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How do I get rid of a roommate who isn't a good fit?

Published: Oct 14, 2009

Life deals us a lot of cards, most of which seem to be utterly random, a few of which are aces, and a few of which are total stinkers. Sometimes through strange circumstances (subletting, boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, deceptive appearances) you may find yourself living with a roommate who is not simply a bad fit as a friend, but is actively eroding the quality of your life.

Perhaps they've never cleaned a dish since moving in; perhaps they're not paying bills or rent on time, ever; perhaps they're throwing three death metal-themed parties a week and then leaving town so that you can pick up the fun-sized Heineken mini-kegs and plastic cups that now decorate the living room. Ultimately, you want them gone, and gone now. What to do?

Well, as it turns out, rousting a person from where they sleep at night and eat most of their meals is not necessarily an easy thing to accomplish. People cling hard to the space that they know, and nobody wants to start the hunt for a good apartment... again. So go through this simple series of questions as you ponder the live-in nightmare who has made home-sweet-home a layer of he'll.

Can this be negotiated and/or repaired?

Many problem roommates who seem irredeemably annoying can, in fact, be salvaged through a simple, frank discussion. Establish the problem in a non-confrontational way ("the kitchen is a wreck to the point where nobody can use it, and it stays that way"), raise the stakes ("I really can't live like this anymore") and strive toward compromise ("will you work with me to come up with a plan to ensure that it stays relatively clean from here on in?")

In extreme cases, you can even seek joint counseling -- counselors will talk to roommates, and in many cases external mediation can fix a seemingly unsolvable conflict... at least long enough to get through the length of the lease.

If your roommate from hell is amiable to working together on a plan, then things can be patched up and moved forward. Many people, when the pattern of their ways and the consequences of that pattern have been demonstrated, will in fact pull things together and follow the newly established rules. Just make sure that those rules are clear, enforced, and fair (if you break them, you have to pay the consequences, as well.)

Can this be handled legally?

Let's say negotiation has failed, or your roommate didn't even hear you out to begin with. What's their legal status? If they're an illegal sublet, or somebody's significant other, or someone otherwise not on the lease, good news! You can give them the "if you don't shape up, I'm having you evicted" speech. This will raise tensions, but it will also put a whole new spin on how important it is to respect your legal, lease-abiding roommates.

Alternately, you can simply go to the landlord and have them evicted.

Can you, personally, find another situation?

We often live with horrible people because:

a) We don't want to go through the hassle of looking for a new place and

b) We feel like we've "lost" the conflict if we move out simply because the roommates are terrible.

That said: If you can find another place to live with friends or more reliable roommates, give it serious thought. Waging a daily war against some jerk in your home is a major drain on your energy reserves, and, ultimately, the important thing is that you love where you live -- not that you cling to a particular house or apartment.

Ultimately, the worst thing you can do -- consciously or unconsciously -- is to wage a war of attrition against your roommate, assuming that your bad habits / loud music / constant nagging can eventually drive them into the street. First of all, that's unlikely to happen. Second of all, their retaliation will simply make a bad situation hellish. Don't burn the bridge until you're sure you'll never need it again -- and, even then, why not just walk away and leave it standing?

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