5 Red Flags You Should Watch Out for When Picking a Roommate

In many ways, living with a roommate is a rite of passage that teaches us about compromise, companionship, and responsibility. But, for many, it can also be a nightmare: From unpaid bills to illicit behaviors, a number of bad things can pop up when you live with a complete stranger, or even a friend, without doing your due diligence. However, avoiding these circumstances can be as easy as having a brief, honest conversation.

“You will want to focus on personal habits, routines, and philosophy about how best to cohabitate, says Marni Feuerman, a licensed clinical social worker in Boca Raton, Florida. “You should feel free to open up about yourself in this regard as well.”

Keep the following red flags in mind while you’re deciding if you want to live together. Although these aren’t necessarily negative or unhealthy behaviors, they might become big problems down the line.

1. They like to party a bit too much.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a drink or two, but if your roommate frequently drinks or uses drugs in excess, it can put a strain on your quality of life. This could equate to loud late nights, frequent guests, and messes around the house. Plus, it could indicate that your roomie has a substance misuse problem, says Lisa Kays, a licensed clinical social worker in Washington, D.C.

If you think your potential roomie might be a party animal, get some clarification about their habits. “‘Party’ can also mean a lot of different things to different people, from charades to hard drugs,” Kays says. “It’s important to seek these details when discussing any long-term living situation.”

It helps to set expectations about behavior in the home early on—in some cases, even before move-in day.

“A good way to work around any potential roommate conflict is to think through and have very clear boundaries established at the outset,” Kays says. “Usually, if you are clear about this, people will avoid entering into situations where they know the expectations are beyond their comfort zone. If you are vague, though, you invite potential conflict and confused expectations.”

2. They’re extremely messy.

When it comes to cleaning up, make sure you and your potential roomie are on the same page. Many people have different definitions of clean, so make it clear from the beginning what that word means to you (and what you expect from your roommate). Kays notes that there is a difference between “messy” and “dirty.” For example, some people can tolerate a towel on the floor but wouldn’t dare go to bed without washing the dirty dishes in the sink. If you can check out your roomie’s current living situation before agreeing to move in together, you can get a glimpse of how they prefer to keep things.

Additionally, though you might be ok with your friend’s messiness, there are some situations where it should cause concern. “In severe situations, someone extremely messy may be indicative of difficulty engaging in self-care, signs of depression, signs of low executive functioning, and, in the most extreme cases, hoarding,” Kays says. If you are concerned for a friend or even a potential roommate, here are some good resources to reach out to for help.

3. They never leave the house.

If you’re an introvert who thrives on alone time, having someone around constantly might be an issue. “A frequent traveler or extrovert who is often out of the house may work best for you,” says Kays. “If, on the other hand, you enjoy company and don’t like being alone, this could be a perfect match.”

Some people are happiest at home and like to spend most of their time there. Usually, this is perfectly normal (as long as it’s not coupled with other signs of dysfunction) and could just be a personal choice. While they might not be in the wrong, you might find having a roommate who is always home irritating. If it does, think about why it might bother you, suggests Feuerman. If there is a real underlying concern, speak to them about it in a tactful and caring way.

Sometimes, a reluctance to leave one’s home can indicate an anxiety disorder such as agoraphobia, a fear of dangers that exist outside the home, says Kays. “This condition is rare, and it is, in most cases, unlikely such a person would be seeking a stranger for a roommate.”

4. Their significant other is there all the time—and doesn’t pay rent.

If your potential roommate has a significant other who spends all of their time in the home but doesn’t pay rent—and expects the same arrangement when you move in together—proceed with caution. “If you are living with a third person, you should certainly only be paying the share of a third person, not a second,” says Kays. “If you are expected to subsidize their situation, I would run, not walk, the other way, as that may indicate there are other ways they may be expecting you to cover or care for them that are unfair or unequal.”

Feuerman recommends addressing the situation head-on and expressing your concerns. “Your roommate should respond appropriately by offering to have him or her pay some rent or to spend more time at the significant other’s place [if they have one],” she says. “If he or she responds defensively, you may want to leave the place to the two of them and find another living arrangement.”

5. They’re tight on money or unemployed.

When you’re entering into a financial agreement with someone else, it’s best to be educated about their fiscal standing as much as possible. That doesn’t mean requesting a tax return. Ask yourself: Are they often unemployed? Do they hit you up for money or fail to pay back small loans?

“If your roommate is often short of money, this is a sure sign you may get screwed on the rent,” Feuerman says. “This is a serious concern because you must count on this person.”

If you’re not sure about their cash flow, protect yourself. Don’t enter into a lease in which you’re financially responsible if the other person doesn’t meet their commitment. When and if you do decide to room together, immediately figure how you and your roomie will tackle household bills and common items like cleaning supplies and toiletries.

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