No, this isn’t an episode of “The Real World” (we stopped being polite a long time ago). This is just the real D.C., where the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is upward of $2,000 a month. Splitting the rent is simply the only option for many of the youngish people who want to live in this city without selling all their worldly possessions.
More than a third of American adults live in doubled-up households, or homes where at least two working-age people live together but aren’t romantic partners, according to a Zillow study from 2012. In the District, that number was closer to 40 percent.
The rent is so d— high that many of us who’ve lived alone elsewhere are having to go back to living with roommates. Platonic cohabitation might not be a big deal for many 22-year-old interns who, their college days not so far behind them, don’t blink an eye when the last of the milk is drunk and not replaced. But if you’ve experienced the joys of solo-living (You can decorate however you want! You can walk around naked! You only have yourself to blame for drinking the last of the milk!), sharing a place again can be an adjustment. Here are a few rules for keeping the peace.
RULE 1: Get to know each other.
Allison, a journalist who didn’t want to give her last name for career reasons, knows what I’m talking about. When she moved into a decrepit group home in Shaw after spending her first year of grad school in a lonely Foggy Bottom studio, she ignored the house’s obviously unsound structure. “I said this is just what young people do when they move to D.C. and need to live cheaply.” Then the ceiling in the room next to hers caved in, spilling water all over her roommate’s closet. “I was scared,” she said. “I didn’t want to be sleeping one night and get asbestos water on my face.”
None of her four housemates seemed to care, she said. The roommate who got flooded just wanted her dry cleaning bill covered. So Allison moved out. Looking back, she says she should have asked her former roommates more questions — such as how clean they wanted to keep the common areas, whether sharing food is okay or a faux pax and how to handle house repairs– before signing a lease. “You have a right to know about these people you’re going to be living with.”
Niccole Schreck, senior brand manager with Rent.com recommends signing a roommate agreement along with a lease. “It doesn’t have to be formal,” she said, just a breakdown of living arrangements, such as who will pay for what, acceptable noise levels and how you will split the chores.
RULE 2: Besties don’t always make the best roomies.
Brianna Knoppow asked a lot of questions of potential flatmates when preparing to move to Washington, D.C.,for a job at the EPA over a year ago. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a college vibe,” she said.
She also wanted a roommate she got along with but who wouldn’t be her best friend. “Like when you date a guy, you want your own set of friends,” she explained. Eventually finding a fantastic fit with a woman in a two-bedroom/one-bathroom in Columbia Heights, Knoppow said her roommate is “relaxed and friendly,” and gives her plenty of space.
RULE 3: Ask about the dishes.
The cleanliness of a house, or lack thereof, gets magnified the more people you live with, said higher education consultant Jackie Pugh. When she moved to D.C. from San Francisco two years ago, she found a room in a house with five other people, along with a few cockroaches and a hole in the kitchen wall, “from a previous rager.”
Are you a “do the dishes immediately” type of person? Or more of an “I’ll get around to it once we run out of clean forks”? The answer could help you avoid living with the wrong person. The biggest conflicts are around the most basic living habits, said Georgetown’s director of residential education Ed Gilhool. Before moving in, he says it’s important to ask: Do you listen to your music loudly but she doesn’t? Is he fine with sharing all of his food but you’ll rage over a piece of bread going missing?
It turns out I’m a “do the dishes right now” person, but not all of my roommates are. Next time, that’s going to the top of the Craigslist ad.