Article Summary:

Roommate contracts help you to avoid blow ups.

College Roommate Problems: Solve them with Contracts

A lot of colleges require roommates to sign formal contracts. It's a great way to start talking about potential differences. If you never had a discussion with your roommate about the basics, it's a way to get a fresh start. You might even discover that you agree on a few things. A little common ground is better than nothing.

Sometimes contracts are written up at the beginning of the semester before you really know your roommate. Then two weeks in, you wish you could change the rules. Items in the contract could be re-negotiated and changed at any point as long as you both agree on them. Establish a time period to check in with one another to make sure things are still working. It could be once a month or every couple of weeks. After you both sign it, make copies for one another, one to post, and one for your RA. Being accountable to someone else tends to hold people to their word. Here are some suggested topics to discuss;

  • Guests
    • When is it okay to have guests over?
    • How much advance warning is needed?
    • Will one roommate with a guest have exclusive rights to the room? If so, for how long? What happens if a guest damages property?
    • What if both of you want to have guests at the same time?
    • Are there different rules for same sex vs. opposite sex visitors?

  • Personal Property
    • What's okay to share? What's off limits?
    • What happens if something is touched without permission?

  • Cleanliness
    • What's your idea of clean? What do you consider messy?
    • What's necessary to keep your space livable? Whose responsibility is it?
    • Where does dirty laundry go?
    • How should the bathroom be kept? Kitchen? Bedroom? Common area?

  • Study/Quiet Time
    • What are your hours of study?
    • Is it okay for your roommate to watch TV or listen to the radio while you study?
    • Is it okay for your roommate to work on the computer while you sleep?
    • When do you sleep/get up?
    • Are there different rules for the weekend?

  • Telephone/Mail
    • Where do you want your phone messages and mail to go?
    • How will the phone bill be handled?
    • Do you want to "cover" for one another (tell callers you're not there when you are)?
    • Is there a time limit on how long one person can be on the phone?
    • Is it okay for your roommate to talk on the phone when you are sleeping or studying?
    • Are there certain hours when friends should not call?

  • Shared Costs
    • Should you split costs on anything? If so, how will bills get paid (cash, check, credit card)? If you split food or laundry products, how do you decide what's fair?

  • Smoking/Drinking
    • Will smoking and/or drinking be allowed in your room? If so, under what conditions?
    • Is anyone allergic to smoke?

  • Personal Space
    • How will your room be decorated?
    • Are there any areas that should be off limits?
    • What happens if someone puts up something offensive?

  • Disagreements
    • How will you handle disagreements?
    • How will you handle updates to your contract?
    • What if someone breaks the contract?

  • Other Issues
    • Is there anything else you need to know about each other to get along?
    • What's the most important thing you each want respected?

Discussing all these issues up-front prevents a lot of future hassles. You may think it's too much work or that you'll be able to deal with problems as they arise. But it's much harder once emotions cloud the issue. Just like nobody gets married expecting to divorce, nobody enters a roommate situation expecting to not get along. Still, it happens. It's worth it to have some guidelines in place.

Susan Fee is a licensed counselor, life coach, and corporate trainer. She is the author of two communication tips booklets that may be ordered through her Website, She is also the author of the college survival book, "My Roommate is Driving Me Crazy! Solve Conflicts, Set Boundaries, and Survive the College Roommate from Hell"(Adams Media). Visit the website for free college survival tips. Susan also conducts one-on-one executive coaching in interpersonal and public speaking skills and teaches individuals how to identify and reach their personal goals. Past clients include Disney, Motorola, and United Airlines.

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