Flat Mates

This sounds obvious, but when you're about to go flatting for the first time it's easy to focus only on the good points of your future flatmates. Look ahead: will it bother you if your flatmates come home drunk during exams? Can they live with your loud music and fussy eating? Can you cope with seeing someone else's curly pubes in the bottom of the bath tub? Differences aren't a bad thing, so long as you discuss in advance how you'll make them work in a flatting situation

Friendship Killers

All the flatmates want to save power but one. You're wearing a 10 centimeter thick cardie that weighs more than your bag full of tinned tomatoes on shopping day. Flatmate number 2 totters around in a sleeping bag with their feet zipped out. Flatmate number 3, on the other hand, has created a tropical paradise in their bedroom using their fan heater because they like to wear shorts all year round.

It's a matter of priorities. Agree on how much you all think is reasonable to spend on power? If you can't agree, are some flatties willing to pay more than others? Read the section about power in this mag for energy-saving tips.

Your flatmates are stoners. The flat stinks, and you're afraid that someone will leave the element on and burn the place down.
Can you make rules around cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs? Are they OK in individual bedrooms, outside the flat or not at all? Check whether your insurance covers you for personal liability - if your flatmate burns the flat down, you'll be covered. (NB: It's always better not to burn the flat down if you can avoid it)

One flatmate is always behind in paying in their share of the bills. You and your other flatmates have to keep paying their share or the power/phone will get cut off. You want to talk about it with them, but they keep avoiding you.

Before you go flatting, make sure you're not committing yourself to a lifestyle you can't afford, and think about your future flatmates' spending habits. If you're the account holder for the phone or power, you'll be held responsible for paying the whole bill if your flatmate can't or won't contribute. To share the risk, get different flatmates to each put their names on different accounts. In the event of a flat meltdown, one person won't be stuck with all the debts.

Your flatmates are just plain dirty. Their bedrooms reek, the dishes haven't been done for a fortnight and there is mouse poo in your cornflakes.
Being filthy isn't a problem in itself - it's a problem when you're living with tidy people. If you and your flatties have different tolerance levels for mess, work out how to deal with it in advance. (Incidentally, if you are laying a mousetrap, they actually prefer peanut butter to cheese. One alternative to setting traps could be to introduce the feral cat population from the flat down the road).

Some of your flatmates like quiet, while others like music that rattles the windows- and then there's noisy sex, thin walls and early morning stompers. If you protest, they argue that it's their flat too, and they've got a right to make themselves feel at home.

Some flats get round this problem by having set quiet times during the day or week, and devoting the rest of the week to noise.
Your flatmate's boyfriend has pretty much moved in. He eats the flat bread, has 25 minute showers and makes a lot of noise during - err - rugby games.
Talk about BF/GF visitation rights at the very beginning. Will they contribute to bills and food? How much? How many sleepovers per week is too many?


- Fill in a Flatting Agreement (see centerfold) and talk about all these things in advance. It's a million times easier to have these conversations while it's still hypothetical and emotions aren't involved yet.

- See Student Support for tips on having that difficult conversation. We can help you find a nice way to tell someone that they stink or that their boyfriend is a dick.


- Wait until you’re homicidal to talk to your flatmate about what’s bothering you.

The beginning of the end

Most problems can be handled with a bit of diplomacy, negotiation and open communication. Here are the most ineffective yet common ways of dealing with flat problems:
The Bottler: Silently seething about the problem, personalizing everything you say and then unexpectedly you trip their wire and it's tears and yelling in the hallway.
Playing nasty: Getting some of your flatmates onside, so you've got someone to bitch about the others with.
Passive aggressive: Ignoring the problem, avoiding the person that's bothering you, slamming doors, being snarky.
Being a munter: Playing practical jokes, like putting their cellphone into lost property and glad wrap on the toilet seat. If you're arguing with a munter, be sure to give your toothbrush a sniff test before use.

None of these 'resolution' methods actually let the person who's bothering you know what's wrong, or what they can do about it. Most people can come up with creative solutions, so long as there's open communication and goodwill. Approach issues as things that need to be worked on together, not everyone else's problem.

Conflict Coaching and Mediation

OUSA Student Support has people trained in conflict management. That is, we specialise in helping people sort their sh#t out.
Conflict coaching is where someone can help you figure out the best way to handle a relationship or situation that’s turning pear shaped. Mediation is like a flat meeting with superpowers. A mediator sits in to make sure things don’t turn into a bitch fest or fist fight.
Don’t be alarmed: these things aren’t all about sharing your inner pain and learning to love again. They’re about identifying problems and working out solutions in a civilized and constructive way. Talk to the OUSA Student Support Centre (479 5448 or help@ousa.org.nz).

Flat Fallouts

Sometimes flat problems can’t be resolved, and someone has to move out. That’s often where it gets tricky. If you’re jointly and severally liable, the lease sees you and your flatmates as one tenant, so you all share responsibility for the flat and you’ve all got an equal right to live there. You’ve got to decide who goes, who stays and who pays.
If you decide to move out, the landlord has the right to ask you and/or your flatmates to pay for your room until it’s filled by someone else. Getting someone to take your place on the lease is called “assigning”. The landlord and your flatmates must agree to the new person being signed onto the lease (and you being taken off it). This means you will need to find a replacement that is agreeable to all parties rather than picking the first person that shows interest in the place.

Worried about someone?

Studying and flatting can be really stressful times – it’s important to look after yourself. It’s also important to look out for your friends. Things like depression and eating disorders are common in our age group. If you’re worried about someone, ask some gentle questions about how they’re doing. Maybe they’ve just got a big assignment and will be right-as-rain next week. If not, talk to someone at Student Health or OUSA Student Support. We can help you help them.

Really Bad Stuff

The OUSA Student Support Centre sees a small number of people whose flatting situations have got out of control. Violence, threats, abuse or vandalism may be occurring. If you’re in a dangerous situation, get out. Then contact the police, the University Proctor, Women’s Refuge and/or the OUSA Student Support Centre.