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Yahoo Finance
August, 2008

Roommate etiquette: the art of living together


A few months ago, you were living it up, a single professional on your own. Now, to save some cash, you've got a roommate. Ugh.

More renters, once living as singles, are doubling up amid a sluggish economy, an uncertain job market and a housing slump. But the extra money in the pocket will do little to ease roommate tensions. 

Etiquette experts say young adults shouldn't expect rooming this time around to be as easygoing as college living. 

"The drunk excuse won't fly anymore," says Lizzie Post with a laugh. The great-great granddaughter of Emily Post, and a spokeswoman for The Emily Post Institute, she recommends being honest about your lifestyle and your peccadilloes before deciding on who could work as a roommate.

"Think of all the different aspects of your life and how they could conflict with another person," says Post, also the author of "How Do You Work This Life Thing?."

Start with a two-month trial period, she suggests, so either roommate can walk away at the end of it, no strings attached, if the arrangement isn't working.

But even before diving into a trial period, set up rules to head off as many disagreements as possible, says Sue Fox, author of "Etiquette For Dummies."

"You can address the potential problems by creating boundaries, agreements, setting limits and expectations beforehand. Do this before you move in together," Fox says.

Money first. On the most basic level, a roommate arrangement is a business deal. Discuss who will pay how much and stick to the agreement. Will one roommate pay more because she has the master bedroom and bathroom or will it be split down the middle? Who has the responsibility of sending payment to the landlord?

Lisa Grotts of The AML Group, an etiquette and protocol consultancy, recommends having the rent automatically debited from both bank accounts every month, so neither roommate has to bug the other for payment.

"Writing a check is so antiquated these days too," she says.

How to deal with communal items like paper towels, toilet paper and cleaning supplies should also be addressed at the onset. How are these things replaced and who pays for them? Consider setting up a Costco shopping day every month to replace the items both roommates use, Grotts suggests.

Privacy is another sticky issue for roommates, Fox says, especially if both are friends to begin with. Address how and if food should be shared and honor whatever the agreement is.

Extend general courtesies to your roommate. Thank you and please go a long way. Don't slam doors, borrow without asking or play loud music or television. Keep the sex down too, experts say. Always knock before entering her room. (Remember how much you hated when mom came into your room without knocking?)

"Familiarity often leads to shortcuts in considerate behavior and communication, especially in a roommate situation," Fox says.

Grotts suggests leaving chotchkes in storage to minimize clutter. Or, at least, keep knickknacks tucked away in your room. Cleaning will always cause tensions. Inevitably, one roommate will be messier than the other.

"Mom doesn't live here anymore," Grotts said. "The slob will have to pick up and the neatnik will have to deal with some things being out of place."

At the beginning, make sure to divvy up chores or set up a cleaning day once a week to avoid conflict. Commit to it, but also leave some leeway since people's schedules can get unexpectedly busy.

And like with a wife or husband, communication is key with a roommate. If your roommate's tendency to leave toenail clippings on the coffee table grosses you out, don't bottle up your annoyance until it explodes. Address it quickly before making the issue larger than it should be.

Realize your roommate is human too. She or he will have bad days at work, relationship breakups and family conflicts. Give them space, avoid giving advice unless asked and don't complain. On the flip side, express delight over his or her accomplishments. Staying cheerful and positive will also keep the peace and create a comfortable environment.

"It's not about friendship," Post says about roommates. "It's about being able to live together."