If you live alone, the only law you need is the law of the streets. Let dishes pile high in the sink, sit naked on the couch — that’s between you and whatever unholy pagan spirits you may or may not worship. But if you live in a big city or are just trying to save money, chances are you have a roommate. That means rules. It can be annoying to develop all your household rules from scratch, but you’re in luck — I’ve done some of the hard work for you. Here are some day-one household “best practices” that will make life with another human go as smoothly as possible — for everyone.
1. Always wear pants
If you have your own place, you can do whatever you want. You can monopolize the bathroom for hours, or you can watch the 200 HD channels of Time Warner Cable without pants, because pants are the worst. Got roommates? When you’re anywhere except your bedroom, your life is now a permanent pants party. (You may instead wear skirts, skorts, dresses, shorts, kilts, muumuus, tunics, whatever — I honestly don’t care, as long as the lower half of your body is covered by a garment you could wear to your grandma’s house. “Pants” is a catch-all term.)
While you’re at it, also wear something on the top half! Even (perhaps especially) if you’re a dude.
2. Rent needs to be public
If your old roommate moved out and you’re looking for a replacement, you might have the temptation to try the ol’ “greedy land baron” tactic and charge the new guy more than you really should get away with. This is especially tempting if you live in a big, expensive city like New York, and if you pulled your new roommate off some anonymous hellpit of online randos. Believe me, I understand the temptation to save money by keeping secrets from a stranger.
However, you should not do this.
Look, I’m not saying everything always has to be 50/50. There very well could be reasons why you deserve to pay less than your roommate. Maybe you found the apartment and deserve compensation for the effort, maybe you’re the only one on the lease and therefore have more at stake, maybe your roomie got the “good room” and you sleep in a windowless closet. Fine. But everybody needs to know who’s paying what. If you can’t justify the rent discrepancy to your roommate, you’re being a jerk.
3. Do dishes within an hour of eating your damn food
This really doesn’t need much explanation. If you cook, you have 60 minutes to eat and digest. Then get over to the sink and wash the dishes. All of them. No “letting it soak.” Okay, fine, you can have an extra half hour to finish watching that riveting episode of America’s favorite reality show, “The Clockmaker,” in which two dozen beautiful women compete for the love of a humble Bavarian clockmaker. But seriously, once that’s over, get those dishes clean. (I’m not up on all the latest reality shows; “The Clockmaker” may or may not be a real thing.)
4. Make a system for utility bill payment
Electricity, Internet, and water (if your landlord isn’t covering it) should be split right down the middle. If you get cable (and why wouldn’t you, this is the golden age of TV), you can negotiate a little bit on how to divvy that up. Don’t use a chess clock or anything, but if one of you watches all the shows and the other one could live without a TV, maybe do a 60/40 or 70/30 split. There’s some wiggle room. And now with Time Warner Cable’s incredibly convenient TWC TV app, you just might be watching in more ways and places than you ever expected.
5. Exit strategies
Like all good (and most bad) things, someday your roommate situation will come to an end. If you’re good friends, you should be communicating well enough that everybody knows about it months in advance. But if you’re just roommates, the rules are straightforward.
If the departing roommate is month-to-month or otherwise not on a lease: 30 days’ notice is all that’s necessary. More notice is nice, and you can give more if you want to go above and beyond. But you don’t have to, and don’t let anyone give you a guilt trip about not doing so. Definitely don’t skimp out and give less than 30 days’ notice, though. If you have to leave quick, that’s fine, just pay for a full month.
If the departing roommate is on the lease: Leave at the end of the lease, again with 30 days’ notice. What’s that, you want to leave before the lease is up? You signed a contract, fool! Unless the roommate staying behind has someone lined up to take your place, you’re going to have to bust your ass helping out to find a replacement, and not just any schmo off the street, but someone at least as compatible with the left-behind roommate as you were. Fortunately, there are many awesome websites you can help find your replacement on, and with Time Warner Cable’s Internet speeds of up to 300 mbps, you have no excuse not to look early and often.
So there you have it. I can’t tell you how to live your life, but I can tell you how to minimize the likelihood of a roommate feud. And oh, look at that, I just did. Soon you and your roommate will be chilling on the couch, enjoying Time Warner Cable like a couple of best buds. You’re welcome.
Tony Carnevale is a senior writer for Studio@Gawker.
Illustration by Jake Inferrera.