Roommates 102: Setting Ground Rules

The following is designed to help you and your roommate(s) establish guidelines for while you are living together. Listed below are several issues that typically cause conflict between roommates. Discussing your preferences now will help you to avoid potential future conflict. The more you can resolve any differences now, before conflicts arise, in a manner that is satisfactory to all roommates, the more fun it will be!

Living with a roommate often requires setting some rules and boundaries in order to maintain a comfortable living situation. After all, you’re going to be living together for quite some time and you want to make sure that your home-away-from-home is a great one! Listed below are a few things to keep in mind when living with your college roommates

Establish House Rules from the Start

Talk about preferences from the start. Do you like complete silence when you study, or do you prefer to listen to music? How loud do you like to listen to your music? What time do you usually go to bed? Do you like to sleep in on the weekends? Make sure that all rules are set from the very beginning and are clear and understood by both parties to avoid any disputes that could arise in the future.

Communication is Key

One thing that can complicate any living situation is lack of communication. If you’re upset or become frustrated by something, speak with your roommate regarding your concerns. Your roommate can’t read your mind, so you have to tell him/her/them what’s bothering you. Communicating is being respectful with one another, not criticizing one another. Choose your words carefully and make sure that when you do have concerns, you voice them in a way that won’t seem as if you are attacking your roommate(s). Communication includes praise and compliments; so be sure to give each other positive feedback as well.


Compromising is essential whenever two or more people live together. Everyone has different likes and dislikes and it takes work to blend lifestyles toward the goal of a comfortable living situation. Inevitably, you will need to come to a compromise about certain issues such as chores, lights out time, noise, music, etc. Compromise does not mean giving in to someone, or arguing about a situation, but rather coming to an agreement together in which you both agree to the terms. Remember, no one is perfect! Most problems have solutions. Keeping an open mind and being respectful of each other will help make the experience a more pleasant one for all.

For Discussion:

Food/Shopping/Household Supplies

  • Will you buy your own food or will all food costs be shared?
  • Will you be expected to cook individually or will you create a rotating schedule of who will cook for everyone?
  • Is borrowing food acceptable?
  • How will the cost of household supplies (i.e. cleaning supplies, toilet paper, dish soap, etc. be divided?)

Cleanliness/Cleaning Responsibilities

  • Will you clean up after yourself or will you rotate cleaning the entire space?
  • Will you create a schedule defining who cleans what or spend one day each week cleaning together?
  • Be sure to take into account tasks such as sweeping/vacuuming, emptying the trash, dusting, tidying up the room(s), cleaning the kitchen and bathroom, etc.

Community/Personal Property

  • Can you borrow personal items (stereo, television, appliances such as a hairdryer or curling iron, clothing, computer) or not?
  • Do you have to ask before borrowing?
  • May roommates use personal items when the owner is not there?
  • Determine use of community items (refrigerator, shared furniture or appliances, etc.)

Study Hours/Sleeping

  • What hours and days will be set aside for study time?
  • Can you play low background music?
  • What time do you expect to be able to go to sleep on weeknights and weekends?
  • What time is it reasonable for the living space to be quiet during the week? On the weekend?
  • Do you expect to be able to nap?


  • Who will clean common areas and how often?
  • How many visitors should be allowed at a time and how often?
  • At what times are visitors acceptable for studying and/or social purposes? Is it different on weeknights and weekends?
  • Will you have to give notice if you will be having visitors?
  • Can guests of the same sex stay overnight?
  • How long may guests stay? (Length of stay: how many nights?)
  • Are there rules about guests and food? Who will clean up?
  • When do “guests” become classified as additional roommates who must share in the rent and household duties and expenses?
  • Is permission needed from other roommates and/or the landlord before additional roommates move in?


  • Do you want to be notified in advance if your roommate is having a party?
  • Is there a maximum number of people allowed?
  • Are there specific times or days when parties are not allowed?
  • Who will clean up afterwards?

Messages/Phone Use

  • Will you have a house phone?
  • How will you take messages?
  • Where will you keep the phone?


  • Will pets of any kind be allowed?
  • Do you have allergies that would require banning certain types of pets?
  • Will pets be allowed in common areas?
  • Will all of you be responsible for the care of the pet?

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