Nightmare roommate stories are legend: the roommate who helped themselves to all your food, but refused to chip in. The roommate who adds another roommate – their boyfriend or girlfriend – to your happy household without ever talking to you about it.
The best way to avoid future issues like these is to put on your investigators hat when interviewing potential roommates before moving in together.
Susan Fee, a counselor and the author of "My Roommate Is Driving Me Crazy," says, "It's not enough to ask, 'Do you have a microwave? Great, I have a couch.'"
She says the most important things you need to know about people you're considering as a roommate is their lifestyle. Do they get up early in the morning? If so, when? If you're sharing a bathroom, you'll need to lay down rules for how it's used, and when.
There are always obvious issues in a roommate relationship, like smoking and pets, but other areas are less obvious.
For example, how will you share expenses beyond the rent? If you're going half-sies on the grocery bill, does that mean the roommates can help themselves to whatever's in the fridge, or do you expect them to buy certain things each week? What about other costs – utilities, renters' insurance, and the like?
If someone doesn't eat meat, they obviously shouldn't be expected to subsidize your hamburger. But would they even be offended if you cook meat in the house and complain about it?
If your prospective roommate is dating, do they plan on having folks spend the night, and will this other person be hanging out in your place all the time? "One of the biggest complaints I get is about intimate relationships," Fee says. "You can imagine how uncomfortable that can be in a dorm room, but [it can be in] an apartment as well."
Even just friendships can be a problem, Fee says, particularly if your roommate has a lot of close friends. "Sometimes you get a roommate and end up with five people who are there all the time."
When talking to prospective roommates, Fee recommends broaching the issue casually -- Ask them, "How do you like to socialize?"
Each gender has different issues to weigh.
Fee says women, in particular, may see their roommates as a sort of social crutch. They think, "If you're going to be my roommate you're going to hang out with me."
On the other hand, men must decide what "clean" means to them. "Usually there's one guy who's cleaner than the other," Fee says. "So you need to ask, 'do you do the dishes within two weeks, when they're overflowing onto the counter, or what.' "
Finally, there's arbitration – figure out exactly how you will resolve conflicts. They will arise, so having a framework for figuring them out will ensure they get resolved with as little acrimony as possible.
Other Questions to Ask:
* It's fine to use an online service to whittle down roommate candidates, but it's no substitute for a face-to-face meeting. It's easy for potential roommates to put their best foot forward in an email, but not as easy to fake it face to face.
* Go with your gut. If a roommate gives you the willies during an interview, steer clear. That's a very good sign you're not going to get along.
* Where you meet for the interview is important. Don't meet at a bar where you can't hear each other. Going out to lunch is a good way to get to know them in a casual setting.
* If you're going to share an apartment with a best friend, don't assume they'll make the best roommate just because you're such good friends. Ask them the same questions you would anyone else. This arrangement has a big downside: if you have a falling out, you might not just lose a roommate, you could also lose a friend.
Allison Bisbey-Colter is a contributor to Relocation.com, a leading provider of moving services and advice for people who are relocating.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.