Roommate Interview Tips: How to Weed Out the Crazies

image of interviewing roommate
Source: Matt Long via Flickr Creative Commons

Renting with roommates is like any other roommate situation in New York City. Full of trade-offs. We all have our roommate horror stories but there is a world of difference between a roommate who eats your leftovers and roommate who stiffs you on rent or invades your privacy. If you’re looking for a new roommate, you should be confident you’ve found someone reliable, trustworthy and compatible to your lifestyle. Read these tips for interviewing potential roommates – ideally, this will help weed out the crazies and help you match with a solid housemate and potential new friend.

Be Honest

When you describe yourself and the vibe of the apartment be as honest as possible. This isn’t the time to boast about how many cool things you do on the weekends. This is the time to tell someone that you need your beauty rest and an occasional long, hot bath. If you made yourself out to be totally chill but really you’re totally type A, your OCD tendencies will become apparent as soon as your roommate moves in. The same is true if you have a by-the-seat-of-your-pants lifestyle, but are projecting a super-organized persona. Save yourself from unnecessary conflicts down the road and be candid. It’s worth waiting for the right match.

New to this? Check out Naked Apartment’s guide to renting with roommates in NYC

Read Between the Lines

Your initial point of contact will likely be via email so this will also your first opportunity to assess compatibility and weed out the crazies. Without getting too neurotic, it’s important to consider style, tone and frequency of your potential roommate’s communication.

  • Style: Unless you are highly selective and extremely fastidious, it’s not worth reading too deeply into a person’s grammar, spelling and diction. If, however, their correspondence lacks coherency or they fail to respond to your questions in a thoughtful or logical manner, that’s worth noting.
  • Tone: You may hate emojis, but it’s not necessarily worth ruling someone out who uses them. Everyone’s tone is different and that may come across as more exaggerated in email. Don’t let it bug you too badly. If, however, there is noticeable evasiveness and terseness in their communication and avoidance of answering certain questions or vagueness around certain details, this too is worth noting. It could be signs of sketchiness or guardedness — neither of which you want to characterize a roommate.
  • Frequency: Also worth considering is the frequency and timeliness of their correspondence. Are they erratic or unreliable in their responses? This could be a sign of low interest in the apartment or general flakiness. On the other hand, someone who seems overly responsive, communicative and quick to commit could be desperate and eager to force a situation that isn’t right.

Above all else, be critical and trust your instinct. Since you don’t have much to base your assessment off of, take a pass on the candidate if something seems off in your initial emails or if you guys are having trouble communicating.

Do Background Research

In vetting new roommates, you don’t have much to go off of except your own limited communication, so it’s fair to do some social media stalking. Facebook, Google, LinkedIn are all par for the course when it comes to roommate background research. Assume your potential roommate will do the same for you. Try not to judge too harshly, but if you’re seeing a lot of CrossFit selfies and you’re more of an Instagram cats type, you may take a pass. That said, a burpee beast can be a tabby lover too.

Would You Live in a Railroad Apartment With a Roommate?

image of crossfit
Just cause he’s into cupping, doesn’t mean he won’t love your cat too.

Look Out for Red Flags

For a lot of the vetting, you’ll have to go with your gut, but there are some telltale red flags to watch out for including the following:

  • Unwillingness to provide links to social media accounts or references
  • References who don’t respond to your inquiries
  • References who don’t vouch for the candidate (obvious!)
  • Difficulty scheduling a meeting
  • Inconsistency in details or dates

Don’t Go It Alone

After you’ve done the initial vetting via email, you’ll want to set up some in-person meetings and interviews. The first piece of advice is not to do the interview alone. If you have other roommates, then interview the person as a group. But if you are single, invite a friend over. The reason for a group interview is twofold – yes, personal safety but also personal accountability. You should have a consistent explanation of your living situation and what you are looking for in a new roommate as well as a thorough set of questions to ask the candidate. A friend will keep you honest in describing what you want and help you review the answers later. In general, it will also create a more social, laid-back feel to your initial meeting. If you like the candidate, you should then schedule a second follow-up meeting for just the two of you to go over logistical details and potentially seal the deal.

Determine the Status of the Lease or Not to Lease

By adding a roommate to your lease you are making them lawfully liable to follow the rules of the building and incur the same costs for damages. Not only does this hold your roommate accountable but it tells you, at the time of their signing, that they understand this is serious business. On the other hand, once a roommate is on the lease they have as much claim over the apartment as you, unless otherwise stipulated. At the end of the day, people have had successes and failures taking both routes, which is why vetting a roommate is of the utmost importance.

Are formal roommate agreements necessary? Learn more

Questions to Ask in a Roommate Interview

  1. Length of Stay: Learning a person’s expectations for their length of stay is telling. Some people can’t commit to three months while others might be thinking in terms of years.
  2. Cooking: This is a common point of contention in any roommate situation. You will likely be sharing the finite resource of kitchen space. The issue isn’t just whether the person likes to cook, but also whether they clean up after themselves as well.
  3. Cleaning: Being on the same page as your roommate when it comes to basic cleanliness can save a lot of trouble in the long run.
  4. Money: Requesting pay stubs or credit history is an easy way to get an accurate picture of someone’s finances but that may be too formal for your style. Money is an inherently sensitive topic but you must be very honest about expectations and how rent will get paid.
  5. Relationships: If a person has a serious partner it can be an issue as one roommate suddenly becomes two. You should make it clear in the interview if this is a concern.
  6. Work and Schedule: Asking someone about their profession and the usual hours they keep can mean the difference between being woken up at 4 a.m. as your roommate comes in from the night shift or fighting over the shower every morning. The hours someone keeps during the week and weekend should be a consideration.