After weeks of living in hotels while looking for a place to live, Bronwen Davies, 24, was getting desperate.
She’d moved from South Africa to enroll in the forensic science master’s program at George Washington University, and with one day to go before classes started, she still hadn’t found anything both safe and affordable.
So when one of Davies’ future classmates emailed her and suggested they pack three people into a one-bedroom apartment last fall, “I was like, yes! Let’s do this. I need a roof over my head,” Davies says.
The next day, Davies signed a lease with two total strangers: Fellow grad student Yoelia Perez, 27, who moved from California, and recent Boston transplant Robyn Cyr, 24, a medical administrative assistant.
Perez took over the bedroom, Davies moved into the den, and Cyr carved a bedroom out of the living room with the help of three bookshelves and five Japanese-style screens.
They each pay about $733 in rent — a bargain, says Cyr, for a luxury apartment that’s five minutes from the Pentagon City Metro.
“We sacrifice some privacy for a nice, safe place to live,” she says.
That’s a common tactic for law students as well, says Briana Levine, 31, who shares a two-bedroom apartment with two of her former classmates at American University Washington College of Law: Mona Sheth, 28, and Jonathan Woodridge, 28. Woodridge carved his bedroom out of the living room.
Though they have all since graduated and gotten jobs, the cheap rent — they each pay about $825 a month — and camaraderie has kept them from moving.
“When I tell people how much we pay in rent, they are shocked, they are jealous,” Sheth says.
Saving on rent has allowed Levine to save for a down payment on a house, and all three can spend a little more on fun things like going out to eat, Woodridge says.
In fact, eating out is a key to a happy home, Sheth says.
After finishing law school, but before they all found jobs, the three roommates cooked constantly and often had friends over. It was fun, but dirty dishes attracted bugs, and cramped quarters sometimes caused tempers to flare, Sheth recalls.
Now, everyone is too busy to entertain, and they only argue when Sheth plays too many sad songs on her (compact, electric) piano.
Arguments are also rare among the Pentagon City trio. They credit their harmony to the building’s nice common areas, especially the clubhouse on the top floor. The homey space is laid out like a giant living room, with couches, televisions, tables and an open-plan kitchen.
“It really helps that, if we ever get too claustrophobic, we just go upstairs to work and hang out,” Davies says.
Perez, who is called the “house mother” by her roommates, keeps the apartment running smoothly, by, for instance, creating a chart that keeps track of whose turn it is to buy supplies like laundry detergent. As for utilities, each roommate is responsible for a different bill, and they even it all out when they pay the rent.
The building management doesn’t mind getting three checks for random amounts each month — as long as it adds up to $2,200, says Perez. That’s because the roommates were upfront about splitting the apartment.
“We’re all on the lease,” she says.
Though Cyr, Perez and Davies started out as strangers, they are now good friends, with a closeness forged through nightly pajama parties, shared Craigslist furniture-buying adventures and the occasional morning bathroom run-in.
“It could have been a disaster,” Cyr says.
“We all could have been murderers,” Davies adds. “Two of us are forensic scientists, after all.”
Roommate Conflict Resolution 101
Are your roomies tracking mud everywhere or blasting dubstep day and night? Don’t leave a passive-aggressive note, says Dominick Scalise, a staff psychologist at the University of Maryland, College Park, Counseling Center. Instead, have a conversation.
“The key to good roommate relations is communication, and that goes double if you’re sharing tight quarters,” he says. Try these tips when it’s time for a tough talk with your roommates.
Wait until you’re calm: When you’re bubbling with anger, the rational parts of your brain “go offline,” Scalise says. If you find yourself getting worked up mid-conversation, take a time out.
Ask if it’s a good time to talk: “Don’t ambush your roommate and demand a conversation,” Scalise notes.
Be honest: You may be tempted to soft pedal your annoyance, especially if it’s about something seemingly petty, like closet space, Scalise says. But “you need to be upfront about how you feel,” he says. “These little things don’t always feel so little.”
Summarize your roommates’ concerns: Your roommates may respond to a complaint with an excuse — for instance, maybe their work schedules don’t allow them to do dishes in a timely manner. Repeat that back without judgment or commentary. “It shows you’re listening,” Scalise says.
Find common ground: “Challenge yourself to find even 1 percent of the other person’s perspective you can agree with,” he says. That way, your roommates won’t feel as defensive and will be more open to compromise.
Check in later: After you come to a mutually agreeable solution, give it a week and then chat with your roommates to see whether it’s working. “You want to keep those lines of communication open,” Scalise says.
How Many People Can Legally Live in an Apartment?
It varies by locale. In D.C., a single tenant older than age 1 must sleep in a room that is at least 70 square feet. If two or more people sleep in a room, it must provide at least 50 square feet for each tenant. In general, as many as two people are allowed in an efficiency, three people in a one-bedroom, five people in a two-bedroom, and seven people in a three-bedroom, the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs says.