The Top Questions to Ask a Potential Roommate

There are plenty of roommate horror stories out there. You know—the roommates who lie about using your razor or constantly invite their significant other to stay over. It’s enough to make anyone nervous about sharing their space. After all, there’s no foolproof way to identify slobs or drama queens.

But you can at least weed out a lot of the especially worrisome candidates with a thorough interview process. And the good news is that roommate deal-breakers differ for each person. So before you begin interviewing, identify your priorities and choose questions that reveal how each applicant fits with those. Can you tolerate clutter but not loud music? Love sharing clothes but hate sharing food? You might never find a perfect roommate, but if you know yourself well enough, you can find one who’s compatible with you.

That said, you’ll want to ask a few vital questions before coming around to your personal priorities. After all, it won’t do you much good to hit it off with someone who can’t pay rent. Ask the following questions to ensure that a potential roommate will respect your financial and physical security, then use your own questions to find the best possible match.

Rent is ____ a month. Can you commit to pay that promptly?

Roommates are, first and foremost, rent-partners. You can delve into other details later, but first you need to know that your roommate is employed and able to pay their share. If they don’t have a steady job, ask how they will pay for rent. It’s not nosy—it’s necessary information.

What hours do you keep?

A roommate’s typical routine may not seem like a big deal, but sleep is a basic human need. Sleep deprivation can turn any situation into an emotional one, and most roommate relationships just don’t need the extra drama. If your roommate consistently wakes you up by coming home at crazy hours, or if you’re a night owl and your roommate insists on a strict curfew, you’ll both be unhappy living together. Similar sleep, social, and quiet times are a big deal in a roommate relationship.

Are you a gamer?

Again, this may seem like a silly question. Why should you care about your roommate’s hobbies? But this particular hobby has some significant effects. First, gaming can play a large role in an individual’s noise levels. In addition, online games can dominate the apartment Wi-Fi and interfere with school assignments, work, or even casual streaming. This isn’t always the case, but games with multiple players, voice chatting, or video streaming can take a toll on your internet speeds.

What are your drinking habits?

Now we’re getting serious. This may be an awkward topic to broach with strangers, but keep in mind that the roommate you choose won’t be a stranger for long. How often do they drink alone? How much alcohol do they like to keep on hand? Are they a social weekend drinker, or something more?

Keep in mind that a good roommate doesn’t need to be dry, but they should be responsible and respectful of your boundaries. Like sleep habits, you’ll both be happier if you can see eye to eye about alcohol.

Do you smoke? What about drugs?

Before interviewing candidates, review your lease and look for any clauses about smoking. Some landlords attach hefty fines to indoor smoking, since the fumes can do permanent damage to furniture, flooring, and even wall paint. If you own your own property, decide where smoking is permissible, or if your apartment will be smoke-free.

Make a similar decision about drugs, and evaluate if your potential roommate can respect it. Illegal use and possession can lead to fines and imprisonment—not to mention a complicated roommate situation.

Do you plan on carrying or storing a gun at home?

Obviously, there isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question. Having a firearm and a licensed holder in your apartment can make you feel a lot more or a lot less secure depending on your personal views. Federal law requires a background check with most gun purchases, but some states are more thorough than others. An interview with your potential roommate is your chance to conduct your own unofficial background check, as it’s especially important for you to feel confident that the weapon will be managed responsibly.

What was your relationship like with your last set of roommates?

If the potential candidate has never had roommates before, you might ask about a typical day with their siblings or what their ideal roommate would be like. You’re not looking for anything specific with this question, but it will tell you a lot about the person you’re interviewing. If they talk about how boring their roommates were, it might mean that they like to party hard or that they depend on roommates for a social life. If mentions of drama or accusations come up, you might need to dig a little deeper. Be perceptive and ask follow-up questions if necessary.

Can I contact your former roommates as character references?  

If your potential roommate exaggerated the truth in that last question, this is the way to find out. Are they reluctant to give you a phone number for past roommates? If so, ask why, and maybe consider it a red flag. Whether you decide to call the references or not, the reaction to this question provides insight into their behavior as a roommate.

Are you willing to make and live by roommate rules?

This interview won’t give you enough time to discuss all the logistics of sharing an apartment. There are a lot of roommate topics you’ll eventually want to discuss, such as how to divide refrigerator space, when overnight guests are acceptable, and more. In this first interaction with your potential roommate, make it clear that there will be boundaries and responsibilities for everyone living in the apartment. You could even give an example of a rule you’d like to implement (like weekly cleaning), and evaluate their reaction to it.

[Insert your questions here]

Remember, every roommate relationship is different. This initial interview is the time to discuss make-or-break topics that influence your physical and emotional safety or well-being. And if you know you can’t be happy with a messy roommate, make that a talking point now instead of waiting for an issue to pop up. Some basic shared values go a long way, and you’ll both be fine making some compromises later as long as you don’t compromise on what matters most.