The 21 best questions to ask potential roommates to get the perfect match
- Treat the initial meet-and-greet like an interview—and stick to the script so you gather all the necessary information
- Asking how they plan to pay for rent and if they can put down a deposit gets at their financial ability to pay their share
- Questions about cleaning habits, smoking, and having people stay over will clue you in to whether you are compatible
When I landed in New York City as a bright-eyed, budget-minded law school grad, I found myself on a slippery slope, increasingly willing to compromise on safety and other standards just to find a suitable-enough apartment. Priced out of studios, never mind one-bedroom apartments, I quickly realized I needed to find a roommate to help pay the rent.
Now, thanks to sky-high rents and intense competition for apartments, having a roommate is even more essential to afford living here. You (and your cohabitant) may also need to secure a guarantor and could face bidding wars (yes, that’s happening). And you probably don’t want to go through this process again anytime soon, so it’s important to find a roomie you could see yourself living with for an extended period.
As Elien Blue Becque, founder of RoomZoom, a NYC-based roommate-finding service explains, rising rents post-pandemic have made renters in NYC more invested than ever in finding compatible roommates. "New Yorkers are living with roommates longer and farther into adulthood than ever before,” she says.
But what if you don’t have a college friend or other likely person lined up? How do you find someone—a complete stranger!—who you can trust enough to share your home with?
You could lean into one of the many roommate matchmaking websites (see Brick Underground's roundup here) or find a cohabitant yourself through your social network. Either way, it pays to be very engaged in the process and ask lots of questions. Let's face it: Roommates are pretty much a fact of life here.
"New Yorkers need roommates when the economy is down because salaries tend to be lower or more uncertain in a down market," Becque says, "and they also need roommates when the economy is great because—as we've seen in the last year—a strong economy pushes NYC rents unrelentingly upwards."
Brick to the rescue. Use the following checklist to screen all potential candidates and land the right roomie.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this post was published in August 2022. We are presenting it again with new information for August 2023.]
Lessons learned the hard way
Take it from me—I learned a few lessons the hard way. I trusted a friend’s referral not once but thrice, with mixed results: There was Dan, the channel-surfing couch potato who left pizza boxes and Chinese take-out containers strewn everywhere; Debra, the compulsive cleaner (yep, I overcompensated for Dan) who insisted on all lights and sounds off at 10 p.m., even on weekends; and Gina, who was fine for the first few months until she began bringing her boyfriend over more nights than not—and then moved out in a huff when I asked if she could maybe spend some nights at his place instead.
Then I got smart and vetted the next person myself, ruling out five candidates before finding a suitable match. It made all the difference. She even turned the tables and asked me the same questions. Very reassuring.
Treat it like an interview
Think of the initial meet-and-greet as an opportunity to do your due diligence, even if you might be rooming with someone you know. Though beware of the friends-as-roommates scenario, as tempting as it seems.
“We suggest not living with a good friend since there is the potential to ruin your relationship,” Becque says. “Living with a stranger, on the other hand, gives you the potential of gaining a new friend.”
The following is Brick Underground’s questionnaire, based on tried-and-true tips. Stick to the script so you are sure to gather all the information you need and can then make an informed and unbiased decision. And should your new roomie “pass” with flying colors, be sure to capture everything you discussed and agreed to in writing.
1. Do you work from home?
A “yes” answer to this question can be a boon or a bummer, depending on your perspective. If you work from home yourself, for instance, it could be a huge burden. Even if not, the idea might make you queasy.
Having someone in the apartment all day, every day, will increase your electric bills for sure, and you may not like the thought of your home being used as another’s office (especially if the apartment is your long-term habitat). You may also be bothered by knowing your roomie has all that time to invade your personal space and belongings (if so, just admit it and find someone else).
On the plus side, having a person on hand to accept deliveries and wait for the cable guy may be a benefit. People who work from home (particularly in cramped quarters) also tend to avoid claustrophobia by getting out and about when the day is done, leaving you with ample alone time in the evenings. Just be sure that’s the case and that the work schedule isn’t 24/7.
Ultimately, you need to ask yourself: How much will it annoy me to have my roommate home during the day? Play out the scenario in your mind before you come to any conclusion. Now is the time to be realistic.
2. Are you still friends with your old roommates?
Here’s a question that’s designed to separate fact from fiction. Hopefully, the answer will include at least a couple of happy tales of lasting relationships, including from their college days.
If, however, your candidate spews forth one disaster story after another about ex-roommates, let your inner skeptic take charge. Problems cannot possibly originate every single time from the other person.
Any hesitancy on their part to discuss their past living situations can also signal trouble ahead; in that case, you may want to dig deeper and even ask to speak to one or two former flatmates (see references, below).
3. How will you pay for rent?
NYC law prohibits denying accommodation based solely on a person’s occupation, but there is nothing to stop you from asking about their job in determining their source of income (and also their schedule, discussed below). Landlords here have the right to impose strict income requirements, and you can too.
This being NYC, you should be prepared to hear it all—investment bankers and tech entrepreneurs as well as actor-slash-baristas, dog walkers, and massage therapists. If the person seems less then fully employed or is juggling multiple gigs, try to get as many details as possible. You can even ask for a letter of employment or professional references (more on that later).
"We ask that people provide their LinkedIn on their profile; that’s a decent way to verify their job and check out their personal network,” Becque says, adding that having a few LinkedIn connections in common with your prospective roommate "is always a good sign." She says they encourage asking those connections for a few thoughts on the candidate, too.
If they’re a grad student or an intern, you’ll especially want to make sure they can prove how they’ll be paying all the expenses. This can be in the form of a bank statement or by having a co-signer or guarantor (including a third-party guarantor)—anything that will avoid their portion of the rent being delinquent.
This is also a good time to ask how they plan to make payments for rent and utilities. Lots of New Yorkers use Venmo or Zelle to transfer money. But to be safe, discuss how you’ll handle the situation if they can’t come up with their share of expenses.
4. What do you want in a roommate?
Think of it as the roommate version of a classic job interview question. “This is actually the last and only freeform response in our survey,” Becque says. "We do filter people out who don’t bother writing down anything or write something incoherent; hopefully, if someone is in search of a roommate, they will put in the effort to write a few thoughtful sentences about who they are and their living patterns in a co-living dynamic."
Basically, what you want to elicit is the person’s expectations regarding the roommate relationship. There could be a disconnect, for example, if one of you wants a new bestie while the other prefers to keep some distance. You may have already gleaned this from the person’s responses to question two above, so be sure to explore any concerns that may have cropped up then. Don’t just shrug them off.
Use this question as well to prompt a discussion about sharing certain things (like kitchen basics and cleaning products) versus maintaining separate supplies.
5. What are your cleaning habits?
One person’s definition of “clean” can vary drastically from the next, which is why Becque includes a few questions around this subject in her proprietary algorithm for RoomZoom. “We hear from our users that cleaning is the number one source of frustration between roommates,” she says.
What specifically you choose to ask will depend on your own cleaning habits, but you’ll want to get beyond generalities. Inquire about the person’s usual cleaning routines. Do they make the bed each morning and put away the dishes every night? Which chores do they like and which ones do they loathe? (Maybe you can split the tasks accordingly.) Share your habits with them too. Honesty is key here: It doesn't really matter if you're messy or not; what matters is that you have similar styles. It’s also important to agree on a cleaning schedule and on who will be doing what and when.
Consider asking whether your roommate would be willing to pitch in on a professional cleaning service, something RoomZoom does in their survey. This investment might be worth it for eliminating discord.
6. What do you like to do on the weekends?
Asking this question helps you determine if you’ll end up spending your precious free time doing something you’d rather not—like having to vacate the apartment every Sunday a.m. while your roommate hosts brunch (or feeling obligated to stay despite not really getting along with the others). One friend used to complain about having to sit through his suitemate’s method-acting classes; another had to endure boisterous football-watching gatherings.
Cramped city apartments often pit cohabitants together, for better or worse. If you will both be having in-home activities, it's best to work out a schedule ahead of time.
This question also helps you learn whether the person is a homebody or the after-after party type. If it’s the former, be on guard: this person might be looking for you to provide a built-in social network—or just annoy you with their continual presence. If the latter, just make sure the person is respectful of others when they traipse in at all hours.
Who knows, you might also discover shared interests, not so you can become BFFs but rather in figuring out whether you two are a good match. Even one tiny commonality (such as cycling around the city or hitting the Brooklyn Flea) can go far in establishing a connection.
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7. Do you smoke?
Living with a smoker (be it pot and/or cigarettes or even cigars) is a deal-breaker for some, and an essential question to ask if your building forbids smoking indoors. (A NYC law that went into effect in 2018 requires buildings to create a smoking policy, and some are completely smoke-free.) If they say they're occasional smokers, ask how occasional. It may also be worth adding a clause to your agreement explicitly stating they cannot smoke inside the apartment.
Note that smoking is prohibited in all common areas, so you will want to make sure your potential roommate is aware of and in compliance with that rule at all times.
If you yourself smoke at home, be upfront about it. And don’t forget about vaping, which some people might not consider smoking.
8. Do you have any references?
Many landlords (and all co-op boards) require references to vouch for a renter’s veracity. As the landlord of your own roost, you will dispense with this formality at your own risk.
“Certainly, if you are going to be on the hook for part of the rent, we recommend that people get references,” Becque says.
Follow the usual guidelines and seek out three endorsements, preferably from people who know the prospect well and for at least a year. Former roomies and landlords are your best bet, but co-workers, employers, professors, and family friends are also standard sources. Get their phone numbers and emails—people tend to be more candid on the phone, but email's a good backup if your calls go unanswered.
“While you're at it, check out your potential roommate's social media feeds,” Becque says. You may come across certain pictures alerting you to potential headaches way before you actually have to live with them. At the very least, you’ll get a better handle on who you’ll be shacking up with.
9. What's your decorating style?
Don't underestimate the potential discord that can ensue when you pair a neatnik/minimalist with a hoarder/clutter nut. Ask to see pictures of their current digs—lots of people like to show off their space on Instagram. While you can't control what they do on their own four walls, you will want to make sure shared areas aren't taken over by cringy collectibles or other tchotchkes that don't match your design IQ—or that they plan to move a massive eyesore into the living room.
10. When do you usually go to sleep?
If you feel awkward asking this question, don’t—odds are the candidate is wondering the same thing about you. The ideal situation is, of course, when you both turn in around the same time and have a similar wind-down routine. That said, having two night owls as roomies means you’ll both be vying for precious late-night privacy (and in a tight space). Ask yourself whether that matters.
Potentially problematic is someone who claims not to have a regular sleep schedule, or who laughs the question off as being “too nosy” or “whatever.” In that case, try and figure out what an average weeknight looks like for that person. Does it involve falling asleep on the sofa while binge-watching Netflix? Practicing the ukulele? Talking to a long-distance partner on the phone? Or better yet: reading quietly in bed, taking a bubble bath, or meditating.
Just be prepared to be reasonable. If you simply must get your eight hours of zzzs and cannot abide any noise after lights out, you may have a hard time sharing your living space completely on your terms. Look for ways to compromise—and look into a white-noise app!
11. How often do you have friends over?
Here's the question to ask in figuring out whether you’ll be having a steady stream of visitors during the week. “We find that questions like these have a pretty big bearing on the algorithm,” Becque says. “Some people never want anyone over, while others keep an open-door policy.”
Depending on the answer and your own approach to hosting, you can probe deeper to discern the frequency and the circumstances. Monthly book club meetings or the occasional dinner party are one thing, twice-weekly poker matches or nightly sleepovers with a significant other are something you need to know about in advance.
In a similar vein, you’ll want to know upfront how many overnight guests will be in the picture. NYC is a prime destination, and hotels are expensive. Will your roommate’s far-flung family and friends be wanting a place to stay? If so, how often? How many people and for how long at a time? If you have a two-bedroom apartment, this will not be as great an imposition as a flex-one bedroom, but still. Boundaries must be established.
Gauge the person’s reaction to setting down clear rules, such as weekends only and maybe once a month at most. Or see if they are open to arranging those visits during times when you will be away yourself. Make clear your expectations regarding common areas (so no sleeping on the sofa or on air mattresses in the living area).
All in all, if the person has a packed calendar of back-to-back house guests, you may want to simply steer clear.
12. Do you have any pets?
First and foremost is the need to comply with your building’s pet policy. While there are plenty of stories of renters (and owners) hiding cats and even dogs from their landlords, why take the risk of having to pay a fine and, worse yet, part with your beloved four-legged companion when you get caught?
Even explicitly pet-friendly buildings may instill certain restrictions, such as the size or breed of dog or the total number of pets. Condos that permit pets may prohibit subtenants from having them. Make sure your roommate is prepared to comply and cover that cost.
You’ll also need to consider your specific situation. If you have pet allergies, you’ll want to either rule out pets entirely or make sure your roommate is aware of that and has a hypoallergenic breed. If the person already has a dog or cat, it behooves you to ask to meet the pet, too.
Lastly, be sure to delve into how that person deals with all the usual pet-owner responsibilities. Unless they work from home, is there a dog walker during the day? Nothing like coming home to a pup who’s been cooped up all day (and left some nice messes to clean up after). Will the pet be allowed on all the furniture? Where is the litter box going to be—and if the answer is "the bathroom," make sure you are 100 percent down with it. These and other questions should be hashed out from the get-go.
Even if the prospect doesn’t currently have a pet, make sure there is a meeting of the minds on getting one during your lease.
13. Can you put down a deposit?
The whole point of having a roommate is to find someone who can help carry the load, so it pays to delve into the nitty gritty before you sign a lease together—or to rely on that person for half the rent. Asking for a security deposit is the standard way to ensure the person has enough funds set aside (read: is fiscally secure) and can cover any damage they may do to your digs.
(Reminder: Thanks to changes to the rent law in June 2019, landlords can no longer require more than one month’s rent as a security deposit—meaning they can't ask for last month's rent plus a security deposit.)
14. What is your workday routine?
Having different work hours can save a lot of headaches, giving you and your roommate much-needed alone time in the apartment. Savvy apartment-sharers will often end up never even seeing their roommate beyond the occasional hello and goodbye. In other words, if you are a nine-to-fiver, you might want to consider shacking up with someone who works the late shift—chefs, actors, musicians, security guards, you name it. (But not if you are squeamish about having them alone with your stuff for hours on end; see question number one.)
When your work schedules coincide, however, it is helpful to ask what time the person wakes up and leaves for work. You’ll also want to find out what their a.m. routine looks like so you’re not competing for the toaster oven or shower. It’s not always possible due to budget constraints to have your own bathroom, so avoiding morning conflicts is important.
This is one area where compromise will be inevitable and easy. If your new roommate admits to hogging the bathroom, consider altering your own habits. (Sleep experts recommend taking a hot bath or shower before bedtime!) Or see if the person is amenable to setting strict time limits on bathroom use, or to taking turns (you get odd days, they have even days).
15. Are you in a romantic relationship?
Living with a couple is generally a hassle—three people crammed into two bedrooms can be way too close for comfort, plus there's the potential for feeling like a third wheel in your own living room. The same goes for a roommate whose significant other stays over constantly, which raises a whole other set of issues. All of a sudden, you've signed on for more mess, higher utility costs, and less privacy without the benefit of an additional savings on rent.
What’s more, you're basically signing on for a third roommate you've never met, which is never a good idea. If you are the slightest bit open to the idea of sharing your space with the person (and their plus-one), at the very least, make sure you meet them both, and at the same time so you can see the dynamic. If they bicker during this first impression, you can well imagine what they’ll be like once they’re all settled in. On the flip side, having a built-in partner takes the pressure off of you to be your roomie’s at-home pal. It’s a toss-up.
If you prefer not to sign on to this situation, be cautious about a potential roommate who says they are in a serious relationship with someone who lives in another borough or who shares a bedroom in their own apartment, such as in a co-living building. Then you should expect lots of sleepovers.
16. How often do you cook?
Kitchens in NYC being what they are, dinner time (like a.m. bathroom time) can be a huge stress point in a shared apartment.
If both you and your roommate love whipping up your own meals, it may be difficult to avoid stepping on each other’s toes. Find out what and when they cook, too—like fish at 10 p.m. or popcorn at midnight—that might be a non-starter.
Don’t forget to ask about their shopping habits, so you can make sure there’s enough space in the refrigerator and cupboards for your own provisions. You might also want to agree on divvying up the cost of staples since it’s more economical to buy these in larger quantities. Just be sure whoever finishes anything replenishes it to avoid discovering you are out of butter in the middle of a baking spree.
This being NYC, all the above goes out the window if you are the type to order in and/or eat out. Indeed, if your potential roomie is an aspiring chef, that could be a fortuitous match. They get to test out their recipes, you get to try the food. You might even pick up a trick or two.
17. How often do you drink at home?
Whether you're a teetotaler or a devotee of Sangria Saturdays, you'll want to make sure your flatmate is on the same wavelength. Likewise if you have to rise early for your job (and limit yourself to a glass of wine with dinner) as opposed to someone who can roll out of bed anytime they want, come hell or hangover. You don’t have to have a total meeting of the minds on this point (or be puritanical about it), but it is important that you both mesh.
After all, frequent drinking may lead to being strapped for cash. Likewise, and even more importantly, a serial binge-drinker might expose you or your home to risk if the person ends up dragging home a stranger (it happens). Certainly, it puts the person’s ability to hold down a job, and therefore fulfill their financial obligations, into serious doubt.
That said, if you both agree that “it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere,” you’ll want to set boundaries around what’s yours, theirs, and “ours.”
18. How long do you plan to stay?
Before you ask this question, make sure you know what you are looking for in a roommate. If you are tired of churning through a different person every year (or six months, etc.), you will need to communicate your desire for a more stable and secure long-term arrangement at the outset.
Moreover, you'll want to weed out students and interns and others who may only be in NYC for an indefinite time, along with anyone whose answer is “I’m not sure.”
Even if you are open to sharing your apartment on a short-term basis, you’ll want to put the agreed-upon end date in writing, and provide for a penalty should the person have to move out before then (such as forfeiting the security deposit). Life has a way of throwing curveballs, so why not prepare for them by protecting yourself from any unpleasant financial hiccups?
19. What are some challenges you've faced in past living situations?
Bed bugs, rodent infestations, lack of heat or hot water, noisy neighbors, and negligent landlords are pretty typical experiences for the NYC apartment dweller, so it’s no cause for concern if someone mentions any or all of the above.
What is telling, however, is how (so they say) they handled these hurdles, which can enlighten you on whether you’re dealing with someone who can get things done, and in the right way. Watch out for anyone who says they withheld rent (without due cause) or got belligerent in the management office. Also troubling would be someone who stood by and left it to their former roommate to resolve all the problems—unless that’s your preference.
20. What are your pet peeves?
We all have them, so why not find out what they are from the start rather than after you’ve done something annoying—and vice versa? It's good to know what can irritate someone when sharing a confined space, day in and day out.
Be on the lookout for anyone who has a lengthy list, though. The last thing you need is to tiptoe around a persnickety roommate in your own home—life is hard enough here as it is. But consider the particular gripes carefully, too, as there may be some (like listening to NPR in the morning or eating red meat) that you may be able to accommodate.
21. Anything else I should know?
Don’t underestimate the “reveal” element of this end-of-interview, open-ended, catch-all inquiry. You just might discover a fact that did not come out from direct solicitation, such as how the person is learning to play the trumpet or loves playing Grand Theft Auto into the wee hours.
Let the interviewee take the lead—and their personality, and all its quirks, come through loud and clear. Pay attention to subtle cues and body language (avoiding eye contact is a huge red flag). Be wary of anyone who has nothing to offer here; at worst, the person is hiding something; at best they are simply not very interesting. Either way, silence is not a good sign.
As Becque puts it, “Given the opportunity, people will tell you who they are. They say certain things and in a certain way. That transparency can cut both ways.” Make sure you are listening.
—Earlier versions of this article contained reporting and writing by Lucy Cohen Blatter and Donna M. Airoldi.
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