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Moving in: Residential specialists share what to consider before becoming roommates

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Roommates can have an enjoyable living experience if they clarify expectations at the start and continue to communicate, according to housing specialists at Kansas State University. | Download this photo.


MANHATTAN — Whether roommates are best friends or "potluck" strangers, they should use a roommate agreement and communicate well, according to residence life specialists at Kansas State University.

"The agreement helps people set expectations for living together and identify what they are looking for in a roommate," said Kathy Van Steenis, assistant director of contracts and occupancy management for the university's Housing and Dining Services. "Do they want a best friend or just someone who shares a room and offsets costs?"

Roommate agreements are good whether living on campus or off. The agreements can cover guests, personal belongings, sleep schedules, entertainment and cleanliness. Van Steenis and Nick Lander, interim associate director of Housing and Dining Services, say it also is important to discuss food sharing and how often roommates will be home.

Even if potential roommates are great friends and think a signed agreement is unnecessary, Lander said his 16 years of working with residence hall coordinators and residents has found it is best to use one.

"Even if the roommates have been friends for years, they probably haven't shared a small space together every day and every night," Lander said. "Starting with a document that is mutually agreed upon is critical to a successful living experience."

Lander and Van Steenis, who has worked in residence hall living for more than a decade, said the most common roommate complaints they address are roommates using each other's items, significant others spending the night, noise levels and cleanliness.

Some students assume it is fine to share clothes and personal care items because of the home environment where they grew up, but their roommates may have completely different expectations, Lander said.

"Also, there are situations where one roommate felt OK with sharing items at the beginning, but then they realized their things are used up, broken or missing," Van Steenis said. "It usually leads to less conflict if roommates keep their personal belongings separate."

It is important to discuss when guests are welcome, how late they can stay and whether the room will be party central or a haven for relaxation, study and sleep, Van Steenis said.

For sleep schedules, roommates should discuss what time they normally go to bed and wake up, and they should be sensitive to the noise needs of the other person. Additionally, they need to be clear on when it is OK to have the TV or music on, what kinds of entertainment they prefer and when quiet is needed.

Van Steenis said cleanliness can be a major issue, including laundry, dishes, trash and general neatness. She said it is crucial to discuss who will do what chores and how often, as well as who will pay for cleaning supplies.

Food is another subject that could cause contention. Some roommates share everything except snacks, while others rotate cooking or keep all food separate. Van Steenis said even those who keep food separate often share staples like spices, bread and milk.

"Does one person buy it upfront and the other pay for half?" Van Steenis said. "If one is at the grocery store, does the other want a call asking if they want anything, knowing they'll pay it back? Those are conversations to have."

Beyond groceries, roommates may share many costs, including utilities. Van Steenis said this cost sharing necessitates agreement about energy usage, including what temperature to keep the apartment in different seasons and how often to wash dishes, shower and do laundry. She recommends adding up all the utility bills, splitting them equally and paying one roommate.

The person who has utilities in his or her name should set expectations in writing, Lander said. For example, if that person must pay the bill on the 15th day of the month, they may want their roommates to pay their shares by the 10th day of the month.

Ultimately, Van Steenis said the key to living peacefully with roommates is to communicate with each other. If communication doesn't solve the problem, students living on campus may seek out their resident assistant for mediation.

Lander said people who are living off campus should decide who to contact as a third-party mediator if they encounter a problem they cannot solve. Before irritations build into larger issues, it's important for roommates to discuss any problems with one another, Lander said.

"We've seen students who live together but don't talk to each other about their conflicts," Lander said. "Instead, they text each other or post about it on social media. Sitting down and talking face to face is a better solution."

Written by

Tiffany Roney