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Ask A Grown Up: Fuck, I Have to Find a New Roommate!

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Broke-Asses: As I have mentioned before, one of the really unusual aspects of living in an expensive city like San Francisco, New York or London (often reputed to be the most expensive cities in the world*) is that well after college and the young professional years, denizens of said cities are likely to still have a roommate, as opposed to living on their own. This is a function of finance, rather than lifestyle, as rents in these cities are astronomically high. Even if someone is pulling in an adult level salary, often they cannot afford the monthly nut on even the most basic living space without having a roommate. Especially since landlords often require proof that you make two times the monthly rent and charge exorbitant security deposits for even the dingiest of dingy apartments.

(Because finding a spacious, rent controlled, two bedroom loft in the West Village -let alone THREE spacious, rent controlled, two bedroom lofts in the same West Village building, or right across the alley from each other- is something that only happens in fantasy land or Friends.)

joey tribbiani chandler bing friends canoe

Could this BE any more unrealistic?

This week’s question comes from A.M. in San Francisco, who asks:

“What are some important things to look for in a roommate? What kind of rules/boundaries should we discuss in advance? We don’t have to be best friends. But I don’t want to end up with a weird/tense living situation.”

Good question, A.M. – avoiding a weird/tense living situation is exceptionally important in roommate situations, as your home should be your refuge (and, your roommate’s refuge, for that matter). While you might think you could rely on common sense and decency to govern a roommate situation, you might be completely wrong about that – it is 100% necessary to have boundaries/rules in place to make living with a stranger as seamless as possible. In my many years living with roommates, I have come up with 10 essential living rules to ensure happy roommate relations. They are:

  1. Dishes get done as you use them.
  2. Trash goes out when it is full.
  3. Bathroom gets cleaned once a week, whether it needs it or not.
  4. If you use up something (toilet paper, milk, house beer), replace it.
  5. Overnight guests can only stay for two consecutive nights without prior roommate agreement. (This accounts for family or friends visiting from out of town, as well as boyfriend/girlfriend/booty calls that last too long.)
  6. Keep your personal mess out of the common areas.
  7. Do not enter your roommate’s room without knocking.
  8. You may not borrow someone else’s [clothes, books, CDs/DVDs, towels, bath products, car or money] without express verbal permission from the owner.
  9. If you have food you do not want to share, mark it with your name.
  10. No bringing the party home from the bar at 2am without your roommate’s consent and agreement to participate.

new roommate

Oh yeah, and no contact sports or wrestling. It never ends well.

These rules pretty much govern any and all situations which might crop up between strangers living together, once you’re living together. But, really the most important questions are the ones you ask when you’re selecting a roommate. This is a dicey time, where you have to carefully suss out if your potential roommate is awesome or a really fucking good actor who is actually a psychopath who will make your life miserable. Fortunately for you, I have lived with psychopaths who are really good actors (and, a cocaine addled bitch who kept stealing my tampons and falling asleep in my bed and once kicked my dog), so I am adept at flushing them out. Here are questions to determine sanity during a roommate interview:

  • Are you an axe murder? (This breaks the ice, as it’s a really silly question. But, if the person you’re talking to pauses or asks you “what do you mean by that?” -it is a HUGE red flag and you should show them the door.)
  • Have you ever been evicted for non-payment of rent? (If yes, show them the door.)
  • What do you do for work? (If the answer is stripper, cab driver, first grade teacher or mime, show them the door.)
  • Have you ever had trouble paying your bills on time? If so, how did you handle that? (If the answer is “called Daddy and had him send me money from my trust fund,” make that person your new best friend and roommate.)
  • How much do you party? (Anything other than “on the weekend” gets the boot.)
  • Follow-up: Are you a cocaine addled psychopath who will steal my tampons and fall asleep in my bed and potentially kick my dog? (This one should be self-explanatory. Show. Them. The. Door.)
  • How much time do you spend at home? (If they are a shut-in with no social life, show them the door.)
  • On a scale from 1-10, with 1 being slovenly and 10 being anal retentive/OCD clean, how would you rate your cleanliness? (You’re looking for between four and six here, with a solid five being the ideal score.)
  • Do you have any obnoxious friends who I will detest? (Everyone has at least one, if they say no, they are lying and you should show them the door.)
  • How do you feel about sharing basic supplies like toilet paper, dish soap, cleaning supplies, spices, milk, eggs, etc? (If they freak out about that idea, show them the door.)
  • How do you feel about sharing personal items like tampons, razors, underwear, boyfriends, etc? (If they think that’s a GOOD idea, show them the door.)

Honestly, the only absolute way to pick a good roommate is through your gut feeling. My advice is to get first, last and security and a signed statement that your roommate’s tenure is on a month-to-month basis for the first year, and that with 30-days written notice either party can quit the agreement. As long as you are the primary leaseholder (or, “master tenant”), you pretty much get to make the rules and so long as you’re following the law (in that you can’t just toss a roommate out on their ass without notice, unless you fear for your physical safety and procure a restraining order) you should be covered. Though, realistically, these days most landlords require every occupant of an apartment to pass a credit check and be on the lease… which means, if a potential roommate balks at that idea or comes up short, your landlord will do the dirty work for you and show them the door. Good luck!

*This will shock you: New York, San Francisco and London don’t even make the top 10 most expensive cities in the world, according to Business Insider!

Got a question you need a roommate to answer? Email Kate at askagrownupkate@gmail.com and your question could be used in an upcoming column!

[Images Courtesy of NBC/IMDB]

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Kate Rice - Supposed Grown Up

Kate Rice - Supposed Grown Up

Kate Rice is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on DollyMix (UK), BitchBuzz (UK), Broke Ass Stuart’s Goddamn Website, the Chicago RedEye, ChicagoNow, Wired: GeekMom, Bleeding Cool, Wizard World Digital, The Beat and GeekNation, where she also hosted the weekly podcast “ComixChix.” Kate has appeared on Good Morning America, WGN Radio and a slew of geek related podcasts. She writes the daily blog The Adorkable Grrl. Kate lives in LA with her #BritishHusband, her daughter, and dog Max. Follow her on Twitter @AdorkableGrrl or on Facebook or on Instagram @TheAdorkableGrrl