Things to talk about with your off-campus roommate before, or even after, you sign, on the dotted-line (Especially in these times of COVID-19)

By Reese Ramos, Director & University Ombuds at Virginia Tech

It’s that time of the year when we begin seeing the changing of the seasons as fall settles in. It is also the time of year when students move in with new roommates, and little problems and conflicts can start cropping up.  In my work as an Ombuds, I have found that one of the best methods to prevent roommate conflict is for roommates to reach agreement on important matters before, or as soon as, they move in.   The following is a sample list of common issues and questions that roommates should discuss:

  • Are all roommates on the lease agreement?
  • Do all roommates have a clear understanding of how rent is split?
  • Is there agreement on whether you are in a fixed term lease or month-to-month agreement?
  • Is it crystal clear how the landlord will receive payment for the rent? And by when?
  • Have you talked about what happens if one of you has to move out prior to the end of the lease/agreement?
  • Is there a deposit you submitted to the landlord directly? Or did you give it to a roommate?
  • Is there an understanding how that deposit might be used?
  • How are monthly utilities bills, cable and/or internet access costs being split?
  • Who pays for the initial costs of setting up utilities?
  • Are these understandings in writing?
  • Has there been a discussion about which, how many, how often, and how long, friends can come over?
  • Is everyone comfortable with having overnight guests?
  • What happens if a friend/boyfriend/girlfriend moves in?
  • What if someone’s guest makes others uncomfortable for whatever reasons?
  • What’s the expectation around smoking?
  • What’s the expectation around alcohol? Allowed? Not allowed?
  • What’s the expectation around other recreational drugs?
  • Do different expectations apply to the roommates versus guests (especially overnight guests)?
  • Would it be helpful to have these agreements in writing?
  • Has there been a discussion about expectations around noise?
  • Is there a cut-off point when music, friends, movies, etc. need to end (or noise can begin)?
  • Will there be any different expectations around mid-terms, finals, etc.?
  • Are each of the individual roommates responsible for their own food?
  • What if someone eats someone else’s food or drink?
  • How is food space allocated in the refrigerator, cupboards, etc.?
  • How do you know whose food is whose?
  • Is there agreement on common areas (i.e. living room) and who/how it can be utilized?
  • How will cleaning responsibilities in common areas (i.e. dishes in kitchen) be split?
  • Who will do facility maintenance around the apartment/house?
  • What’s a comfortable temperature for everyone and/or how will it be adjusted?
  • Are roommates allowed to enter each other’s room if there’s a need?
  • Is there agreement around locking/leaving unlocked the entrance door?
  • What other rules or expectations do you think would be helpful to discuss?
  • With COVID-19 impacting our day-to-day interactions, have you and your roommates discussed expectations around mask wearing, social distancing, etc.?

Finding common ground on these questions won’t necessarily prevent conflicts from coming up, but it should definitely minimize the chances.

If a problem with a roommate does come up, and you’re not able to address it yourself, please reach out to the many resources available here at Virginia Tech. As always, we’re just a phone call, email or appointment away.

For students living on-campus: Housing and Residence Life and Dean of Students Office are good resources for help.

For students living off-campus:  Student Legal Services can provide free and confidential legal advice to currently enrolled Tech students with respect to leases and contracts. For informal conflict resolution assistance, the University Ombuds Office may be able to help.  The Ombuds Office provides conflict resolution assistance to anyone at Virginia Tech, whether it be faculty, staff or students.  The Office of the Ombudsperson at the Graduate School provides informal conflict resolution services specifically to the graduate school community.

On Wednesday September 30, 2020  from 4:30pm-5:15pm the Tech Ombuds Office and Student Legal Services will also present a free session via Zoom on this topic. Register at