The More the Merrier?

After three months of nightmarish group housing,  Lisa Taylor says her cat, Bozer, is the only roommate she needs.
After three months of nightmarish group housing, Lisa Taylor says her cat, Bozer, is the only roommate she needs. (Courtesy of Lisa Taylor)

By Heather Murphy Staff Writer
Friday, October 20, 2006; 6:00 AM

When Lisa Taylor locked the thermostat in an attempt to freeze out her roommates, she knew her living situation had reached a new low.

Although it happened over one year ago, Taylor, a graduate student at American University, still remembers feeling guilty about leaving two people shivering in her basement. She also remembers how they owed her thousands of dollars in rent and utility money, had eaten all of her food and had turned her life into a nightmare.

Living with strangers can be a great experience -- or a disaster. In this article, we profile two individuals whose experiences ended up on both ends of the spectrum.

Duped by Your Roomies

It's natural to want to give people the benefit of the doubt, but when it comes to shared housing that can be a mistake. Taylor learned that the hard way when interviewing people to share her Northeast Washington home.

After receiving several responses to her ads on Craigslist and in the Washington City Paper, Taylor picked the two who seemed the "most normal" -- a man who worked in sales and a woman who worked in IT.

"Foolishly, I didn't run credit checks on either of them," says Taylor, who feared the pair would think she was being overly cautious; mistake number one. With move-in approaching, both gave sob stories as to why they couldn't pay the $730 security deposit. Because they seemed sincere and Taylor was in a rush to find housemates, she let them move in; mistake number two.

Two months into their new living arrangement, both of Taylor's roommates had given her bad checks and refused to pay for utilities. Finances weren't the only problem, however: Neither bothered to lock or shut the house's front or back doors. "It was like they had been born in a barn," she says.

Taylor also recalls returning from a weekend away to discover all of her food and liquor missing and many of her personal items mysteriously sitting in her housemate's room.

Her male roommate, meanwhile, "thought he was going to be 'Rap Master G.'" He set up a recording studio in the basement, mixing beats until the early morning hours almost every night. He also invited his loud, married girlfriend to the house, Taylor remembers, and they would smoke substances prohibited by the lease agreement -- not to mention the law.

And despite owing Taylor over $1,000 each in unpaid rent and utility money, both refused to leave. It was then that Taylor realized what many in the D.C. area already had: Expelling a roommate, or forcing them to pay rent, can be difficult.

Housing experts agree that renters trying to evict other renters have no legal recourse, unless a detailed document outlining the terms of the living arrangement exists. Without this, Taylor took matters into her own hands. She unplugged her housemates' televisions and locked up the thermostat. With no heat or entertainment, she says, the male eventually left. And she used a no-smoking clause in the lease to get the female out the door: Knowing hearsay wouldn't hold up in court, she snuck up on her drunken roommate and snapped shots of her in the act. She soon left as well.

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