Critical Questions to Ask a Potential Roommate
Roommates can help with expenses, but it’s important to find a good match before making a commitment. These questions will reveal a lot about the people with whom you’re considering sharing your apartment.
Are you still friends with old roommates? How were your previous roommate experiences?
Everyone has had bad experiences with past roommates, but you’re looking for a pattern. If most or every experience they’ve had with roommates has been negative, there’s a good chance they were the problem. Find out if they’ve had issues paying the rent, if you can talk to their former roommates about what they were like, and anything else that you can think of. You’re both going to be living in the same apartment, so this isn’t an issue to be taken lightly.
How long do you plan to stay?
If your roommate doesn’t want to stay in the same city or general location for a while, you can easily find yourself right back in this situation in less than a year. That could be fine if you’re planning on moving anyway, but you probably want a roommate who has similar ideas about staying as you do.
Do you have or plan to get a pet? Do you mind if I have a pet?
Some people are pet people, some aren’t, and the most important thing to do is make sure that you’re on the same page. If one of you already has a pet or plans to get one and the other doesn’t like pets, your future living situation could get awkward at best. You also need to deal with what your lease says about pets – whoever has their name on the lease is responsible for everything, including any fees related to owning pets.
Are you in a relationship, and if so, what’s that person like, and how often do you see each other? What do you like to do together?
Don’t be squeamish about this. The lease is in your name, and you’re talking about your home, after all. You need to find out if the person you’re interviewing expects his or her partner to be sleeping over most nights… which means sharing your space at night and in the morning. Talk about limits you’ll both live by, and anything that makes either one of your uncomfortable. Problems areas might include noise, hours, language, cleanliness, food, or even politics.
When do you wake up and go to bed? What do you need to sleep?
If your schedules conflict too much, this can be a serious issue. A loud alarm waking them up when you’re in the middle of sleeping can set off a lot of problems. Just as important as when you sleep can be what you need to fall asleep. If someone prefers complete silence and darkness while the other needs noise from having the TV on to fall asleep, finding a compromise can be difficult, if not impossible.
How do you envision the whole kitchen / refrigerator / meals thing working?
If your new acquaintance just laughs, then you can expect zero help in the kitchen, no bonding time during meal prep, and the possibility of disappearing food without replacement. On the other hand, you might also get a great surprise, and discover you’re interviewing a wanna-be chef (in which case you should thank your lucky stars, and say you’ll be on clean-up duty). Talk about how to share groceries fairly, and how to share the refrigerator, and which equipment, if any, is expensive or requires special care.
What do you do in your downtime at home? What shows do you watch and how often do you watch? What about video games? Music?
The importance of this can’t be understated. Each of you has things you do in your downtime to unwind and relax, and sometimes that’s the only place you can get some stress relief. If your roommate has the TV on too loud while you’re trying to quietly relax, you’re playing music too loud while they’re trying to relax, one of you is going to be stressed out. Trying to tell your roommate to turn down the volume could make you seem petty – how dare you tell them how to handle their relaxation time? Establishing these boundaries early can avoid that confrontation early.
And who knows – you might find a common interest you never knew you had. Having some activities you share together can make your relationship stronger than just two people who live in the same place for financial reasons.
How often are you home?
There’s a big difference in living with someone who spends all their time at home and someone who basically only uses their apartment to sleep. This is especially relevant if one or both of you works from home – it can be difficult enough with a roommate you only see in the evenings or on weekends, but if both of you are spending significant time in the apartment, there’s a lot more opportunity for conflict to arise.
How often do you think we should clean the bathroom?
The reaction you get to this question might say more than words.
How do you feel about friends hanging out… or staying for a few days?
If your cousin from another city likes to drop in a couple of times a year, will there still be room for him… and how will you feel about it if your roommate invites a friend or family member to do the same? What about a friend who comes by several nights a week? This could be tough in a small apartment. It’s a good idea to set limits on out-of-towner stays, keep a shared calendar to mark out-of-town visitors, and to reserve the right to ask someone to leave. But again, don’t set standards for your roommate you’re not willing to live by. You should also talk about what’s cool when you’re out of town and vice versa.
Do you have a way to pay for unexpected expenses or emergencies?
The nicest person in the world can become a real burden if they move in knowing they’ll have just enough money to cover expenses, but no funds for anything that goes wrong . . . because things go wrong. Make sure you won’t be asked for loans or to “float the rent” on a regular basis. Check with past roommates for references, if they exist.
Do you have any addiction issues?
Alcohol, drugs, gambling . . . you need to know what you’re getting into, so be brave, put on a serious face, and ASK. Many addicts come with baggage that’s tough on a budding roommate relationship. Addiction can affect harmony at home, as well as the bills. Also be sure to get on the same page about cigarettes, pipes, vaping, recreational or medicinal drug use, and the selling or storing of illegal drugs. (Remember, it's your name on the lease so you're responsible for whatever happens).
Are you allergic to anything?
Cat hair, dog hair, down sofas, down pillows, peanuts… you don’t want a disaster during the interview or after someone moves in. Share your allergy issues, too.
What's on your arrest record?
If they laugh, good. You want them to laugh, in a "you've-got-to-be-kidding" sort of way. If a sheepish look precedes a confession about public urination during spring break, you might still be okay. The longer the answer to this question, the less wonderful your prospects.
Do you like to keep the windows open?
Even something as small as a breeze can blow into a storm if one of you likes to keep the place wide open, and the other one hates street noise, pool noise, or allergens. Talk through your temperature tolerances.
What are you looking for in a roommate?
If you’re looking for a friend and they’re just looking to share expenses, it’s good to know ahead of time. Maybe they know what they’re good at and what they’re not, and they’re looking for someone to complement their weaknesses, which might be a role you fit well into. There are many reasons why someone is looking for a roommate, and if the reasons the two of you have don’t mesh, it might be best to start looking elsewhere.
Is there anything else I should know?
The catch-all for things you don’t anticipate. This could be a difficult question for them to answer (especially if they’ve just answered all the questions above), but this gives them a chance to let you know about anything you wouldn’t anticipate but could be relevant to your time living together.
What are some questions you would ask a roommate? Let us know below!