Managing Conflicts

Roommate Conflicts

Most roommate issues are not covered by state or local law. In general, the law treats you as a household, not as separate individuals. This means that:

  • If one roommate decides not to pay the rent for one month, the other roommate(s) have to make up the difference or else the entire household may be evicted.
  • The landlord does not have the power to evict only one roommate. S/he must evict the entire household if s/he wants one person out. Likewise, roommates cannot evict one another, except where there is a clear master-subtenant relationship. (For more information on master tenants and subtenants, see Subletting & Assignments.)

Each roommate's behavior reflects on the entire household. It is therefore important to maintain a strong, healthy relationship with your roommate(s). If you are having problems, try to work them out though mediation. Community Boards in San Francisco provides mediation services at low- or no-cost.

For more information on Community Boards:
Tel: (415) 920-3820
Web: www.communityboards.org

Steps to Managing Conflicts

In San Francisco, where increased mobility means that people often do not know their neighbors, neighbor-to-neighbor disputes are not uncommon. The causes of these disputes are often quality of life issues such as noise, pets, fences, views, parking, and other annoyances. The Community Board Program of San Francisco, a nonprofit mediation service offers nine suggestions for managing conflicts with neighbors, friends and strangers. These suggestions can also work when dealing with roommate conflicts.

  1. Talk directly.
    Direct and respectful conversation is always more effective than sending a letter, banging on the wall/ceiling, or complaining about the problem to everyone else.
    "Hi, my name is ___________ and I live above you in unit ____. Do you have a minute to talk about a concern I have? I am hoping that together we can find a good solution."
  2. Choose a good time.
    Try to talk in a quiet place where you can both be comfortable and undisturbed for as long as the discussion takes. Avoid approaching the person as s/he is leaving for work, coming home late at night, or after you have had a terrible day.
    "If you have some time tomorrow, could we sit down and chat for a while?"
  3. Plan ahead.
    Think about what to say in advance. State clearly what the problem is and how it affects you. Considering asking a friend to role play with you before you approach the person with whom you are having a conflict.
    "I been having trouble sleeping at night because I can hear music coming from your unit. My bedroom seems to be right next to your living room, and the walls are pretty thin. Have you been able to hear noise from my unit?"
  4. Do not blame or name call.
    Antagonizing the other person only makes it harder for him/her to hear you and discuss the problem openly.
    "I'm sure you didn't realize that I could hear the music so loudly in my unit."
  5. Give information.
    Do not judge or interpret the other person's behavior. Instead, give information about your own situation and feelings.
    "I usually go to sleep around 10:00 p.m. because I have to get up early to be at work at 7:00 a.m. I'm a pretty light sleeper, so noises tend to wake me up, and these past couple nights I haven't slept well, so I 've been waking up late and getting to work late. On the weekends, I go to sleep later, so the music doesn't bother me then."
  6. Listen.
    Give the other person a chance to tell his/her side of the conflict completely. Relax and try to learn, understand, and empathize with how the person feels.
  7. Talk it through.
    Get all the issues and feelings out in the open. Do not leave out any part that seems too difficult to discuss.
  8. Work on a joint solution.
    Two or more people cooperating are much more effective than one person telling another to change. Try to be specific when you talk through the solution.
    "I knew that I could hear your music through the walls, but I never realized that my alarm clock woke you up every morning. I will be happy to turn my alarm clock down a little so that it's not so loud in the mornings. I can also move away from our shared wall, if that will help. Could you use headphones after 10:00 pm so that the music won't wake me?"
  9. Follow through.
    Agree to check with each other at specific times to make sure that the agreement is still working.
    "Let's try out this solution for the next week, and check back with each other next Saturday to see how it's going. If there is anything else you notice throughout the week, we can chat about it more."
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