is there.

Or use an online file like Dropbox or Google Documents to save time and reduce household friction when you have to sort out the financials.


                Shared Furniture

Many apartments and most houses for rent are not furnished.

If your abode does not come with a couch, dining table, coffee table, chairs for the patio, and a rug for the living room floor, you and your roommate will have to figure out how to get the furniture you need., uUnless you both live in your rooms full time.

Easy ways to get free and low-cost furniture are:

  • Thrift stores
  • Yard sales
  • Flee market and swap-meets
  • Ads in local papers
  • Craigslist
  • Parents and friends

If you have a big budget, of course, you can shop online and at brick and mortar stores near you.

When you talk about furniture, you may find you and your roommate have different aesthetic tastes. Maybe they love purple, and you hate it and could not live with a big, purple couch in the living room.

By talking with your prospective roommate about household furniture ahead of time, you can create reasonable roommate expectations to prevent conflict or an unexpected expense when you move in together.


4.   Agree in Advance about Noise

too noisy

No one wants to hear someone else’s music blaring,  the sound of someone yacking away on the phone to their mother early Saturday morning, or the sound of a roommate enjoying an intimate moment with their romantic partner.

Everyone being aware of how much noise they’re making and how others feel about it is a reasonable roommate expectation.  

An easy way of alerting roommates that someone is sleeping or needs quiet time is by hanging up a sign saying, “Quiet Please!”, or something like that.  

The person who needs quiet time can hang the sign on their door or somewhere else where everyone will see it. When the sign is up, everyone knows to keep the noise levels down.

Other simple solutions for controlling noise include:

  • Using headphones when you listen to music, TV, or radio, and it’s likely to bother someone.
  • Going out with friends instead of hanging out at home if someone in the house needs to rest or study.
  • Moving to a part of the house away from the person who is sleeping, resting, or studying, and closing doors between you.
  • Letting your roommates know in advance if you plan to have friends over and make noise, also making sure they are okay with the timing.

Talking about noise before you live together is a good idea. People can have very different feelings about what they consider noise.

For example, some people need to be able to listen to music around the apartment, others need total quiet, or they can’t think.

Compare notes on what sounds and volumes each of you can handle.


5.   Re-fill the Toilet Paper Holder

empty toilet-roll-needs-refill

The condition of the toilet paper holder can be a big problem among roommates. No one wants to go to the bathroom to find they must first go and hunt down a new roll of toilet paper before proceeding.

Refilling the holder and making sure there is at least one new roll near the toilet is a simple and reasonable habit to expect from everyone when you are roommates.

On the other hand, some people are overly obsessive about which direction the toilet paper roll is hanging on the roller.

If you’re obsessed with this level of minutia, and your roommate does not share your concern, try to be a bit more flexible. Accommodating other people’s neurotic habits is almost as bad as going to the toilet and finding no toilet paper.


6.   Don’t Eat Other People’s Food without Permission

no food in fridge

It is perfectly reasonable to expect your roommates not to eat your food without asking you first. Even if someone has shared something in the past, it’s not fair to start thinking that taking whenever they like is now okay.

So, if your roommate offered you a big bowl of ice cream yesterday, don’t assume it’s now okay to eat some of their ice cream today.

Food is expensive, and most of us have favorite foods we love and expect to be waiting for us when we want them. It is frustrating and upsetting when someone else eats your food without asking first and deprives you of this simple and comforting pleasure.

Having separate shelves and drawers in the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets for each person is a reasonable way of keeping it clear which food belongs to who. Or write your name on it.

Doing this doesn’t mean you are stingy or unreasonable. It just makes it easier to know which food is yours and which is not.

Some roommates decide to share the expense of certain foods to keep the refrigerator less cluttered.

For example, you may want to go in on jars of mayonnaise, catsup, and pickles if everyone eats similar amounts of these items.

Talking about shared foods is a good topic to cover when discussing what you consider to be reasonable roommate expectations and when writing a roommate agreement.


7.   Don’t Borrow Anything without Permission

When you live with someone, it can be tempting to use some of their stuff without asking.

You might think, “She won’t notice or mind if I borrow this pencil on her desk.”

But for all you know, that pencil was given to your roommate by her grandmother, and it has a unique sentimental value.

You can’t know how another person feels about loaning one of their possessions unless you ask them about it first.

Using other people’s things without permission can be interpreted as stealing, and this can quickly erode the trust level between you and your roommate.

The solution is simple. Just don’t do it.

Always ask first, unless a roommate has expressly told you that borrowing a particular item is always okay.

If one of your roommates is borrowing something of yours without asking, it’s time for one of those household meetings and conflict resolution talks.

Let them know it’s not okay, and you expect them always to ask first if they want to borrow something.

Also, if someone wants to borrow something, say, your expensive mountain bike, or your favorite shirt, and you don’t want to loan it, just politely say no.

You don’t have to justify or explain your reasons, although you can say, “Sorry, I have a policy of not loaning out that item.” Saying something like that makes it less personal when you say “no” to a request.

Don’t forget about kitchenware when you are discussing borrowing or using other people’s possessions. Many people are very particular about the use of their pots and pans, kitchen knives, and even cups and dishes.

Tell your roommates if there are items in the kitchen you do not want to be used by others, and respect other people’s boundaries in the same way.

Having a roommate does not automatically come with the expectation that people will loan their possessions.


8.   Do Your Share of Cleaning in Common Areas

Who is responsible for cleaning the bathroom, and how often?

Who vacuums the living room floor and when?

Who cleans out the refrigerator before it starts breeding new life forms?

These are good questions to ask and answer when you first move in with roommates.


Ways to divide the cleaning chores

Some roommates have a division of labor: Albert takes out the trash on Monday or whenever it is full. Betty cleans the refrigerator once a month. Blair sweeps and mops the bathroom weekly.

Other roommates find it’s better to trade off on chores, so everyone at some point does each household task. Doing this can feel like a fairer solution:  Let’s face it, some chores, like cleaning the toilet, are tasks no one is happy to do.

Whatever cleaning policy you decide on, keep in mind that it covers regular cleaning only, unless you decide otherwise.

So, if Susan is responsible for cleaning the living room once a week, but other roommates have a big party and create a huge mess, Susan is probably justified in saying cleaning up after the party is not part of her responsibility.

A lot of roommates are also now using apps or a spreadsheet to keep track of routine household cleaning assignments. Using an app or spreadsheet can cut down on friction about who does what and when.

Regular cleaning, for most roommates, does not include rules about when people clean their bedroom or other personal spaces. Cleaning your room, or not, is your business.

If you have a charming roommate who is a slob in his or her room, ignore it. Don’t bring it up unless the mess is creating a genuine health or safety hazard.

Since bathrooms are usually shared spaces, everyone keeping their toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs, towels, and dirty laundry tidy is a reasonable roommate expectation.  


Using money to solve the problem

If no one likes cleaning or has time for it, consider hiring a housecleaner to come in and do the chores for you, if you have the funds to hire someone.

You can even hire a cleaning person to do your share of household duties if you want, but don’t expect others to share in the expense unless they have agreed to it in advance.


9.   Stay-out of Your Roommate’s Room and Personal Business


When you live with other people, you often find out more about the person than you expect, and some of what you find out may not be too flattering to the other person.

For example, you might move in with someone and find out they have a drinking problem. The problem may not affect your living situation, but it may shock or upset you, and you may be tempted to get on the person’s case about it. Don’t.

If the problem does not affect your lives together, keep it to yourself and move on. Not doing this could stir up more problems for you than you realize.

If the problem is seriously bothering you, consider talking to a counselor or a trusted friend in confidence.

Make it clear you are talking to help yourself deal with the situation which is a reasonable thing to do. You are not to doing it to bad-mouth your roommate or to try to save them from their bad behavior.

If the situation is too disturbing for you, move out.

Similarly, don’t offer advice or get involved in your roommate’s personal business in other ways.

For example, say you overhear your roommate talking about how he’s applying for a job at a store that just opened, and you happen to know the manager. Don’t take it upon yourself to put in a good word for your roommate without first checking with him.

You may think you are only doing a good deed on your roommate’s behalf, but it’s not your concern, and there could be unintended consequences that your roommate will not like. 

For example, your roommate may only have been talking about applying for the job, and then he changed his mind. When the manager doesn’t get an application from your roommate, she may develop a bad impression about him, and this could affect his job prospects in the future.

Always knock before you go into the other person’s room, and don’t go in a roommate’s room or other personal space without their permission. Doing this can make a person justifiably upset.


10.   Don’t Expect You and Your Roommate to be Best Friends

best friends

If your roommate is not a friend when you move in together, it is not reasonable to expect him or her to become your friend when you do live together.

Conversely, if you move in with your best friend, don’t expect your friendship to necessarily make living together easier. Many a great friendship has been destroyed when the friends became roommates.

If you get fired from your job and you’re upset and need to talk about it, it’s not reasonable to think your roommate will be there to listen and comfort you.

Being someone’s roommate does not create any expectation that the people are also one another’s best friend or therapist.

If your roommate has guests over, don’t assume you are invited to the party unless you were. Assuming that you are part of your roommate’s plans and activities is a sure way to wreck a good roommate situation.

Having a roommate does not oblige either party to invite the other out, hang out together, or help solve one another’s problems. You are roommates. You share a house, not a life.

If you want to share everything with the person you live with, consider getting married, or moving in with a romantic partner.

But don’t expect your roommate to share more than a household and the chores and bills that go along with it, unless that type of relationship develops between you.


11.   Don’t Gossip About Your Roommate


Gossiping about a roommate is likely to create friction in your household. Always remember, what goes around comes around: If you gossip about your roommate’s bad habits or personality quirks, you may soon find yourself the subject of other people’s gossip.

If you find out your roommate is gossiping about you, you can let him or her know you don’t appreciate it. A gossipy roommate may also be a sign you need a different roommate.


12.   Don’t Gossip About Your Roommate

Having people over can become a big issue between roommates, especially overnight guests. Get clear with your roommate in advance how each person feels about visitors.

The most common problem areas about visitors usually revolve around noise, cleaning-up, utility bills, and food costs created by the visitors.

For example, if someone’s boyfriend spends the night three times a week, takes showers and does his laundry when he’s there, water and heating bills are going to go up. Who is going to pay this extra bill, and how do you calculate the cost?

In some situations, people can have a nightly fee for regular overnight guests, maybe something like five or ten dollars per night to cover such expenses. Or, if everyone has a more or less equal amount of visitors, you could simply split the extra costs equally, and no one is likely to feel ripped-off.


13.   Don’t Expect Your Roommate to Care for Your Pets


Flickr,Hubert Figuière, Sad Dog, Sad dog waiting outside a store on the sidewalk

If your lease and your roommate agreement allow pets, always remember that caring for the pet is the responsibility of the pet owner and not the other roommates.

Caring for a pet includes:

  • Feeding the pet and making sure it has water
  • Grooming the pet
  • Changing litter in cat boxes, birdcages, and other pet housing
  • Taking the animal to the vet for vaccinations and other medical care
  • Walking a dog
  • Training the animal where needed
  • Arranging for pet care when the owner goes away
  • Giving the animal needed attention and love.

A roommate is never automatically responsible for any of this care, unless the pet owner asks the person to do it, and they agree.

If you have a pet, and for some reason you neglect one of your duties, and your roommate does it for you, be sure to thank them abundantly. This way, your roommate will know you don’t have any unreasonable expectations that he or she will always care for your animal.

If you are going away and your roommate has agreed to care for your pet, be sure there is a plentiful supply of pet food, cat litter, or whatever other pet supplies your roommate will need.

Don’t expect your roommate to go out and buy these things unless they have agreed to it in advance. In that case, be sure you give them the money for this expense.


14.   Keep Each Other Safe and Your Home Secure

When you live with others, it is everyone’s responsibility to keep the home safe.

In most situations this means:Locking the front and back doors

  • Closing windows and locking them when people are out and at night
  • Setting the alarm system, if you have one
  • Not inviting anyone over who may have malicious intentions or dangerous behaviors

One common area of safety concern for many roommates is what to do if someone forgets their house key and gets home late.

You can have a hidden key somewhere outside, or a policy that it is okay to call the house and wake someone up if a roommate is locked out.

Deciding on a plan in advance can avoid bad feelings or worse if someone forgets or loses their house key.

Household safety plans should also include what to do if there is an emergency of some kind.

Do you have a place to meet up in the event of an earthquake or fire? In some types of emergencies, phone services can be disrupted or jammed.

Thinking about a plan in advance is an essential way of keeping everyone safe if an emergency happens. You can find emergency preparedness information online supplied by the government and emergency assistance agencies like the Red Cross.


15.   Keep Each Other Safe and Your Home Secure

When you live with others, it is everyone’s responsibility to keep the home safe.

In most situations this means:Locking the front and back doors

  • Closing windows and locking them when people are out and at night
  • Setting the alarm system, if you have one
  • Not inviting anyone over who may have malicious intentions or dangerous behaviors

One common area of safety concern for many roommates is what to do if someone forgets their house key and gets home late.

You can have a hidden key somewhere outside, or a policy that it is okay to call the house and wake someone up if a roommate is locked out.

Deciding on a plan in advance can avoid bad feelings or worse if someone forgets or loses their house key.

Household safety plans should also include what to do if there is an emergency of some kind.

Do you have a place to meet up in the event of an earthquake or fire? In some types of emergencies, phone services can be disrupted or jammed.

Thinking about a plan in advance is an essential way of keeping everyone safe if an emergency happens. You can find emergency preparedness information online supplied by the government and emergency assistance agencies like the Red Cross.


16. Be Kind and Considerate

Being kind and considerate toward your roommates does not necessarily mean buying everyone an expensive gift any time you go out of town. But, it’s thoughtful and likely will be appreciated if you do something like send a postcard to let the folks back home know you are thinking about them.

Random acts of kindness can go a long way in developing trust between people. So, it’s perfectly reasonable to occasionally do something thoughtful for a roommate, even if it’s not expected of you.

For example, if you are going to the store to shop for groceries, asking a roommate if there is something you can pick up for them may be greatly appreciated by your roommate.

Learning how to be kind and considerate without getting taken advantage of by others is a skill, and it’s a skill you can practice with roommates.

You can use your experience living with roommates to learn ways of balancing kindness without becoming a pushover, and this skill may serve you well in other parts of your life.

Being considerate also means being able to forgive when someone messes up. If your roommate accidentally drank the last of your favorite sparkling bottled water, keeping your cool, and not overreacting is a way of being kind and considerate.


17. Talk about Roommate Expectations before Living Together


Whether the college dorm administrator assigns you a roommate, as happened for me, or you and a friend decide to move in together to save on the rent, starting with a conversation about expectations is a good policy before living with someone else.

Have the conversation before you get the apartment. Something may come up that makes you change your mind about sharing housing with the person.

However, an advanced conversation about expectations isn’t always possible, like in my dorm situation.


18. Regularly Communicate with Roommates to Keep Expectations Reasonable

people communicating

Having regular discussions about how everyone is feeling in your living situation is an excellent way to make sure you and your roommate’s expectations stay reasonable and on the same wavelength.

Keeping up good communication doesn’t mean you need to talk every hour. On the contrary, too much conversation about the wrong things can also be a problem with roommates.

Having a regularly scheduled house meeting doesn’t have to be a big deal, and you can often have a productive household meeting in only a few minutes.

Texting and emailing back and forth is fine, but a face-to-face meeting gives you more information about how people are really feeling and what are reasonable expectations.

You can make it more fun and informal by having a meal or meeting up on the way home from work or class for a coffee and chatting up about any issues at home.

Hanging out together once in a while can also help you bond emotionally, and regularly communicating helps prevent a build-up of resentments about small things and having them turn into a larger conflict later.

Like every relationship, having a successful roommate life takes a bit of continuous work.


Communication and Conflicts


Conflict happens, especially when you live with someone.

Having an occasional disagreement with a roommate is pretty much inevitable, so don’t think that if you disagree about something, that means you and your roommate are incompatible. All it means is, you have a bit of work to do together to resolve the problem.             

Directly dealing with a conflict makes it more likely you will work out the problem with your roommate. Don’t leave notes around the house, as my roommate did. Go to the person at a relaxed time and ask them to have a conversation about whatever is bothering you.

The best rules I have heard about dealing with conflict are:

  • State your problem in simple and direct language without being accusative, defensive, or getting angry. Stick to what you see, hear, and smell with your senses, and leave out your feelings and ideas about why it is happening.
  • Use “I” statements, not “you” statements. For example, “I feel upset about seeing dirty dishes in the sink,” and not, “You always leave your dirty dishes in the sink.” This helps the listener not become defensive and stop listening to you.
  • Tell the person exactly why the situation is a problem for you. Feelings are okay at this point as long as you aren’t saying it in an accusative manner. Keep it short and straightforward.
  • Ask the other person for a suggestion on how to solve the problem, and ask yourself if you can help out or compromise in some way in the solution.

For example, say you and a roommate share an apartment, and nobody except the two of you use the dryer. Your roommate isn’t cleaning out the lint trap, and you resent doing it for her. You could say,

“I keep finding the lint trap in the dryer full of lint. I find it annoying when I am putting my clothes in there, and I always have to remember to check it. Sometimes I forget and close the door and turn it on and leave the room, and then I have to come back to check. It makes me feel upset and takes extra time. How can we resolve this problem?”   

People respond best in a conflict if they do not feel attacked, and they can participate in finding a solution.


19. Have Some Fun Together!

You will probably find your roommate is more reasonable about expectations if you have a bit of fun together once in a while.

Having fun can be cheap or even cost-free. Just find an activity you both enjoy and make a commitment to share the enjoyment once in a while.

Maybe you both like going for a walk or a jog, or perhaps you enjoy some of the same types of movies, games, or foods.

If you make an effort to engage in some fun with each other from time to time, you will likely build a stronger bond, making sharing a household easier and more enjoyable.

Writer: Mary Innes

mary innes