It is unfortunately very common for disputes to arise between housemates. A clash of lifestyles and differing expectations and standards around cleaning, noise, guests etc. can easily cause conflict. A small issue can quickly escalate and sometimes the breakdown in the household relationship is such that a person might wish to move out. One tenant wanting to move out of a shared house can be extremely difficult for everyone and can have serious financial implications. Further information on this is available on our Escaping a Contract page.
Here are some tips on how to maintain good housemate relationships and what to do when thing go wrong.
Having good housemate relationships
Building and maintaining a good relationship between housemates can help to avoid issues escalating into problems. A good relationship will also make living in the house more enjoyable for everybody. Having a good relationship does not necessarily mean being best friends but should involve a level of mutual respect that allows everyone to feel comfortable.
Identify your relationship needs and make a plan
When (or ideally before) you move in it is a really good idea to have a house meeting and agree on the things that can later cause arguments and/or tension. Identify what you need from each other in the housemate context and come to an arrangement on:
- Keeping safe and following Covid guidance. The University and the local authorities take a very serious view on adherence to the rules and there can be very serious consequences for failing to do so. More information on keeping safe is available on our Prevention & Isolation in Student Accommodation page. In a housemate context, you need to be aware that breaking the rules can cause others serious anxiety and can also increase their risk of contracting the virus. While most elements of living together is about compromise, following rules relating to Covid-19 is a must unless all housemates willingly and freely agree otherwise. If you do not follow the rules you can be fined and the University can take action against you and even exclude your from the course. Members of the community, staff and students (including fellow housemates) can all report you for breaches, both to the police and the University. Further information is available on the University's Community Commitment intranet page.
- Cleaning and using communal spaces. If your property has some form of living room where you can watch tv, invite people over etc., how do you want that to be used and do you expect people to clean up after them as they go? Someone leaving their mugs to pile up by a sofa may seem trivial at first but can quickly become a problem if another housemate likes to be clean and tidy, especially if they then end up having to clean up to be able to make a cup of tea. How do all housemates feel about people inviting friends over? Do you want some kind of notice and do you expect housemates to use their own rooms if having guests? Issues like this may not seem too important at first but can become an issue if one or two housemates are constantly 'taking over' communal spaces;
- Washing up/drying up/putting away/keeping the kitchen clean (or not if none of you care). Different people will have different ideas as to what 'washing up' means. Some will feel that they have done enough if they wash their dishes at the end of the day and leave them on the draining board. Others will expect everything to be washed, dried, put away and the workstops and hobs etc. cleaned after use. This is not a matter of who is right or wrong but trying to reach an agreement on points that may cause arguments later. Constantly coming home to a dirty kitchen can be very frustrating and that frustration, if left to fester, can turn to anger;
- Arrangements for storage and use of food. Are you going to have a shelf each? Do you want to label food? Are you happy for people to help themselves to your food without asking or will this make you angry?
- Having guests to visit/stay. This is especially important if those guests are partners who end up staying over a lot. Other housemates may feel that they did not agree to an extra tenant and may be particularly unhappy if a regular guest is staying in the property without contributing financially. Partners can also create a different dynamic and a housemate may, for example, not feel comfortable going into the living room if the couple are cuddled up watching a film.
- Noise. A lot of tenancy agreements will say that you are not allowed to play loud music between certain hours (typically 10/11pm and 7/8am) and that you should not be a nuisance to your neighbours. The police and the Local Authority can also get involved under noise pollution laws and and may also report this to the University. Noise within the house, however, is more complicated and, provided you are not causing a disturbance to your neighbours, there is no-one you can report a noisy housemate to. It is important to think about individual lifestyles and study needs. You will need to be more considerate and quiet, for example, during a housemate's assessment period. If there is a mix of early to bed/late to rise housemates, you may want to consider a rule that avoids noise both early and late in the day.
- House security. Student houses can be prime targets for crime so you need to agree on rules about making sure windows are closed and all doors locked if people are out. Thefts have been known to occur when some tenants are in the house and they haven't even noticed because they are so used to hearing people coming and going. If no-one is in the kitchen, the back door should be locked. Further information is available on our Safety & Security page.
- Cooking rotas. What you agree in terms of cooking will depend on what is important to you as a house. You need to think about how you will use the kitchen; will you eat together and take in turns to cook. Most kitchens will not be big enough if all housemates decide they want to cook separate meals all at the same time. For a housemate that plans to only use the microwave, this is unlikely to be important but, if you like to spend an hour or so cooking your evening meal, you need to think about how that will work for everyone else.
- Heating the house. This is another issue that may seem trivial at first but can become a big issue. Noone likes to be too cold or too hot in a house and som emay take issue with having higher bills because one or two housemates feel the cold more than others. You will need to make sure you heat the house to a reasonable degree during colder months to help avoid condensation but, whether you want the heating on a set timer or if you are happy for people to turn on and off as they feel necessary, is a conversation worth having at the start.
- Putting the bins out. Cardiff County Council will fine you if you do not adhere to their rules on refuse and recycling. These rules cover what you can put in each bin, when you need to put those bins out and when you need to make sure they are back off the street. You can download the Cardiff Gov app and set reminders but you also need to agree how this is going to work in terms of responsibility within the house. It can be a good idea to create a rota to avoid one or two housemates ending up doing all the work and feeling unfairly treated.
- Paying bills. As a starting point, all housemates need to pay their share of the bills in a timely manner. If one or more housemates fail or delay in the payment, their actions can have financial implications for all. Misssing or late payments can also affect everyone's credit rating and that can start to cause some very emotive arguments. More information is available on our Bills & Council Tax page.
- Anything else the group think important.
One of the most important things you can do in a shared house is to understand how your behaviour might impact on others. You may feel it okay to leave your dishes to accumulate over the day but others may find that seriously annoying. If you are using a shared space, it may mean that someone else has to wash up your pots and pans to be able to cook. Others like to cook and eat in a clean space. Always try be respectful and open to compromise.
It is unhelpful to look at issues like these as who is right or wrong, who is reasonable or unreasonable. Everyone has the right to like things a certain way and you will need to make an effort to compromise if you disagree. The same is true if a group of housemates disagree with one or two others; being in a majority doesn't mean you are automatically entited to behave in a certain way. Remember that these are your housemates and it is very important not to make anyone feel ostracized or bullied. Everyone has the right to feel safe and secure in their own home.
Schedule time as a house
Proper communication is vital so always try to talk and listen to each other in person. Group chats and messaging are great for quick bits of information but not for dealing with issues that may affect your relationship. Regular time together as a house can be a really helpful way to keep your realtionship healthy and stop issues from festering.
This can be as simple as factoring in a regular house night, where you have a meal, takeaway and/or watch a film together. You need to be mindful in doing this that ideally all should be involved, or at least feel genuinely invited to join.
It is a good idea to have a restorative house meeting on a regular basis (fortnightly/monthly). A restorative meeting is a space where everyone has uninterrupted time to speak and everyone listens respectfully. This will help to make sure any issues are nipped in the bud and everyone feels listened to. The house meeting needs to allow everyone to talk for a couple of minutes, uninterrupted, about how they are feeling and anything they wish to share, positive or negative.
A restorative meeting does not necessarily have to be about raising issues if you don't have any. You can use a structure to encourage conversation, for example, each member of the group
- says their best something and worse something (where in the world you would most like to travel, or the your worst ever meal); then
- list something that has made them happy/sad/worried/annoyed lately.
This may sound silly at first but can be a great way to build better relationships and get a better understanding of people. It can also actually be fun and you can bring cakes or have a takeaway. At the end of the meeting, agree who will start the next one and when it will be. This might seem very structured but it really can work well.
Address any issues early, constructively and directly.
When thing go wrong
If you are having problems, it is a good idea to address them early and talk to your housemate(s) before things go too far. Your housemate(s) may not realise how their behaviour is impacting on you and how it is making you feel.
If you are upset or annoyed about the way someone else has behaved, how you express yourself can make a big difference. How you say something, both in tone and choice of words, can either escalate a conflict or de-escalate it. Conflict can be extremely stresssful, especially when it is in your home, so it is best for all involved if it is resolved respectfully and quickly. You can help this to happen by:
- Talking to the person(s) directly; don’t use Social Media chats or group chats and don't gossip to others. A written message can be misinterpreted, which can make the situation worse. If you feel comfortable, grab a good time to make a cup of tea have a chat or meet in a neutral space.
- Waiting until you feel calm. Don’t talk to your housemate(s) if you feel very angry or upset. Emotions can be very strong and can affect what you feel and say in the moment. It is better to wait until you have thought about the best way to say what you want to say, in a way that does not lose your point in emotion or escalate the situation.
- Thinking about your language. How you say things can make all the difference and this can be especially true when dealing with conflict. When you are explaining what is bothering you, try to avoid using blaming language and 'you statements' and think about how to get your point across using 'I statements' instead. 'You statements' can escalate matters and prompt the other party to get defensive, whereas 'I statements involve you taking a level of responsibility for what you are thinking and feeling. ‘I statements’ are a much less hostile way of communicating. If you are aiming to resolve some kind of conflict, the other person needs to hear and understand what you are saying. They may not do that so easily if they feel defensive or resentful. 'You statements’ assert blame and try to make the other person feel bad. 'I statements' explain more neutrally how you feel; e.g. "
- You never wash up" - You statement, "I feel resentful when you leave your dirty dishes in the sink because it makes more work for me" - I statement,or
- "you're always playing loud music and waking me up" - You statement, "I feel really stressed anxious when you play loud music at night because it wakes me up and means I really struggle the next day" I statement.
- Avoid words that may seem like emotions, but really imply blame; “I feel…ignored, mistreated, manipulated, cheated, abandoned, etc.”
- Listening to your housemates. This may sound obvious but listening is very different to hearing what they have to say. Active listening does two things; it helps you to better understand the other person's point of view and it shows them you are trying. It is important to allow each person to have their own uninterrupted time to explain their thoughts and feelings and to really listen to what they are saying. It can be a good idea to reflect back what they have said, using neutral language, e.g. "when you say xxx, I hear xxx and it makes me feel".
- Trying to reach a compromise or an understanding. There isn't always a perfect answer to an argument, and discussing any issues should not be about trying to 'win' or prove you are right. The best way to resolve conflict is to try and get to a place where you understand each other's point of view, even if you agree to disagree.
- Taking time out if things get too heated. This comes back to the idea of waiting until you feel calm before raising an issue. If you are raising an issue that is upsetting you, you may find that emotions flare back up, which can affect your ability to deal with any conflict appropriately or effectively. It is important to let your housemates know if you need a break because you are getting upset and arrange to re-visit the issue later. Walking off in the middle of an argument and refusing to talk further can be seen as stonewalling, which is essentially using silence to punish the other party and is very unhelpful.
In some cases, it can be helpful to ask a neutral third party to mediate but the person must be neutral. It is never a good idea to make another person feel “ganged up” on, or bullied into submission.
If there are issues that are effecting the whole household then it is a good idea to have a house meeting. It will be very important that everyone is able to speak and be listened to. This is the best way to reach agreement on the way forward. We suggest using a Restorative Approach to conflict resolution. Restorative approaches aim to reduce conflict and to build and repair relationships. The approach is very structured and might appear a little odd but it does work. How you apply it is up to you.
How to have a restorative meeting to resolve conflict.
As above, this might seem very structured and a little odd but it really can work.
- If you can, sit in a circle. Research suggests people communicate better if there are no barriers between them. This is because it helps everyone to feel equal. If you can’t sit in a circle sit around a table. If you can, be in a neutral space. Make use of the spaces in Students Union or go to a park or café.
- Everyone should have uninterrupted time to speak. You can use a talking piece. This means that when someone is holding the talking piece they are the only person that can talk. Everyone needs to be given the same amount of time to talk. 2 to 3 minutes is usually sufficient. When they are ready to do so they can pass the talking piece on until everyone has spoken.
There needs to be a structure. Everyone needs to say;
- What has happened, and how they are feeling about what has happened. Once everyone has spoken the next question is;
- Who is affected?
- What they need to feel better and put things right and;
- What they want to happen in order to move forward.
Once everyone has agreed on the way forward, you can write it down if you think that will help. Very importantly, you need to agree on a follow up meeting if things do not work out.
Ground rules for restorative conflict resolution
- When someone is talking everyone else must listen respectfully and not interrupt;
- It is important to respect another person’s point of view or perspective even if you disagree with them;
- Try not to be judgemental;
- Be mindful of how your behaviours impact on others;
- Be open and willing to find a solution;
- Be able to compromise.
Contact Student Advice
+44 (0)2920 781410