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Ten key questions to ask a prospective roommate

By | Published: Oct 14, 2009 | 9 Comments

Choosing a roommate isn't exactly as important a decision as choosing a spouse, but the decision has similar ramifications in the short term: The way you live, work, eat, relax, and plan financially can be directly affected by the person with whom you live.

Although many renters (particularly younger ones) follow their initial impulse and live with friends, the qualities that make for a good drinking buddy may vary considerably from those that make for a good roommate. A solid interview process can help clear up a lot of future points of tension -- or reveal that an apparent match made in heaven, well, wasn't. Sometimes surprises are pleasant or easy to deal with... and sometimes they aren't.

"I lived with one roomie who neurotically turned on the TV to any channel the second he walked in the door," recalls Becky. "And another who listened to hip hop in the shower at 6am, and another who had a different girl come home every week. Everyone has their quirks - I bet someone is telling stories about me right now too," she laughed.

Here are ten questions to get you started.

  1. What do you do for a living?

    Getting a sense of a person's working hours, habits, and income is good baseline for any interview. Asking about specific salary is generally seen as rude or off-putting, but you can get a sense of whether the apartment is a stretch or splurge, or well within budget for your prospective roommate. Roommates working in volatile careers -- commission-based sales, jobs that involve constant travel, etc. -- may be more likely to leave you in the lurch from a rent perspective.

  2. How long do you anticipate staying, and are you willing to co-sign the lease?

    It's hard for most renters to forecast beyond a year or two, but it's good to get a sense of what the apartment represents to them -- a temporary stopover? A stepping stone to a year or two out when he or she will get married? A long-term dream apartment that could be lived in for 10, 20 or more years? Making sure that a roommate is committed to staying for the duration of a lease is an important thing to nail down, and a co-signed lease protects you from a sudden change in plans.

  3. Will you be having overnight guests?

    It's a delicate question, but if you think you're getting a roommate and you end up getting one and a half or two, you may regret not having asked it. Laying down expectations and ground rules early can save heartache -- if you don't mind a boyfriend sleeping over five nights a week, so be it, but if that would be a significant problem, it's worth hashing out early.

  4. What are you looking for in a roommate?

    Some roommates look for friendship, dining companionship, and a shoulder to cry on. Some just want to be left alone in their room. Getting a sense of where a roommate falls on the spectrum is a handy thing to know -- as is having a sense of your own desires in terms of a good living relationship.

  5. Do you want to share cable / internet / netflix etc.?

    Many inter-roommate disputes start over simple things -- utilities, food, and so on -- that can easily be figured out from the get-go. Find out what expenses a roommate will or won't be willing to share from the start, and know about this going into the relationship.

  6. Do you have a pet (or pets), or plan to get a pet?

    Pet allergies and noise from dogs can be a real obstacle to roommate harmony. Know your own boundaries in terms of companion animals, and make sure it's clear that getting a Rottweiler three months into the lease is not OK -- unless, of course, it is.

  7. How do you like to eat and how will food be shared?

    There are a number of arrangements that can work vis-a-vis food. Some roommates share everything at will and split grocery bills -- there are no receipts to hassle with and no concerns about "mine" versus "yours." Some roommates have completely different food supplies and stake out specific kitchen cabinets. And some share staples (milk, butter, flour, spices) but keep luxuries (steak, chocolate, frozen dinners) separate. Likewise, some people like to have a house meal once a week, (or three times a week, or even nightly!) and others don't particularly want to break bread with their roommates.

  8. How do you like to socialize and relax?

    Asking this question is a good chance to get into how often a prospective roommate will want to have parties, and how well-attended / raucous they might be. It's also a chance to explore whether smoking, drinking, and/or drugs are a part of their lives, and whether that will cause conflict down the road.

  9. Which room are you interested in?

    If you're going into a situation where bedrooms need to be split up, it's important to set expectations early and figure out what bedroom goes to whom.

  10. Anything else you'd like to ask me, or that I should know about you?

    Finishing with an open-ended question gives a prospective roommate a chance to get anything extra off his or her chest, and often encourages a more free-flowing discussion about living together that can turn up valuable information for everyone involved.


By Alexandra Z,  Wed Oct 14 2009, 16:47
One other important detail to find out about your potential roommate, is what time and for how long they will be using shower in the morning. Because, in the morning, there is nothing more frustrating than waiting for your roommate to get out of a one hour shower, and realize they've used up all hot water. So much for making it early into the office.

The worst, is when you have 2 roommates, and in that situation, you really need to figure out everyone's morning routine.
By Shawn Rosa,  Wed Dec 14 2011, 12:16
pretty good questionaire to present to a potential roomie
By DJ in CA,  Thu Mar 29 2012, 20:55
10+ years in the same roomie household. ABSOLUTELY the "overnight guest" is the biggie. In our case it's "no male overnight guests" unless ALL the roomies agree...ahead of time! We also do "pre-background checks " on our own dime before turning the application over to the rental agency. We use "MySmartMove.com for the criminal & credit check, verify employment, call references Etc.. Basically it's a State Dept. caliber background check, but it solves a LOT of problems.
Pet owners are historically not accurate about how much they will clean up after their pet. Be OK with cleaning up after other peoples animals or don't allow pets.
Month deposit before the move in -- without exception the roomies who had problems with a deposit also had problems paying rent or bills on time.
By Josh Barnett,  Sat May 5 2012, 11:03
One indicator I used when choosing roommates was their car. Typically, if someone keeps a clean car, they will in turn, keep a clean room, just a thought.
By Livwoudstra,  Tue Apr 22 2014, 14:04
Hi guys, check out my blog on how to move and survive in NYC when you have nothing and need everything: a job, a visa, roommates, friends...and a good amount of NY swag: http://liv-forthecity.com/
By lynn,  Fri Dec 26 2014, 12:48
how is it ok to expect no overnight guests? are these not adults paying rent? I dont get how living with someone should have to effect your ability to have a sex life or not...I can understand if its excessive where the person is almost living there, or if people are bringing people over they dont know well, or if they cant be respectful regarding noise, but I am in my 30s and am supposed to ignore my prime years left for a roommate who is going against basic human needs? no.
By Mark Saunders,  Thu Feb 5 2015, 10:27
good idea
By izago5,  Tue Apr 7 2015, 10:23
If you have a big sex drive then rent a room with your lover and split it..or Get your own place. No one likes feel the heat of your getting it on ..I couldn't let my brother do that or would I do that to him. If he was away sure I would allow my boyfriend to come in. You are alive and deserve to be happy but realize you maybe making someone else miserable. Some apartments aren't suitable for
for a 3rd. It's call consideration and respect.
By jeremyscott_408,  Fri Apr 17 2015, 10:52
I would add "What time do you need the bathroom to get ready for work?" especially if you're sharing it.

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