Too close for comfort

Our kitchen counter hadn’t been wiped in weeks, over 40 pairs of shoes covered the front hall and the compost bin was overflowing.

That was the moment when my housemates and I realized it was time to dole out responsibilities. Choosing your housemates can seem like one of the toughest decisions you’ll make at Queen’s.

Some housemate stories make you feel as if you’ve walked into a horror movie, complete with an evil roommate and a creepy, decrepit home. But it’s important to know that not every housing situation has to end in a dramatic fight between you and your housemates.

Many housemates are able to comfortably stay together during their time at Queen’s. Even if you do have to move out, there are always better housing situations close at hand.

I’m fortunate enough to live with five great girls in a spacious house. I love living in a house of six because there’s always someone at home to chat or watch Netflix with. Our landlords are very friendly and attentive to problems in our house, and we communicate well as a house.

No house is perfect, though, and we’ve had our share of problems. We began the year with no chore schedule, which was a big mistake. When things started to get bad, we realized it was time to do something.

The rotating chore schedule has made a huge difference in the state of our house, as we now all have specific responsibilities each week instead of the more laissez-faire style.

Our house communication has also improved after the looming tension over whose duty it was to clean the kitchen counter disappeared. We still have slippages sometimes, but overall we have a good system that keeps the house clean and our friendships healthy.

Despite our ups and downs, we’ve never had to bring matters to the Housing Grievance Centre (HGC). The Queen’s-based centre offers advice on anything from housemate conflicts to finding affordable, safe housing.

HGC Co-Directors Jennifer Williams and Albert Kwan have seen their fair share of broken locks, bug infestations and housemate drama.

According to Williams, ArtSci ’16, the more people you live with, the more housing conflicts you may see.

“[W]hen you get those large groups of five or six-plus students joining together, you tend to see differences in sleeping patterns, whether or not they use substances, if they have girlfriends or boyfriends,” Williams said. “Things like that start to pop out which you may not have seen in first-year.”

Level of cleanliness is also a common cause for dispute. I’m sure most of us are familiar with the passive-aggressive “please clean your dishes” note that can lead to bigger blow-outs.

Houses that don’t operate with similar belief systems can create similar strains on a student. For example, a non-drinker living with a house of party animals isn’t the best idea.

“It can affect their academic situation, their financial situation. Any sense of beliefs not matching up or those rules that you might have not matching up, that would be a huge red flag.”

The HGC co-directors recommend signing a housemate agreement before entering into a lease with someone. This way, when issues arise, housemates can bring out the contract as a reminder of previous agreements.

But it’s important to remain flexible and open to making changes or compromises to the contract, Williams added.

Face-to-face contact is always more beneficial than sticky notes or Facebook messages. If conflicts occur, the best bet is to have a conversation.

Kwan, ArtSci ’16, recommended not being too accusatory.

“[W]hen you’re having that open conversation, it’s very important to separate the person from the issue. Don’t say anything that might have the implication that [they’re] the bad person,” he said. “Just make sure you’re concentrated on what you want resolved. That tends to get the best results.”

Confrontations can be intimidating, but the HGC offers mediation sessions between housemates to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.

Even if your housemate situation goes downhill, it’s not the end of the world.

“There’s always this idea that ‘We’re going to run out [of houses], we’re going to run out. Let’s find some place, it’s okay and we’ll take it because we might not be able to find somewhere,’” Kwan said. “Don’t worry about that. Find a place that you’re all comfortable and happy with.”

Nicole Costa’s housing situation last semester was far from ideal. Her biggest takeaway from the experience was realizing you don’t truly know someone until you live with them.

Costa, ArtSci ’17, moved into a house in May with three friends from first-year. Her problems began in the summer, when her first paycheque didn’t coincide with the rent due date.

“I told my landlords that [and] they were perfectly fine with it with me paying rent the next week. But apparently my housemates didn’t trust me after that even though I told them and disclosed everything about my financial situation with them,” she said.

Costa was the only one of her housemates using OSAP, which made her housemates uneasy, she said.

“They would ask me if I was able to pay rent and utilities on time and each time I would say yes, but they would continue asking me these questions and it made me really uncomfortable,” she said.

Costa had to live with her boyfriend for almost three months in order to avoid the mounting tension in her house. When she finally announced her intention to move out in second semester, the house meeting turned nasty.

“It was really explosive —everybody was yelling, I was crying,” she said.

Her biggest problem was the lack of open communication and trust between herself and her housemates.

“They really, really did hurt my feelings … a lot of what they said did have to do with me and my financial situation and that’s really personal to me, because it’s money I worked hard for and money my parents worked hard for.”

Luckily, Costa has found a new housing situation more suited to her relaxed personality. One of the best parts of her new home is the designation of roles within the house, a system not present with her past housemates.

“Having that one person in contact with the landlord or the one person in contact with the internet company is a lot easier than everybody trying to be that one person to do all the jobs,” she said.

Although Costa was worried about living with girls she had never met before, a combination of movie nights and open communication alleviated her fears.

“They’re completely understanding, they’re very open and friendly and they’re fantastic. They like to have movie nights and they like to sit at the table and talk after class,” she said.

Like Costa, Diahanna Ramadhar, also lives with someone she had never met before. After her housemate left Queen’s, Ramadhar, ArtSci ’17, welcomed a stranger to the house.

Her old housemate had interviewed several people to ensure the new tenant’s personality would mesh well with Ramadhar and her other housemates.

“It helped that I was able to get in contact with her prior to moving in. She was especially kind as to reach out and introduce herself, providing a short biography and offering to answer questions we might have about her,” she told the Journal via email.

Bonding with her new housemate, similarly to Costa, was done through friendly chats and movie nights.

“The little things you do together are the most valuable,” Ramadhar said. “We started bonding by sitting in the living room after classes every couple of days.”

It’s risky to live with someone you don’t know well, but common interests can help ease the transition. A stranger with a similar lifestyle may even work out better than a notoriously messy friend.

“Honestly, this could’ve gone one of two ways: very well or very badly,” she said. Fortunately for me, it went well — I gained a really cool new friend, a supportive peer in my program and really great company in our house.”

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