Dear Lifehacker, I’m looking for a new roommate, but I’ve had really bad luck in the past finding reliable, non-crazy people to live with. What should I ask or look for in a potential roommate to make sure we’ll get along? Signed, Responsible Roomie
Having a roommate definitely is a mixed blessing. On one hand, you can afford rent! On the other, sharing a living space with someone else isn’t always a smooth experience -- especially if your roommate is a total stranger.
To find out if you and a potential roommate are a good fit (and avoid a bunch of problems), you’ll need to get to know him or her as well as possible beforehand. Here are some important questions you should ask and things you can do to vet a prospective roommie.
Interview Prospective Roommates
It doesn’t have to be a formal interview, but asking thorough questions is a must if you don’t want to end up with a crappy roommate. You could have the conversation over the phone or have them fill out a roommate questionnaire with the relevant questions (and not just the hilariously specific ones like "Do you have freegan friends who will root through our garbage?"). It’s probably best to do this in person so you can see their body language and possibly tell if they’re not being genuine. After all, everyone says they’re responsible and neat!
Asking in-depth questions might seem a bit awkward, but you can preface your questions by saying you just want to make sure you don’t run into the roommate troubles you’ve had before. Our own Eric Ravenscraft says:
Consider how you’re going to be interacting with your roommate and find the areas of contention. I’ve lived with a guy for years despite the fact we fight constantly. We can do this because I have the master bedroom with my own bathroom and we both keep to ourselves most of the time. Personality incompatibilities like constant bickering don’t necessarily matter if you’re not tripping over them. Messiness in common areas, on the other hand, is a bigger problem.
Here are a few example questions you might want to include:
Ask Questions About Responsibility
The last thing you want is to move in with someone who can’t or won’t pay their share of the rent and living expenses or who will leave you cleaning up after them. Ask these questions to gauge a person’s responsibility:
- How long have you been at your job? How secure is it? Do you have emergency savings just in case?
- Have you lived with a roommate before? What did you like/dislike about that experience? Why are you leaving your current place?
- How much is your rent now? (If it’s much less than what they would pay after moving in, they might not be able to afford the new rent.)
- How do you think we should handle buying shared supplies like toilet paper, garbage bags, etc?
- What do you think is the best way to handle paying the rent and utilities?
- How do you think we should handle the chores, like cleaning the common areas and washing the dishes?
They sound like questions a landlord would ask, but there's a reason landlords ask these questions: it helps them find reliable tenants. It's a good example to follow.
Ask Questions for Compatibility
Opposites might attract when it comes to romance, but that doesn’t work out so well for roommates. Personality questions to ask include:
- Do you smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs? (You might have just personal preferences about these or they could be restricted by the landlord.)
- Have any pets? (Again, the lease might prevent this or you might just not want to live with a crazy cat lady.)
- What’s your schedule like? (Morning people and night owls could end up disturbing each other’s sleep. On the other hand, if you both get up at the same time, you might be fighting over shower time if there's only one bathroom.)
- Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? (These two personality types can get along together, but only if both understand -- and respect -- each other’s preferences.)
- What do you like to do on weekends? (A good question to ask if you're looking for someone to be friends with rather than just roommates.)
- How often you expect to have visitors over? (Daily game nights might not be your thing.)
- How do you feel about overnight guests? (Few things are more annoying than your roommate’s boyfriend living on your couch.)
- On a scale of one to five, with one being messy and five being a neat freak, what would you say you are?
- Do you like the apartment temperature more on the chilly or warm side?
- Do you have any food allergies? (Your love of PB&J could be an issue if the person can’t even be in the same room as peanut butter.)
- How you feel about sharing stuff, such as the Foxtel subscription or the printer?
As you ask questions, share your answers too so there’s no misunderstanding down the line.
Also, if you’re the one posting an ad for a new roommate, specify exactly the kind of roommate you’re looking for. For example, whether you’re looking for someone who’s very sociable or someone who can respect your need for quiet when you work from home in the evenings.
Another way to see if you’ll get along is to invite the potential roommate to hang out with your friends one night or for brunch. It could help you find those common interests or points of contention, plus your friends can give you their opinions.
Fellow Lifehacker editor Tessa Miller advises:
One thing you may not think to do (especially if you live in a big city and may be moving in with someone random or via Craigslist): ask for references. This is a great way to find out if other roommate situations of theirs have crashed and burned.
Also, you can tell a lot about a person from their Facebook and other social media profiles, so in addition to the references, friend them on Facebook and do a little recon. An alternative is to try a service like Roomster, which hooks up people looking to find a roommate and also includes links to their social networks.
Find Out If They’re Crazy
The chances of the person you move in with being truly psychotic (like Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character in Single White Female) are very slim, but it doesn’t hurt to reassure yourself. Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopath Test, recommends this one question you should always ask a potential roommate
The question he recommends asking: “Would you rather be a lion or an antelope?” The creatures you pair don’t matter (shark versus minnow works fine too). The point is to get a person talking about how they see the world and their place in it, says Ronson, adding that psychopaths tend to “view everything in terms of predator and prey.” Look for answers that point to a taste for blood. “I’d be a lion so I could destroy things,” for example. Yep, big red flag.
Finally, we’ve all had iffy roommates before, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out (even if you’ve set up ground rules at the beginning). In that case, you can take steps to evict your crappy roommate and move on.
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