SOS: Here's how to deal with a toxic roommate

Problem solved ✔

White, black, and pink dorm room with two beds
(Image credit: Dormify)

College can be hard AF. Academic and social demands along with living away from home is a major life adjustment. Getting along with your roommate can be really tough if you get off to a bad start. Whether it's different living habits, unwanted guests, or just leaving the dishes in the sink all the time — even if you two mostly get along, conflict is inevitable. 

“After all, it’s two (or more) humans living together in a space, and we all bring our own preconceived ideas and set ways of doing things,” explains Carrie Rose, founder of SunUp Coaching LLC. But the only way to deal with these things and hopefully move on from them is to talk through it. 

Yes, talk about your feelings. That makes it more personal, and perhaps your roommate doesn’t care that you don’t want to hear their overnight guests or that you can’t stand a dirty bathroom, but they are more likely to respond if you let them know how it makes you feel,” says Rose. 

You may wanna check these questions to ask your potential roommate to avoid these issues in the future. But for now, whether it's a minor conflict over a slightly dirty bathroom or a major issue involving someone they're dating, here are seven tips for dealing with a bad roommate.

Don’t be afraid to address major issues

Whether your roommate plays loud music or brings home less-than-stellar guests —you’ve got to bite the bullet and have a conversation about it. If not, nothing will change. 

“For bigger or repeated conflicts, I recommend texting your roommate ahead of time and saying something such as, 'Can we please chat at 8:00 tonight? I want to discuss some things,” says Rose.  

You could check our list of tips to be a good roommate to find areas to improve on or suggest to your roommate.

Try to negotiate

While you might feel frustrated about your roommate's loud gum chewing, it’s likely you also have habits that annoy your roommate. So, when addressing conflict, Rose advises making sure you show that you’re willing to adjust and sacrifice too. 

“Say things such as, 'I will stop pressing snooze because I know that bothers you, and I’d appreciate it if you let me know when you are going to have an overnight guest so I can plan accordingly.” 

Setting up a dorm cleaning schedule could help break up chores.

Keep the convo focused

If you’re having a serious conflict be sure to keep your discussion to that issue exclusively. “Get clear on the behaviors you find problematic and keep the conversation focused on the behaviors that aren't working for your living situation,” says Rose. 

Christina Granahan, Enneagram-Informed Therapist and Coach suggests saying things such as, “It's okay for you to have your light on after I've gone to sleep but I'm not comfortable with you having guests in after I'm asleep."

Granahan explains, "You are communicating to your roommate that you are willing to compromise and also being really clear about what just doesn't work for you.”

Explain the issue from your point of view

Granahan tells me it's crucial to let your roommate know how their behavior impacts you. This may help to change their perspective.

“For example, you might say, 'I'm having a really hard time sleeping and it's impacting my mental health and my academics. For now, could we agree that you do not have guests in the room after [whatever time is best for you]?' Help them to understand why you are asking." 

Recognize the signs of a toxic roommate

Safety first. If your roommate threatens you, has weapons, or brings unsafe people around, even if your roommate is nice most of the time — they’re toxic. 

“More than anything, keep your own safety at the forefront. Your mental and physical health is what is most important. Most universities have lots of experience (fortunately and unfortunately) helping students work through these things,” says Granahan. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Colleges and universities have RA's (resident advisors) for a reason. If things don’t change both Rose and Granahan suggest getting one involved. 

“It can also be helpful to utilize a therapist or life coach so you can talk to someone about the situation who isn’t involved and can have an objective viewpoint,” says Rose. 

You can also seek out your housing organization, on-campus mental health professionals, or your guidance counselor. 

Get out of there

If you are at a breaking point and your roommate won’t respond to anything, it’s time to ask for a room change. 

“If things are really terrible, you can try to change rooms during the semester. You don’t have to stay in the same dorm room all semester if you’ve tried to make things better with a toxic roommate and it simply isn’t working,” explains Rose.  

If you're in off-campus housing, you may need to break your lease to move out.

Amanda Lauren

Hi, I’m Amanda Lauren. I’m a design expert and interior stylist who writes for Real Homes, Forbes, Real Simple among other publications. I live in Los Angeles in the historic neighborhood of Hancock Park with my husband, and two dogs, Lulu and Milo. We also have a baby coming in spring 2023. I’m a big believer in finding beautiful things at all price points. There are so many places to find affordable things, you just have to look for them. If you don't find it at first, look harder!