Living with roommates is the most time-honored way to make renting in New York City more affordable—but it is not always a smooth experience, in fact, most New Yorkers have a nightmare roommate story or three to tell.
Whether you are living with a bestie, a roommate you were matched with, or a total stranger you found online, sharing a small apartment can be stressful. Clashes over guests, cleanliness, bill paying, and more can tear apart even strong relationships. Even if you successfully lived with roommates in college—sharing an apartment is next level and it’s worth reviewing some potential pitfalls before you sign a lease and move in together.
Brick asked some New Yorkers with bad roommate experiences for what they learned about sharing a place and the advice that they would offer. Here are their hard-earned tips on communication and setting boundaries to avoid your own roommate disaster.
Watch out for suspicious activity
“I moved in with a work colleague. The only reason we got approved for the apartment was because the landlord and I have known each other for 10 years.
Three days after we moved in, I woke up at 2 a.m. to get some water and my roommate and his girlfriend were moving large amounts of her stuff in. We had never discussed them sharing a room.
“As time went on, I started missing stuff from my room. I began finding drugs and paraphernalia around the apartment. Turns out my roommate and his girlfriend were addicts. Everything went downhill while I was hospitalized for a serious injury and couldn’t monitor what was happening.
"Then landlord called me and said he had the girlfriend on camera stealing packages and said there is camera footage of alleged drug dealers coming in and out of the apartment from 3 a.m.-8 a.m. every morning. The neighbors started complaining. I ended up leaving but I’m still on the hook for the lease and am being sued now.
“I learned some good lessons from this. First, never live with a work colleague. If things go wrong not only will your home life be hell, but your work life will be affected too. Second, even if an acquaintance says they are in recovery, while you should certainly be supportive, think twice about living with them. If they fall off the wagon you could end up having trouble as well.” —Jess, Lower East Side
Live with responsible roommates
“Have some basic rules, like always be sure to clean up immediately after yourself. Do not make noise when anyone else in the home is sleeping. If you return home from a party at 3 a.m., do not bring the party with you. If anyone in the home cooks, avoid making noxious food like fish unless you get permission first. Make sure you and your roommate are both responsible with money and agree to pay all bills in full and on time. Do not every flirt or try to have a romantic relationship with your roommate, their relatives, or friends.
“I learned all of this from experience. My craziest roommate experience cinched it for me: I lived with a very flighty roommate in an apartment with a gas stove. I got home late one night and smelled something funny. I went into the kitchen and immediately could tell that the gas was on but the stove was not lit. She was asleep, so who knows how long the gas had been on? I turned off the gas, opened the windows, and yelled at her, asking if she was deliberately trying to kill us.” —Gian, Midtown
Be sure to communicate
“The most important piece of advice when living with roommates is to communicate. Do not assume they can read your mind or vice versa. Talk it out to avoid larger confrontations down the road. Case in point: My roommate said my music was too loud and then broke my speaker in anger—smashed it to pieces without any warning.
"But I think if we had communicated better, I think we could have de-escalated the situation
“For those living with roommates for the first time, make sure you know exactly what you want in terms of a living situation. If you don't know what you want, it is easier for the other person to force their opinions onto you. To make things smoother, set the boundaries right away and make sure they are aware of them.” —Sara, Ridgewood
“I’ve been sharing an apartment with my roommate for over two years now. Initially, we didn’t get along very well because he was the passive-aggressive type. Lots of awkward silences and irritating notes left on the fridge.
“This only ended after a few beers one night when we decided to have a good, long talk about the issues we’ve been having. Communicating our expectations, setting ground rules, and compromising on a few things made being roommates a much better experience for both of us.
“So, talk frankly with the person you live with. Avoiding communication only makes a situation fester––leading to an even bigger blowout down the road.” —Stefan, Lower East Side
Create boundaries about guests
“I live with my two best friends and let me tell you it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. I never thought I’d have to work hard at maintaining a friendship, but then one of them started dating this witch of a woman. She began living at our place but didn’t want to help pay the rent. This was not something that was discussed with me or my other roommate first. Lucky for me they broke up and we were able to sort out our issues without anyone having to move out.” —Yurii, Chelsea
Or just don't do it
“You need to set ground rules on what is and isn't acceptable around the house. One of my ongoing problems with my roommate is his cleanliness and organization around the house. Late last year he asked me if I minded that he bought a small bird. At first I didn’t think this would be a problem because I assumed it would be in a cage. But he lets it fly around the house and doesn’t clean up after it.
“My ultimate advice is to try your hardest to avoid having a roommate for a long period of time. Most of use are probably better off living alone, even if that means sacrificing space and extra money.” —Kevin, Astoria
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