Establishing house rules and expectations

Why do we need rules? Rules are formal and usually written; they define the minimum standards all housing companions agree to follow. This assures that everyone’s deal-breakers are satisfied to prevent conflict. Rules should be agreed upon at the beginning of every living arrangement and should be revisited whenever they are breached. 

Expectations relate to the method or quality of which someone will do something. These are generally not written and may be considered as ‘common sense.’ Problems arise when people have different life experiences and expectations of what is reasonable and how something should be done. Housing companions should show and teach one another their best practices and communicate to establish their mutual expectations.

Common Problems

Most problems that arise within a shared home are rooted in the following six categories. By doing an excellent job of satisfying these, you may never have to consult your written house rules. 

Cleanliness – differences in what is considered ‘clean’ or ‘organized.’

Belongings – using other people’s things or eating their food without permission

Communication – effective communication is a skill that many people struggle with

Noise – often late night or early morning noise disturbances cause problems

Inclusion – excluding your housing companions from social events or shared meals

Behaviour – your actions, outlook, and positivity

Cleanliness & Organization

Cleanliness is the activity of using cleaning supplies and tools to clean and disinfect surfaces. Examples are sanitizing doorknobs and kitchen counters, cleaning soap scum from showers, and vacuuming carpet. If you hate seeing dust on surfaces, you are on the higher end of the cleanliness spectrum.

Organization refers to the order in which you keep your items. Examples are folding and putting away laundry, putting away dishes after using the kitchen, and putting things back where they belong without delay. Suppose you have piles of dirty laundry and can’t see your desk underneath your paperwork. In that case, you are on the lower end of the organization spectrum.

Many people consider themselves to be cleaner or more organized than they actually are. When sharing space, always try to leave the space a little cleaner than how you found it. You will find that a shared home can become messy very quickly if everyone does not do their part, as everyone’s small mess will compound. The way you clean and organize your space is symbolic of the respect you have for the home and your fellow housing companions.

Suppose you must leave without finishing cleaning, such as running late for an appointment. In that case, you should tell your housing companions that you are aware of the mess and that you will clean it up when you return. Do your best not to leave any mess that will interfere with other’s ability to use common areas, especially in the kitchen. If someone in your home has developed a bad habit of leaving a mess, you will need to bring it to their attention—more on this in the next module.

Food & Belongings

Hmmm… I thought I had a tub of ice cream in the freezer. It is frustrating when you buy something and expect to use it, only to find it missing! This is not to say you cannot share anything. In fact, the ability to share items is one of the greatest benefits of having housing companions.

By default, you should assume that you cannot use any other person’s personal belongings or food. If you want to use something, ask to ensure you do not feel guilty, and that can make you feel better as you will be helping your fellow companion. For example, if you are short on eggs, ask your housing companion if you can borrow a few eggs and replace them tomorrow when you go shopping.

Communal food – If there are certain items you would like to share, such as flour, eggs, rice, or oil, communicate how you would like to share the costs. Many frustrations happen when one person uses too much of a particular shared item. In many cases, the costs will average out if you share multiple items, especially if the ingredients are used for cooking meals you will all share.

Belongings – Before you borrow something, ensure you have a verbal response permitting you. Sharing of some items may make a lot of sense, such as a French press. However, you may not want some items to be shared, such as your favourite coffee thermos.

Tip: Many conflicts have occurred from someone using another person’s food in the freezer. If you do end up using something that you can’t member who it belongs to, tell your companions about it. It’s easier to save face by being upfront and honest.


Most people are poor at communicating. This is unfortunate as it can prevent virtually all problems. There are three important communication elements, and if you do these parts, you will find it easy to communicate.

  1. Method – How you deliver the communication is very important. Whenever possible, you should communicate verbally and not when someone is distracted by something else. Avoid leaving notes or sending text messages unless it is something of little importance.

  2. Timing – When you communicate can significantly change how the message is interpreted. If you are angry or frustrated, you are likely to escalate the situation if you try communicating at that moment. You should always be in a calm and clear state of mind before communicating.

  3. Message – One’s interpretation of a message is influenced largely by the tone the message is delivered. The words of the message should be clear, concise, and non-provoking.

Tip: If you are upset about something at the moment, take a couple of minutes to gather your thoughts before communicating.


Making noise is a normal part of living in a home. The time of the day is usually what determines the level of noise that is appropriate. For example, the noise of water running from the shower is completely acceptable in the day. However, having a shower at midnight while someone is sleeping may be considered disruptive.

Acceptable routine noises – These are noises from normal daily activities, such as cooking or light music. These activities should be done only during the daytime, not during the agreed-upon ‘quiet hours’ at night.

Quiet time noise – In your living arrangement agreement (covered at the end of this module), you will agree upon what times of the day you want silence in the house while people are sleeping. You will need to discuss what noises are considered reasonable during this time, such as using the microwave, coffee maker, or quietly listening to the television. Using a blender or coffee grinder is likely noise you do not want to permit during quiet hours.

Not acceptable noises – These are the noises that your housing companions don’t want to hear at any time. Examples are loud, offensive music, sounds of sexual intercourse, or perhaps you learning to play the violin. If any noise bothers you, talk to your housing companions about it to find a solution.


It is a terrible feeling when you don’t feel welcomed or invited to participate in an event. If you invite some friends over for dinner or have a movie night, you should always ask your housing companions if they would like to join. Your housing companions may not always want to participate. However, you should always extend the offer to participate. This action will help build trust and feelings of inclusion within the home.

Tip: If you plan to go shopping or leaving to do an activity, it is courteous to ask your housing companions if they would like to join. Examples are going on a hike, going to the farmer’s market, or going to social events


It is a terrible feeling when negative people surround you. Bringing a positive outlook and energy to a situation can completely change the feel and emotions of people. To remain positive, think of how your actions and words can bring value and benefit to those around you. You will likely find that this will be returned to you in multiples when you complement and help your housing companions. This continual loop of giving and lifting each other up can create powerful energy within the home.

On the contrary, having negative energy will make it feel impossible to get along. This will often lead to ignoring household rules and ultimately resentment. If you notice negativity from a housing companion, make a conscious effort to understand the problem and do your best to create a favorable situation.

Suppose you have a situation with a housing companion where you do not like their behavior. In that case, you should address it with them to be aware of their unacceptable behavior. Most poor behavior is related to other underlying stressors, such as being rushed because they slept in. In these situations, address the problem instead of verbally attacking the person.


What house rules and expectations matter most to you?

Complete the self reflection exercise below.

Self reflection