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Unrealistic Roommate Expectations and How to Deal with Them

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Unrealistic roommate expectations come in all shapes and sizes, but there are a handful of successful solutions for most of them.

With so many people living with others as roommates, unrealistic expectations are creating problems in shared households all the time.

Dealing successfully with a them can be challenging. You may need this person in your life to help you cover rent, and you probably even enjoy and appreciate the person in some ways, in spite of your roommate having unreasonable expectations sometimes.

So, you don’t want to alienate them by blowing up or shutting down as you find a solution to the problem.   

Generally, if your roommate expects something from you which you find unacceptable, the best steps are to:

•   Be direct in letting your roommate know when expectations are unreasonable

•   Write expectations in a roommate agreement

•   Have regular house meetings about expectations

•   Politely decline unreasonable requests  

•   Consider your roommate’s perspective when deciding if an expectation is realistic

Here are details about the solutions for successfully dealing with roommates who are unrealistic, inconsiderate, or otherwise out-to-lunch with their expectations.


1. You’ll Be Best Friends

Some roommates have unrealistic expectations about becoming close friends with other roommates. If you move in with a casual friend, the person may expect the friendship to now become more intimate because you live together.

Solution: If subtle hints are not working to let your roommate know you don’t want to hang out as friends, you may need to say something directly, as hard as that can be to do. To make it easier, start with a genuine compliment on something you like or appreciate about the person.


2. You Won’t Spend Lots of Time in Your Room


One roommate complained that his housemates started suggesting he was ‘weird’ because he stayed in his room most of the time when he was home.

But some people are introverted and prefer to be alone, so it isn’t reasonable to expect your roommate to spend time chatting or hanging out with you or your friends.

If a roommate likes being alone in their room, sleeping at odd times of day, or has other behaviors you consider unusual, consider the other person’s perspective. A roommate pays to rent a room, not to be your buddy or live life the way you do.


3. You’ll Loan Your Roommate Money or Pay Their Share

giving money

Many roommates talk about getting into loaning money to a roommate or covering the rent for them. Then the person is resentful and frustrated when the roommate does not pay them back or delays  paying back the money they owe.

Having a roommate agreement with deadlines for payment of rent and utilities is one solution. Some roommates find adding a penalty clause helps. For example, if a roommate is late on rent, they have to buy pizza for everyone the next week.

A roommate agreement also gives you evidence you can use in court if you decide to sue your roommate for back rent or other financial damage.

Apps that automatically deduct rent and utility payments are another popular roommate solution to getting rent and utility payments on time from other roommates.

While there are times when loaning a roommate money is a genuine act of charity, in most situations, saying no and asking the person to set up an automatic payment instead is a better solution.


4. They Can Borrow Without Asking

Issues about borrowing other roommate’s stuff is an excellent item to discuss and include in a roommate agreement.

Are you okay with other roommates using your appliances when you are not home and without asking, like your TV, stereo, or desktop computer?

What about the use of personal items like hairdryers, irons, your Cuisinart, or your backyard barbecue grill?

It’s reasonable for each roommate to determine their own policy about loaning personal belongings to other roommates.

It’s unreasonable to expect that it’s okay to use other people’s stuff without their permission.


5. You’ll Keep the Household to Your Roommate’s High Standards

very clean white home

Some roommates have higher standards for household cleanliness than others. At the same time, keeping an apartment or house reasonably clean is a reasonable roommate expectation.

What’s reasonable? The answer depends on the people involved, and talking about expectations around household standards when you first move in together can prevent problems from brewing up later.

However, some roommates have unrealistic expectations about housecleaning and expect others to meet their standards at all times.

If your roommate insists on washing windows monthly, mopping the floors daily, or doing dishes the minute you finish cooking, you are dealing with an unreasonable roommate expectation.

Going back to your roommate agreement (or creating one) and clearly defining reasonable standards and frequencies for each cleaning task may be the best solution. Near the end of this article, I talk about how to create a roommate agreement.


6. You’ll Be the Cook

angry stressed woman baking

Feeding yourself is an adult responsibility. Feeding yourself includes buying, storing, and cooking food as well as cleaning up afterward.

If your roommate is mooching on your food supply or expecting dinner every night when she gets home, this is definitely unreasonable.

Confront the person firmly, gently, and directly and make sure they understand that eating your food or expecting to be invited to a meal every time you cook is not going to work.

You may need to label your food in the refrigerator or establish separate shelves and drawers for each person’s food supply to clarify what is yours.

If the person has financial trouble buying food, you can help them locate food pantries and emergency food programs in the area and encourage them to get food there.


7. You’ll Be the Entertainer

Some roommates have the unrealistic expectation that other roommates will entertain and invite them into their social gatherings.

Maybe your roommate expects to be invited to watch movies with you and your friends, or they sit down to join your card game without being asked to play.

People who do this could be pushy, or they could be clueless in social situations. Find a private moment and tell the person gently but directly that you prefer them not to join you unless you have extended a direct invitation.

Let them know that you will do the same and only join their gatherings and events if they invite you directly.


8. You’ll Be the Therapist


It’s not uncommon for roommates to expect other roommates to listen endlessly to their personal problems, acting as an unpaid therapist. But expecting a roommate to do this is not reasonable.

If you are on the receiving end of a roommate who sees you as a therapist, you are going to have to keep on listening or say something to stop the situation.

If you are kind, polite, and consistent in saying you are busy or unavailable, the other person will eventually get the idea and find somewhere else to vent.

You could also try suggesting they get a real therapist to help them with their life problems.


9. You’ll Never Have Anyone Over


A lot of roommates talk about issues with other roommates about having visitors, especially overnight visitors.

Unless you are in a college dorm or other rental situation where the lease specifies no overnight guests, most roommates don’t think it’s reasonable to say no to all overnight visits.

But, this is an issue to talk about with your roommates, preferably before you move in together. Decide what you are comfortable with and put it in your roommate agreement. The section ‘Useful Ways to Deal With Your Roommate’s Unrealistic Expectations’ lower down this article talks about how to do this.


10. You’ll clean up their mess


Roommates not cleaning up after themselves is probably the biggest problem of all in roommate unrealistic expectations. So many roommates complain about another roommate who does not tidy up in the kitchen, bathroom, or common areas after they use the space.

The most common problems are roommates who don’t take out the trash or wash dishes.

The only way to deal with this is by having standards and rules and writing them down in a roommate agreement. Some roommates solve the problem by insisting that the untidy roommate hires a house cleaner to clean up for them.

Many roommates also discover there are specific tasks they either hate or don’t mind doing. Talking to your roommates and assigning everyone a household cleaning task they feel okay about doing often leads to a cleaner household and fewer arguments.


11. You’ll Do Their Share of Housework

When a roommate does not do their share of housework or chip in for household supplies, they are creating an unrealistic expectation that other roommates will take up the slack for them.

Routine housework includes:

  • Mopping floors
  • Vacuuming carpets and rugs
  • Emptying trash cans
  • Tidying up common areas
  • Cleaning out the refrigerator
  • Defrosting the freezer
  • Cleaning the oven

Regular housekeeping also requires supplies like sponges, cleaners, brooms, paper towels, and similar items.

Once again, roommate agreements and household meetings are the best defense against unrealistic roommate expectations about housework. I talk about how to do that lower down this article.


12. You’ll Run Errands for Them

Helping your roommate with an occasional chore is a thoughtful thing to do, and being helpful is a good way of building trust and strengthening your relationship as housemates.

However, as soon as these expectations get out of hand and unreasonable, it’s time to set limits by saying something, politely declining the request, or bringing up the subject at a household meeting.

Unrealistic expectations can include anything from you taking their mail to the post office (and standing in line to mail it), or you picking up a couple of dozen items at the store for them when you go.

Whatever it is, just say no, nicely. My section below titled ‘Useful Ways to Deal With Your Roommate’s Unrealistic Expectations‘ says how to speak to them about this.


13. You’ll Be the Chauffeur

Rides often turn into a problem issue for many roommates.

In a typical case, one roommate asks for a ride to work or school because it’s on the other roommate’s way to work. Then the ride turns into a regular thing and an unspoken expectation.

Once again, direct communication and polite refusal are often the most successful solution for letting a roommate know you are not responsible for transporting them regularly.

Another option is to ask the person to pay a fee for rides, even if it is on your way. A small ride-share payment helps you with gas money and upkeep of your vehicle and makes the situation fairer for everyone.


14. You’ll Lie for Them or Cover for Their Mistakes


If your roommate wants you to tell his ex that he moved to Hawaii, it isn’t reasonable for him to expect you to do this.

Maybe you don’t mind, but if a request like this puts you on edge or makes you worried about how it might come back to bite you later, use politeness to decline the request.


15. You’ll Let Your Roommate Break the Law or Lease

man arrested photo at police station

Being a roommate never obliges you to put up with a housemate breaking the law or violating the lease agreement.

Even if it’s only your roommate doing it, the consequence may get you both evicted or in trouble with the law.

If your roommate is violating laws or leases, it’s time to be direct and firm and ask the person to stop or move out as soon as possible.


16. You’ll Put up With Noise

Noise levels are another major issue of contention between roommates. What’s loud and obnoxious for one person is often soothing and relaxing for another.

Talking about noise levels and your tolerance when you move in, and adding a section in your roommate agreement on the subject, is a one way of avoiding unrealistic expectations about noise.

Think about and discuss questions like:

  • Does anyone need quiet time to study? On what days and times?
  • Does anyone take naps or need to sleep during the day?
  • Can you tolerate hearing each other’s music, videos, etc. or are headphones mandatory?
  • What about noise levels on weekends or holidays?
  • Do you need a schedule for visitors and gatherings to keep the noise down for other roommates at certain times?


17. You’ll Never Be Allowed to Make Any Noise

It’s easy to see where cranking up the stereo every night when you get home would be a problem for other roommates.

But what if your roommate objects to all noise? Is it reasonable to expect to be able to make some noise some times?

When it’s someone’s birthday, anniversary, or a holiday celebration, most everyone would agree that making some noise is reasonable.

If your roommate objects to this, they may be either a control freak or someone with extra-sensitive hearing. Either way, you probably need a new roommate.

Please see the section below these 20 unreasonable expectations, which shows you how to speak with your roommate about these things.


18. You’ll Be Okay With Someone Moving in or Staying Over All the Time

guest visiting icon

Boyfriends, girlfriends, and best friends who stay over so much it feels like they are part of the household is another major area where roommate expectations often create problems.

Establishing ground rules for visitors and writing this into your roommate agreement is the best way of avoiding this problem. If you don’t have a roommate agreement, consider creating one and solving this problem with your roommates in writing.

Many roommates ease friction about overnight guests by establishing a daily rent payment due whenever someone stays over.

Other roommates get support from their leases in reducing overnight stays. For example, some people ask landlords to add clauses to keep overnight stays down. In other cases, an existing provision in the lease may work to convince a roommate to stop having someone over all the time.

Keep in mind that having visitors, even overnight visitors, is something most roommates are okay with some of the time. If you are not, be clear and upfront about this before you move in with someone.

If you haven’t done it upfront, do it as quickly as possible; before your roommate gets even more into the habit of doing so, gets used to having it, and expects it even more as their right.

Lower down this guide, I show you how to talk to your roommate about these things.


19. You’ll Love and Care for Your Roommate’s Pet

Talking about pets is another good discussion point for a roommate agreement. Questions to discuss include:

  • Does the lease have pet restrictions?
  • What types of pets are okay, if any?
  • Can the pet be in common areas, on furniture, etc?
  • Who will care for the pet if the owner goes away and the pet can’t go with them?
  • Does the pet owner have the resources to fed and adequately care for the animal?
  • Are there any safety issues involved?

It is never reasonable to expect a roommate to take care of your pet except for a short time in a genuine emergency.

If your roommate unrealistically expects more than this, talk about it at a house meeting and create a pet policy in your roommate agreement. The section below these points shows you how to do this.


20. You Will Follow or Agree With Your Roommate’s Beliefs or Opinions

blindly following

Some roommates are shocked to find that another roommate votes for a particular political party, belongs to a certain religion, or holds views different than their own.

Expecting a roommate to have the same beliefs and opinions as you is not reasonable, unless you asked them about these issues before you moved in together, and you then selected them as a roommate because of their opinions and beliefs.

In most other cases, when you are roommates, your obligation is to pay your rent, do your share of taking care of the household and be a responsible roommate and tenant. People’s beliefs and voting habits are their private business.

Nonetheless, many people prefer to live with others who share their views and beliefs, and this is also perfectly reasonable and understandable. If you agree with your roommate about many issues or you have many interests in common, you may be happier in your living situation.

On the other hand, living for a time with people who are different than ourselves can also be a rewarding and worthwhile experience. Just make sure you know what you are getting into before you become roommates with someone.


Useful Ways to Deal With Your Roommate’s Unrealistic Expectations

solving problem

How to tell your roommate their expectation is unreasonable

It can be hard to say something direct about an uncomfortable situation, like when someone is expecting something from you that you are unable, unwilling, or uncomfortable doing. It’s also much harder for some people than others to say ‘no.’

Nonetheless, when someone is making unreasonable demands, letting them know directly by saying something may be all it takes to get them to stop. And you can strengthen your ability to be assertive by practicing with your roommate.

Especially if you are someone who finds saying ‘no’ difficult, once you start to strengthen this muscle, you will probably be surprised at how effective it can be for saying no to the unrealistic expectations of others.

Here are some tips for effectively telling someone ‘no’:

  • Use as few words as possible. Get to the point right away, and be clear that you are not going to do whatever it is your roommate is asking or expecting you to do.
  • Be firm and polite (more about that later).
  • You do not need to give any reason or excuse for saying ‘no.’ If you are dealing with a manipulative person, they will find ways around your explanations, one way or another. Avoid this by not giving an excuse and saying something like, “It doesn’t work for me, sorry.”
  • Avoid getting emotional. Use the “broken record” assertiveness technique of calmly saying the same thing over and over as long as the other person keeps pressing you.

If saying no is especially hard for you, consider taking an assertiveness training course. Look for these on college campuses, sponsored by martial arts, self-defense training centers, and women’s centers.


Use politeness and a smile to decline unrealistic expectations

The old expression ‘killing them with kindness’ describes one method of dealing with a roommate’s unrealistic expectations.

A friend’s mother was a great example of this. If someone asked her for something she couldn’t or didn’t want to do, she’d say something like, “Oh! I’m so sorry I can’t do that for you!,” followed by an enormous smile.

She never said why she couldn’t do it. She just moved on to talking about something else.

This disarming response had a way of derailing the person’s request while still appearing helpful and pleasant.

Responding with kindness and politeness when someone else has an unreasonable expectation can stop the request in its tracks. Sometimes this technique also works by confusing the other person and getting them to reflect on their behavior.


How a roommate agreement can help with unreasonable roommate expectations

Roommate agreements are simple, written agreements between people who live together describing household responsibilities of each person. You can find free templates to download online.

Roommate agreements make it easier to hold someone responsible for something they agreed to do, and they also can give you a tool for saying no to unrealistic requests from your roommates.

A signed and dated roommate agreement is legally binding in many cases, and it can be used as evidence in a small claims lawsuit between roommates if necessary.

Issues involving unrealistic expectations between roommates which you can easily address in a roommate agreement include:

  • Housecleaning schedules and standards
  • Policies about guests and overnight visitors
  • Agreements about when rent and utility payments are due and what happens if someone is late
  • Household policies for buying common supplies like dish soap, toilet paper, and paper towels
  • Decisions about roommates having pets and caring for them

A written roommate agreement can help clear-up unrealistic expectations between roommates by defining your relationship as roommates and spelling out each of your duties and responsibilities in the household.

For example, let’s say your roommate expects you to wash all the pots and pans from cooking before you sit down to eat.

Let your roommate know that this is not reasonable for you, but you are happy to compromise by agreeing to clean up pots and pans within three hours of cooking, or something like that. Then agree to put this in writing in your roommate agreement.

Having a roommate agreement gives you a tool for negotiating with your roommate about what is reasonable and acceptable for each person in the household and provides you with a record so that no one can forget or overlook it.  


How house meetings can clear up unrealistic roommate expectations

A regular meeting where you and all of your roommates get together and talk about household issues, people’s schedules, and problems in the household can help you avoid unreasonable expectations with your housemates.

When people live together and have busy lives, it can take a bit of effort to find time to sit and talk regularly.

But many unrealistic expectations develop out of a lack of regular communication. So, finding time every week or every month to have a house meeting can go a long way toward preventing roommate’s having unrealistic expectations.

One common type of unrealistic expectation people have when they live together is that the other person will know when you are angry or hurt about something. We often unrealistically expect the people we live with to read our minds and respond in a way we like.

Expecting others to know your thoughts and feelings is unrealistic, and having a regular household meeting to air grievances and discuss household issues is a solution.

When you communicate with your roommates about problems in your household or relationship, be sure to include words of gratitude and praise toward the other person.

Saying something complimentary when you have something to say that may offend or upset the other person can make it easier for them to hear you.


Why considering your roommate’s perspective can help resolve unrealistic expectations

Your roommate may have an expectation of you that seems unreasonable until you really think about it from their perspective.

For example, your roommate might have high expectations about dusting and vacuuming the apartment every other day. To you, this seems unreasonable and excessive, and your roommate running the vacuumed every day or getting on your case about it may be getting on your nerves.

However, perhaps your roommate has severe allergies, and they don’t like to talk about it, and this prompts them to vacuum so much.

If your roommate expects something of you and it doesn’t seem reasonable, consider asking them some questions about why they need whatever it is. You may find out something that makes their expectation seem much more reasonable.

Also, being willing to make some type of compromise is always a successful tactic for resolving conflicts, including some unrealistic expectations.

Writer: Mary Innes

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