How to handle problems with housemates

If you are sharing a home with others, maintaining ongoing and open communication is very important.
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Sharing a home with somebody else can be really enjoyable, but it may also bring some challenges. This is completely normal. 

Everyone deserves to feel comfortable, relaxed and safe in their home. In order to ensure this for ourselves and our housemates, it’s important that we all make efforts to prevent conflict occurring, and also to quickly resolve it when it does arise. Ongoing and open communication between everyone who lives in the home is key.

Preventing problems with housemates

When you first move in with other people, it’s a good idea to discuss any house rules. Once the rules have been discussed and agreed on, everyone can sign it and keep a copy for themselves.

Creating a housemate agreement

Understanding one another’s expectations and boundaries from the very beginning can help to prevent any major conflict later on. You can consider having a meeting to draw up a housemate agreement which outlines these house rules in detail. This can include decisions on things such as: 

●      Rent: How much is each person responsible for paying?

●      Guests: Who can be a guest in your shared home? When and where can guests stay over?

●      Parties: When are parties allowed? Who cleans up after a party?

●      Food: Does everyone have their own cupboard or shelf? If there is communal food or tea, who pays for what? Will you be sharing the cooking duties, or cooking separately?

●      Shared items: Who is responsible for paying for shared items (such as toilet roll, cookware etc.) and how will you split the costs?

●      Cleaning: What are the expectations for cleanliness? How can you divide up household duties in a fair way? Do you need to create a cleaning schedule?

●      Quiet hours: Discuss when everyone will be sleeping or studying and determine quiet hours

●      Pets: Is everyone comfortable with pets in the home? If someone does bring a pet home, where are they allowed to go and where must they stay away from?

●      Other considerations: Does anyone have allergies? How are decisions about decorating made? Is there a designated person responsible for communicating with the landlord? 

While a housemate agreement is important and should be respected, creating one doesn’t need to be formal or uncomfortable. Consider organising the conversation around an evening at home with snacks and tea.

Remember, creating this agreement is just a first step. You and your housemates might agree to make some changes to the agreement later on. Everyone’s needs evolve with time and so too might the rules. 

Resolving issues with housemates

If you run into problems with a housemate, try to resolve the problem between yourselves by talking about it.

Maintain open and honest communication

If your housemate is breaking some of the rules, or if you are clashing with them for any other reason, it’s important to talk directly to them about the problem. It’s possible that they don’t realise their behaviour is impacting on the other people they live with. 

While it’s important to talk to your housemate about the issue as soon as possible, try to choose your time wisely. Ask them when they are free for a chat rather than confronting them during their dinner or study time. Choose a time that suits you also.

No matter how busy your schedules are, speak with your housemate in person, rather than by text, email or in house group chats. If you are tired, angry, frustrated or nervous, you might not feel like doing this. However, being open, stating facts and giving your housemate the opportunity to listen and share will help to open up a productive conversation. 

When you bring up an issue with your housemate, try to describe your frustrations from your own perspective. Say things like “I feel uncomfortable when you invite your friend to stay on our couch” rather than accusing them of anything. Take the time to listen to what they have to say. It’s likely that both of you will need to compromise in order to resolve the problem. If you have other housemates, it’s a good idea to speak to them too and ask them how they feel about the issue – but try to avoid making any one person feel like they’re being ganged up on.

Observe your own habits

It can be easy to blame somebody else for any conflict that arises. However, it is important to be aware of the impact of your own behaviour also. After all, it does take at least two people for a conflict to occur. 

If you do recognise that some of your words or actions towards your roommate have been unkind, try not to beat yourself up over it. Instead, use this realisation as a lesson that allows you to grow into a more considerate housemate. If you feel it is appropriate, apologise to your roommate and explain that you would like to do things differently going forward.

Check in with others

When a group of people live under the same roof, they usually share many things. Most of the time this is a positive thing. However, if the conflict between you and your housemate is having a negative impact on others in the household, it is important to do what you can to minimise this. Avoid involving them in arguments or making them pick sides and, if you do need to have a serious discussion with your housemate, try to be mindful of where, when and how you do it. 

Your other housemates don’t need to know everything that is said between you and the person you are experiencing conflict with. However, if one of you plans to move out, a new house rule is agreed on or another big change occurs, it is important that you tell them about it. 

Take the next step

If a problem is not resolved after discussing it with your roommate, try to discuss it with them again. It might take some time and a few conversations for them to change habits such as leaving dishes in the sink. 

While most problems may be resolved through open communication and compromise, it is possible that others will not. In this case, you both might need to consider that your personalities are not compatible and that your living situation isn’t going to work. If you have decided that you can’t live together, then one or both of you may need to move out, if this is possible with your circumstances. 

If this happens, make sure to discuss the decision with everyone in the house, as well as the landlord. If someone moves out, you will need to determine when they will leave, what happens to their portion of the rent and whether you or your landlord is responsible for finding a tenant to replace them. No matter how annoyed you may be with your housemate, it is important to keep the needs of others in mind also.

Report any serious matters

Leaving dishes in the sink, spending too long in the shower and waking everyone up in the morning are annoying issues that are best resolved through discussion. However, if your housemate is causing harm to you or anyone in the household, their behaviour needs to be addressed, and your safety prioritised. Theft, property damage, harassment, discrimination, threats of violence and assault are all crimes that must be taken seriously, and can be reported. 

If your housemate is making you or another person in the home feel unsafe, it’s important to speak with your landlord immediately. 

The following offences should be brought up with your landlord: 

●      Their behaviour affects the wellbeing of others

●      Their behaviour causes or could cause fear or danger to others

●      Their behaviour causes or could cause injury, damage or loss to others 

If any of these behaviours affect anyone who is living, working, or is in or near the house or apartment, they can be given seven days’ notice of termination without a prior warning. 

If a tenant is continuously behaving in a way that prevents another person living in or near the home from living peacefully (e.g. through noise pollution), the landlord must issue that tenant a warning letter requesting that they correct their behaviour in a set period of time. If the landlord does not do this, contact Threshold for further advice.

Being faced with challenging relationships and situations at home can affect your mental health, so it is important to reach out for support when you need it. If your landlord does not resolve the issue, if you are worried about your safety or if you need some support, try speaking with somebody that you trust about the situation. This could be a family member, a friend, a counsellor, a support organisation or another person you feel comfortable sharing this with. You might decide to go to the Gardaí and if you do, you can ask someone to go with you. 

Supports for people dealing with problems with housemates

If you are having problems with a housemate and are unsure what to do, there are some organisations out there that can offer advice. 

Threshold

Threshold is a national housing charity that campaigns for the rights of tenants, works to end homelessness, provides free and confidential advice and tenancy protection services to people with housing problems. You can submit a query on their website or phone one of their local advice centres. 

FLAC

Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) can offer you free legal advice if you are unsure about your rights when experiencing problems with housemates and landlords. You can contact their Information & Referral Line at 1890 350 250 or email [email protected] 

CATU Ireland

Community and Tenants Union (CATU) Ireland is a union for renters, council tenants, mortgage holders and people in emergency and precarious living situations. If you become a member of CATU, they will be able to support you with any community or tenancy issues that you are facing. Find out more about joining CATU.

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