Communication key to cohabitation

Lukas Anderson

When Lain McGrath and her three friends moved into their new house after their sophomore year, they didn’t think anything could go wrong.

They’d spent the last two years living together and becoming close friends in the residence halls.  McGrath said that getting their first rental home felt like an exhilarating new step.

Then, one roommate decided to get a dog, which left the others taking care of it and cleaning up for it while she was away. When one girl moved out, the remaining roommates were forced to find the first of several sub-leasers.

“These and other roommate- related issues, like cleaning and borrowing each others’ things, ultimately led to the dissolution of our friendship,” McGrath said.  “By the end of the fall semester, we were all basically at odds with each other.”

Tom Cory/NW

Between lease agreements and landlords, the issue of finding suitable roommates is one that can often fall by the wayside.  Yet once the paperwork is filled out and the furniture is in its place, it’s the roommates that ultimately determine the success or failure of a living arrangement. Many students fail to give this topic much prior consideration, assuming that their closest friends will automatically make good roommates.

“It turns out you can’t make those assumptions,” said Kevin Conlin, NMU Apartment Services Coordinator.

Conlin said that he has personal experience with this, having encountered problems as a college student himself when he and a long-time high school friend chose to be roommates.

Young students moving into their first private home face a lot of new challenges, Maintaining healthy relationships with their roommates being just one of them.  What it comes down to is the fact that living together involves a lot of different situations that being friends does not.

“I think having lifestyles that mesh is really the most important issue in a living situation,” said Ariel Powers-Schaub, a resident advisor and senior psychology major at NMU.  “Whether or not you have the same political views isn’t going to matter if someone isn’t doing the dishes.”

Such lifestyle issues can include basic concerns such as school and work schedules, smoking or drinking habits and ideas regarding personal hygiene and cleanliness.

“These are things that can be uncomfortable to talk about for some people,” Powers-Schaub said.  “But they are important because sometimes one person’s idea of cleanliness is different from another person’s.”

According to Powers-Schaub, it can be hard for friends to also be roommates, but that doesn’t mean it never works.  It’s simply not something that should be taken for granted.

“I think in an apartment setting it might be easier for friends to get along, but that just ultimately depends on the friendship,” Powers-Schaub said.

It is also important to talk ahead of time about additional expenses that are going to come up, such as phone bills, Internet access, heating and food, said Conlin.  Often students assume that such expenses will be shared evenly, but doing so isn’t always so simple.  Discussing these potential issues and developing a plan ahead of time will make it easier to handle problems when they arise.

Conlin suggests that potential roommates make sure to “talk early and talk often.”

McGrath’s experience with her first house is an example of how important it is to have these discussions between housemates early on.

“It really boiled down to a total lack of communication between myself and my roommates,” she said.

In the end, this failure to communicate was an expensive mistake on their part, as they were left without their security deposit and in debt to their landlord.

“My advice is, don’t let problems with your roommates accumulate.  Talk about your expectations ahead of time and work together to lay out some ground rules. Unfortunately, I had to learn this the hard way,” McGrath said.