How to Deal with a Bad Roommate | Bad Roommate Advice | Roost
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How to deal with a bad roommate

Talking to – or getting rid of — a roommate

Your roommate could be your best friend, or they could be a relative stranger that you found online. Either way, you share a space with them, and there are bound to be conflicts. Some are small (did they use your toothpaste without asking?!). Some are big (did they not pay the rent last month?!). Sometimes, the problems are frequent or bad enough to realize that you need to know how to deal with a bad roommate.

So, what do you do about it?

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First, is your roommate on the lease?

Before we get into the details about having a bad roommate and what to do about it, it’s important to discuss the issue of whether or not your roomie is on the lease. Technically, every adult (age 18 and over) should be on the lease. This way, they’re all legally bound to follow the lease terms or face the consequences. If your roommate is on the lease, you can always get help from your landlord if you’re having trouble, but getting a bad roomie off the lease can be tricky. If your roommate is not on the lease, you’re going to have to deal with them yourself, which can be a challenge, though kicking them out is a lot easier in this circumstance because, if your roommate doesn’t pay up, you’ll both get evicted.

How to know if you have a bad roommate

There are degrees of badness, of course. You may have a roommate who hums too much and gets on your nerves. Or one who always leaves just a few drops of milk in the carton when they put it back in the fridge. Roommates like that can be annoying, for sure, but dealing with a roommate with these minor (bad) problems are easy to talk about or ignore, if necessary. Some roommates who move beyond the level of merely annoying to a place where they are toxic can be costly.

How to deal with a bad roommate: What makes a roommate bad?

Constant problems

That roommate we described above is annoying but doesn’t rise to the level of bad. And, really, if this sort of thing happens every once in a while, well, you shouldn’t be too surprised. After all, we all have our moments of forgetfulness or distraction. But when the same small problems (or a variety of many different small problems) stack up, you can have problems. If you speak to your roommate about one issue and resolve it, and another one pops up, and this happens over and over, well, then you’ve got a pattern — and you’ve got a thoughtless and inconsiderate roommate. If your roommate doesn’t think of other people or can’t be bothered to be considerate, then you may have a series of small problems that blossomed into a big one.

Major issues

The other way a roommate can rise to the level of truly bad is if they do something awful. There are a lot of issues that can rise to the level of true deal-breaking problems. Among these serious issues are things like not paying rent on time, doing something illegal in the apartment, stealing from you, or something else equally serious, then you should be concerned. These are matters that rise to the level of immediate problems, and you need to deal with your bad roommate right away. In some cases, you might be able to talk to your roommate and smooth something out (say, they lost their job and are struggling to pay rent, but may have their situation straightened out soon), but if something really serious happens, you should be prepared to take action.

Talk to your roommate

Good first steps toward resolving any problem, really, whether with a roommate, a co-worker, or anyone else you conflict with, is simply talking to them. Now, these conversations aren’t always easy. After all, if your roommate were perfect, you wouldn’t have to have a tough conversation with them! Still, there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re setting out to talk to your problem roommate:

  • How serious is the problem? If it’s something serious, like a roommate stealing from you or breaking the law, you should approach the conversation carefully, as this is pretty serious. But if it’s a series of minor issues, you may have an easier time starting the conversation.
  • What’s your relationship? Is your roommate your friend? This can actually make the conversation tougher for you, as you have to bring up potentially problematic concerns with your buddy. If you don’t know the roommate well, this can also be tricky, as you won’t be sure how they’ll react. 
  • What should your tone be? In all cases, be calm and kind and direct. No matter your relationship or the problem, you don’t want to lose your patience or temper. Be nice but firm.
  • What should you say? Tell them what the problem is and be honest. Let them know what is on your mind and what you need. Tell them what solution would work for you (change in behavior, removal of the roommate, etc.). Be sure to listen, but also make sure you stick to what you believe in.

Conversation starters

Not sure how to start talking to your roommate about potential problems? Here are a few ways to start the ball rolling:

  • “I know money has been tight for you, but we really need to work together to find a way to get the rent payments in on time.”
  • “I see that you’re very busy, but it’s important to keep the apartment clean. How can we work on that together?”
  • “I think trust between roommates is very important. Can we make some time to talk about communication and our roommate agreement?”

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Look to your roommate agreement

Perhaps when you and your roommate moved in together, you and your roommate signed a roommate agreement when you first moved in together. If you did, then this document gives you the framework you’ll need to deal with a bad roommate. If you didn’t, well, consider doing so next time you find yourself getting a new roommate. 

The roommate agreement outlines what you and your roommate can and can’t do and your expectations for living together. Since you’ve already agreed to it (and signed it!), it’s the right starting point for any conversations about how your roommate has broken the agreement. Your agreement may even have some language in place that explains how you’ll deal with certain problems. At the very least, it gives you something to point to when you’re explaining to your roommate why their behavior is inappropriate.

How to deal with a bad roommate: Try talking about it

Even if your roommate is truly bad, don’t worry. All hope is not lost. In many cases, you and your problem roommate can work out a solution before it gets to the point of tossing someone out on the street. Start by having a conversation with your roommate. Speak calmly and clearly, giving them specific examples of their bad behavior. Let them know that you really do want to work things out and that you’re willing to work with them to figure out what to do. Be sure to listen to them — maybe they’ve got something to tell you that explains why they did something bad — but be sure to be clear about your concerns. Then, work together to try and come up with a solution that works for everyone. If you are lucky enough to come up with something, be sure to follow through and actually make sure everyone does their part. If you do, you may be able to solve your problems fairly easily!

How to get rid of a bad roommate

Ask your roommate to leave

If dealing with your bad roommate escalates to the point where you believe the best course of action is to get rid of your roommate, the first option is simply asking them to leave. If your roommate isn’t on the lease, this is a bit of an easier conversation. But if your roommate is on the lease — and therefore bound to the lease term — it can be trickier. In these cases, you should start a conversation with your landlord and learn more about how to break a lease.

Now, this is not an easy conversation, to be sure, but it might be necessary. If your roommate is reasonable and sees that there’s a problem that you can’t easily solve together, they may also be thinking about leaving. If you can’t live together, sit them down and ask them if they are willing to leave. Try to be respectful of timing (it’s not always easy to pack up and leave overnight), but try to be firm. If it’s not working out, it’s best to move on as fast as possible.

Kick your roommate out

If your roommate is unwilling to leave on their own, your next option is to kick them out. This is something you’ll need to do with support from your landlord (if your roommate is on the lease, that is). Talk to your landlord about the problems you’ve been having. If your bad roommate is violating the terms of your lease, your landlord should support this. It might feel a little bit like tattling, but remember, this is your home, and if someone is causing you problems in your own home, you have to do what’s best for you. Talk to your landlord, so they can speak to your roommate and start the proceedings to get them kicked out.

Replace your roommate

Either of the above options is easier if you can find someone to replace your exiting roommate. If your landlord knows that someone can fill the vacancy once the offending roomie is gone, they’ll have an easier time working with you to get rid of the existing roomie. Likewise, if you get the roommate to leave by talking to them, you can make things easier for yourself if you find a replacement who can come in right away. Use personal connections, social media, and roommate-finding apps to try and find a replacement.

Dealing with a bad roommate: What if it’s you?

There’s a saying in poker: when you sit down at the poker table, look around and find the sucker. If you don’t spot the sucker, then guess what? The sucker is you. This sometimes holds true for roommates, too. If you don’t have a bad roommate story, then you might want to take a look at yourself and see if you are the bad roommate!

In most cases, each roommate shares a bit of the blame for being “bad.” Maybe you haven’t communicated with each other all that well. Maybe one of you just got sloppy or forgetful. If you have a conflict with your roommate, it’s a good time for you to take a critical look at how you are as a roommate and improve in some key areas. Showing that you’re willing to make an effort can go a long way toward blazing a path forward with better understanding.

What happens to the security deposit?

If your roommate was on the lease, they’ll probably want their part of the security deposit back when they leave. If you just want to get rid of the trouble roomie, you can pay them off, but that’s not always possible. Depending on what your roommate did and depending on your lease terms, it’s possible your roommate will not get their portion of the security deposit back (if, for instance, they seriously damaged their room).

Dealing with a bad roommate is tough, but necessary

Your home is supposed to be your sanctuary, the place where you can go to relax and be yourself. But that’s not easy to do if you’re stuck trying to figure out how to deal with a bad roommate day in and day out. Hopefully, you never end up in this situation, but if you do, follow our guidelines above to start the process off, and, hopefully, you’ll either come to a compromise or be able to move onto a better situation for both of you.

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Last Updated: February 9th, 2021