Sometimes, when you live in a city of 8 million people and ever-rising rents, the only financially viable living option is an apartment you share with many other people. And although it is technically illegal for more than three unrelated people to live together in New York, that rule is widely ignored by landlords and real estate agents alike.
Having roommates can be a wonderful experience. If you like each other and are respectful of everyone’s personal space, you can often end up with built-in best friends, the people who are always down to crack a beer, sit on the couch, and de-stress after a crazy work week.
But living with other humans – especially a lot of them – is a delicate balance, and requires a lot of understanding and patience.
Here are a few essential rules of thumb to consider when bunking up:
- Set ground rules. Before you decide to sign a lease together, make sure you have a common understanding of ground rules in the apartment. You may want to decide how many roommates are too many roommates. Are significant others encouraged or discouraged? Another big issue is noise, and differing social schedules: Are your roommates night owls or early risers? Deep sleepers or no? Setting rules early makes future disputes easier to handle. You should also consider monthly check-ins with the roomies.
- Be respectful. This is really the No. 1 rule for living with others: Remember the golden rule, and remember that everyone (hopefully) values their personal space. Do your best to discover your roommates’ pet peeves and avoid them. For example, some people hate being spoken to in the morning. Some can’t stand country music blasted late at night. We should celebrate our differences and also be aware of them.
- Open communication. As is the case in almost every relationship, your relationship with your roommate can be exponentially improved with open communication. That doesn’t mean you have to bare your soul to your roommates on a regular basis or text them hourly updates on your mood, but you should feel comfortable communicating the important stuff. If, for example, you’re having friends over, let your roommate know so she’s not caught off guard when she walks in to a crowd playing Cards Against Humanity. Are you buying a boatload of paper towels? Text your roommate, so she doesn’t bring home her own valuepak. Did you have a miserable week at work and are in a foul mood? It can’t hurt to mention to your roommate that you need to lay low or blow off steam. Putting it out there – whatever it is – is always better than silence.
- Daily logistics. Cleaning should be split between roommates. Sometimes a “cleaning chart” can be helpful to divvy up duties evenly, especially if you live with a lot of people. Decide early on whether everyone will be buying their own food or whether you will share communally; always make sure to replace your roommates’ food that you ingest while fighting a case of hangover munchies.
- Paying the bills. More than anything, living with roommates is an experiment in sharing finances, and nothing can ruin a relationship like disputes over money. Make sure to always pay your rent on time. Some roommates like to split the hassle of paying bills, others prefer to have one person pay and the rest reimburse them. There are great apps like Splitwise and Venmo that allow you to keep track of who-owes-what, and easily pay your friends back.