Why You Need a Roommate Contract (and How to Write One)

Let’s face it: roommates can be a source of great joy—but also great tension. Over 75% of college freshman live with at least one roommate. If this includes you, it’s possible you may be enjoying genuine friendship with your roomie and having a blast. On the other hand, it’s possible that your living situation is rubbing you wrong and causing annoyance. Human nature is selfish and conflict is an unavoidable part of life—especially when living in close quarters.

Studies show the following areas cause the most conflict between roommates: a) Being too loud. b) Not cleaning. c) Having different sleep schedules. d) Stealing/borrowing. Other issues may arise over preferences concerning privacy, modesty, amount of socializing or even the temperature of your living space. Maybe you can relate!

The Bible speaks to conflict when it says, “If it’s possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Our tendency with conflict is to avoid it altogether or to handle it in a passive-aggressive way (sticky notes on the bathroom mirror kind of stuff). Often, these forms of moderate denial lead to future explosions of crazy, pent-up anger, which generally leads to greater resentment and little relational progress. Thankfully, there are healthy ways to handle conflict, as well.

If you’re struggling to get along with your roommate, setting aside time to create a written contract can 1) open up communication, 2) clarify expectations and 3) help resolve conflict. And if you’re not struggling relationally (yet), then thank the Lord—and consider drawing up a contract anyway. It’s much better to error on the side of intentionality and head off future controversies before they occur.

To begin, ask your roommate in advance if there’s a time when you can sit down and visit (preferably over some yummy pizza!). Come prepared with a pen, paper and an open mind. Start your time by reinforcing the things you enjoy and appreciate about your roommate (hopefully they will have some great things to share, as well). Next, ask for honest feedback to these questions: Is there anything I am doing that bothers you? What are your pet peeves about having me for a roommate?” Prepare to listen without defending yourself (this may be the hardest part). After thoroughly listening, gently and truthfully share any areas that have been upsetting to you (think this through ahead of time so you say only what really needs to be said, and so you’re careful to be respectful).

Now for writing your contract. Remember that your goal should be compromise and consideration—both of which lead to peace. Identify the areas that seem to be causing most of the irritation (the above list may be helpful in getting you talking if things are generally smooth sailing). Usually when there is conflict, someone’s boundary (whether stated or unstated) is being violated. Practice your detective skills and seek to understand each other’s boundaries and general preferences. Ask some probing questions with the goal being to find a stated compromise. Here are some example scenarios:

  1. My music and TV-watching annoy my roommate. Are there certain times when this is especially upsetting? Is there another place my roommate can study? Are headphones an option? Could we agree to certain quiet hours?
  2. I don’t value having a clean room; my roommate does. What constitutes clean? Is it possible to clean only our shared spaces, such as the bathroom? What should be our frequency of cleaning? Can we agree to a schedule, where each of us take care of certain responsibilities such as doing dishes, taking out the trash, vacuuming, etc.?
  3. My roommate is a night owl; I’m a morning bird. When do you prefer to wake-up and go to bed? Am I doing specific things that disturb your rest? What steps can we take to respect and protect one others’ sleep times?
  4. My roommate “borrows” my shampoo, laundry detergent and bike and I’m getting frustrated. How do you feel about sharing? What items can we both use? What things should be off limits? Is there a fund we can create to pay for food or other “shared stuff?”

These are just examples of the kinds of things that can be discussed and settled in writing. Remember: the solution is only workable if all parties involved are in full agreement. Once you’ve drafted your roommate contract, don’t lose it. It might be helpful to set up a time every month or two to check back in and see how you’re feeling about the guidelines you’ve established. Open, ongoing communication is key! Now find a way to celebrate—because having a roommate is supposed to be fun! You may not become best friends, but it’s definitely possible to maintain peace.