How to handle disputes with your housemates

Shared living, especially with people you don’t know well, isn’t always easy and sometimes conflict does arise. 

In general, it’s best to try and avoid conflict by being a considerate housemate, and compromising where possible. It’s also important to choose like-minded housemates in second and third year to try and minimise conflict.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that it’s not compulsory to live in shared accommodation as a student. If you’re the sort of person who is very particular about your living environment, or has strong ideas about how to do things, it may be worth investigating options involving living on your own.

Here's what to do if you find yourself at odds with your housemates:

Talk to them first

Sometimes, situations can be resolved before they get too serious just with a simple chat. Your flatmate may not realise how loud their music is, or how annoying their behaviour can be. Sometimes a quiet word in private can be the best way to resolve things. Try not to be too accusatory- be assertive but polite, and don’t get drawn into an argument. 

If talking to a person one on one has no effect, then it may be worth getting other flatmates involved. However, if someone feels like they’re being ganged up on, or if everyone in the flat doesn’t like them, their behaviour may actually become more antisocial. 

If you want to tackle something as a flat, maybe try discussing a few issues at once in order to seem less like you’re singling out one person. Including yourself and generalising issues can also help e.g. suggesting everyone is a bit quieter after 11pm during exam season, or you all do more cleaning may have a better effect than singling out one person. 

If you’re living in halls

If you’re living in halls, and are having serious issues, there are some more steps you can take. Most wardens in halls will deal with things like anti-social noise, or smoking indoors, although they won’t usually want to get involved in personal arguments. 

As a one off, contacting a warden or security can help, but it’s not really a long term solution, and can cause more resentment between flatmates. Sometimes though, if a person is very drunk or becoming aggressive, contacting on-site security is the safest solution in the short term. 

Most university halls, and some private ones, will let you move flats, especially later on in the year, when there are more spaces. This is a pretty drastic solution, and sometimes your new flatmates may not be any easier to live with, but it’s worth considering if you’re really not getting along with anyone in your flat, or you’ve had a big argument with a flatmate and you feel like a fresh start might help. 

If you’re living in private rented accommodation

Private landlords and letting agencies don’t normally want to get involved in disputes between tenants. It’s also worth bearing in mind that you can all be held responsible for any damage caused or anti-social behaviour. This is why it’s so important to choose your housemates carefully and not rush into anything. 

It’s also much harder to leave private rented accommodation part way through the tenancy agreement- you’ll normally have to find someone to take over your room, or you’ll end up paying two rents. However, if you really want to leave, the first step is normally to discuss things with your landlord.

If you’re having serious issues in private rented accommodation, it may still be worth speaking to the landlord, especially if someone is breaching their tenancy (e.g. having guests to stay more often than permitted). If the landlord is willing to speak to your housemate, then this might help resolve the situation.

As a one off, if a housemate has come home drunk and become aggressive, for example, it may be that your only option is to call the police.


Financial Disputes

One of the biggest problems that can occur in shared housing is disputes over bill payment and owing other housemates money. Failed bill payments can have long lasting consequences for your credit rating, and arguing about money can make living together really unpleasant. 

A good way to avoid this is to make each person responsible for an individual bill (for example, one person does water, one person does electric, one person does the internet/TV and one person does gas). This way, everyone has an incentive to pay on time, and the risk is not placed on any one individual. 

The only bill that it’s probably best to deal with individually is contents insurance, unless you have a lot of shared, expensive items.

It’s not normally a good idea to tie yourself to your housemates financially, for example by getting some kind of joint account. If the joint account ever misses a payment, this will affect everyone’s credit score.

Some letting agents/landlords will offer all inclusive deals, and if you live in private halls, this normally includes bills. This can be a good way to avoid getting into this kind of dispute, and may be a better option if you don’t know your housemates well enough to trust them financially.