When I met Niki, she told me I should have bad housemate stories on this website. She volunteered her own two stories. Here they are with commentary from me afterwards. Niki could have avoided these problems by getting to know her needs, and following a good selection process.
Niki moved to Philadelphia as a twenty-something with a good job and decided that she should have a housemate. It only made sense to share the costs. Since she was working for a large corporation, she put out feelers but didn’t get any bites, so she advertised in a local paper. She wrote that was looking to share my townhouse with a friendly, young professional like myself and a non smoker with no pets and listed the rent and deposit required. She got some calls and interviewed some people. She didn’t really have a set of criteria, just thought she would get a feel for whether she got along with someone “personality-wise.” The person she selected lasted seven months.
Trouble started right at the beginning because Niki’s new housemate didn’t have the full deposit when she moved in. She promised that it would come, but it didn’t and this quickly became a point of contention. In addition, Nike discovered that they had very different understandings of managing an apartment. Her roommate wanted to call the landlord to change a light bulb. Niki thought they should just do it themselves. About the time that Niki was actively wanting to have the housemate leave, Niki happened to come home at lunchtime, something she very rarely did. She discovered a moving van and her housemate planning to leave without paying up. Though Nike demanded the money and got a check, the check bounced.
For her second housemate, Niki decided to look for an opposite type of person, someone “quieter and reserved.” But that backfired, because quiet and reserved turned out to be always shut in her room, which Niki found uncomfortable. This person was often late with the rent. And she turned out to be a “real clutz” and broke many of Niki’s possessions. She lasted 8 months. After she moved out, Niki discovered what a slob her housemate was. There were stains in the rug everywhere and when Niki attempted to hold back the deposit against the cleaning bill she got an argument.
After that she lived alone for awhile, then had a girlfriend live with her for year and a half. Other friends moved in after that. She now lives with husband and children.
Niki made 3 mistakes that lead to this trouble. The interesting thing about housemate issues is that simply writing what happened doesn’t convey the daily irritation and discomfort.
1) She didn’t check references. I asked Niki about checking references and she said, “I thought I was a good judge of character.” This is the single biggest mistake that a person can make. It’s an easy mistake, it can feel uncomfortable to check references, but it must be done.
2) She let the first roommate move in without the deposit. When money is not managed up front and fairly, it invariably leads to trouble. The beginning of the relationship is an important exchange: a full payment of monies as advertised in exchange for a key. If that isn’t done cleanly, it (almost) always will be ragged.
3) She didn’t stop to think carefully about what she wanted and needed in a housemate and as a result didn’t interview carefully. What one needs in a housemate is very different from what one wants in a friend. Neatness, cleanliness, compatible routines, comfort around sociability, noise, tasks and money are the areas I found to be essential.
If Sharing Housing, A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates had been available and she had read it she might have avoided these mistakes.
Have you had a bad experience? Can you describe why it went wrong and how you could have avoided it?
Read more about avoiding housemate disasters: Red Flags in Interviews (and How to Recognize Them) , Don’t Make This Mistake!