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What to do when roommates cause problems

Peaceful-living contracts can prevent conflict

Photo illustration by Aimee Wachtel

Bad roommates are everywhere. If you find panties on a doorknob, make a roommate contract ASAP.

September 1, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Roommates can be peaceful, easygoing and laid-back ­— or they can be complete nightmares. Experiences range from mildly weird to severely disturbing and everything in between. Whether it’s messiness, personality conflicts or personal space issues, a lot can go wrong with a roommate.

For some people, it’s a complete surprise when things turn sour, but for others it’s expected. Attorney Rod Stevens practices landlord and tenant law and has seen many bitter disputes end up in court, usually when one person skips out on the rent. Stevens says it’s important to be careful when picking a roommate. “Partners never think about what could go wrong,” Stevens says. “No one thinks about damages in advance.”

Roommate behavioral contract

Healthy relationships require roommates to live by an agreed set of rules. To help new roomies, Vox has created a contract to help keep living arrangements peaceful.

Section I: Common-Area Conduct
• Food must never be left out long enough to rot.
• Personal space must be kept neat and odor-free. This includes the roommate’s person. Showers must be taken regularly.
• Nudity is reserved for the comfort and privacy of individual bedrooms.
• Trash receptacles must be emptied when they are full.
• Sexual activity is prohibited on all common surfaces.
• Karaoke is never acceptable. Dance parties are reserved for groups of more than three.

Section II: Borrowed Items

• If something is borrowed, it must be returned promptly.
• Consent is required before borrowing any personal item. If an item is lost or damaged, it should be quickly repaired or replaced.
• Personal items such as toothbrushes and underwear are off limits.

Section III: Guests

• Fellow roommates’ space does not serve as a guest bedroom. Overnight guests must leave before they become squatters.
• All parties and gatherings slated to take place at the residence must be scheduled with the consent of all roommates.

--Hilary Lau

One way to ensure a pleasant living environment is for the residents to create a peaceful-living contract, a set of rules for each person to abide by. If MU student Abbye Klamann and her roomie had drawn up a contract, their relationship might have been better from the start. “From the very second I Facebook creeped on my freshman-year roommate, I knew we’d have problems,” Klamann says.

Their first semester was less than ideal. The roommate publicly blogged about Klamann, blow-dried her hair with the lights on at 7 a.m. and didn’t share Klamann’s love of Snoop Dogg. “Although she may have been a bit off the beaten track, she had nothing on the rest of the people in our dorm,” Klamann says.

The relationship wasn’t all bad. Put up against their dorm mates, Klamann and her roommate banded together. “We watched out for each other when other dorm residents tried to turn the lights off while we took showers,” Klamann says. “When we awoke to find someone’s soiled panties on the doorknob, my oddball roommate was the only one who truly understood the insanity.”

MU student Christy Lewis also had some weird roommate experiences. “My freshman-year roommate was a stripper, and I walked in on her blow-drying her thong for work on my bed,” Lewis says.

Sometimes problems can become life-threatening. MU student Ratko Radojcic remembers his roommate carrying a journal with him, but he had no idea what was inside. When his friends found the journal in a dining hall and read it, they immediately notified Radojcic of the threatening comments inside.

“There was a journal entry about how I was probably the only person in the world he would want to kill, and that if he were to do it, he’d do it with a knife,” Radojcic says.

Radojcic says he received a text from a friend one day warning him not to come back to the dorm because his roommate was bragging about a new knife he had in his room. Later that night, the roommate was arrested for the threats. “It could be the premise for Scream 4 — pure teen drama,” Radojcic says.

These horror stories might have been avoided if a peaceful-living contract including provisions for knife-wielding tirades and eccentric cohabitants had been put into place. Roommate relationships everywhere could improve with a contract stating rules about personal space, cleanliness and guests.

At Northwestern University before transferring to MU, Klamann and her roommate drew up a contract like this as a requirement of her residence hall. “It gave us a better feel for where we stood on things,” Klamann says.
“Being forced to sit down and draw up a contract let me get to know her better as well as lay out some ground rules.”

Lory Arnold, Director of Residential Life at Stephens College, thinks roommate contracts are a good idea. “Having students sign a roommate contract is something new we are trying this year,” she says. “We have more roommate pairings now than we have had in the past, and I am hoping to eliminate some of the issues that roommates encounter.”

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