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I'm a college student living in a small city in the US. I am currently sharing an apartment with two other women (Jane and Mary), both in their early 20s. We each have our own bedroom but share a kitchen and living room. We didn't know each other prior to living together but have become friendly. We are pretty good at communicating with one another and speak to each other daily. However, Jane and I have been having problems with Mary for the past few months. There is no way we can move out or force her to move out; we must stay on the lease for the rest of the year.

Mary is loud and disrespectful (but not mean or aggressive). She frequently does things that either inconvenience Jane and I or put our health and safety at risk. Usually, she gives the justification that she was running late somewhere, drunk, or just scatterbrained when confronted.

For context, some of the things Mary has done that upset us include smoking in the apartment, forgetting to lock the front door, having guys over (this past week, 5 nights) and making noise until 2-3am, and leaving dishes in the sink for several days. Most recently, she left on a trip without telling us, leaving me to care for her cat. She often has people over with no notice, takes up the entire shared living area, and plays music or talks loudly.

Jane and I have tried several methods to improve Mary's behavior as a roommate (using advice from other, similar, roommate-conflict questions on IPS like: this one and this one,). We've tried to model good behavior. We have made a few rules, such as no smoking and no loud noise past midnight on weekdays, that everyone has agreed to. We talk to Mary within a day or two of individual issues occurring. I try to be empathetic; I know life can be hard for young adults and I often offer to help Mary with cleaning.

An example of what a confrontation usually looks like is (borrowed from this answer):

Hey, Mary. I'm pretty tired for my classes today; I got woken up late last night by voices. Could you try to keep it down? Maybe we could have quiet hours after midnight on weekdays, because it's hard for me to do my coursework when I can't sleep.

Mary always agrees to change her behavior, but it's been getting worse. A few days ago, we had a meeting, where we discussed Mary's noise causing chronic sleep deprivation for Jane. Mary was dismissive. Tonight, it's back to the same behavior. I have escalated my language, for instance the door was left unlocked for the third time in two days and I told Mary that it was unacceptable that she was putting our safety at risk. She again brushed it off and has gone right back to leaving the door unlocked.

My question is, how can I get my roommate to understand that her actions are disrespectful and consequently act more respectfully when I have already tried speaking with her and setting boundaries? My goal is for my respectful behavior to be reciprocated; I'd like to remain friendly with Mary but it is not a requirement.

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    Are you certain that Mary doesn't already understand? These aren't especially complicated ideas, and it seems (to me) more likely that Mary understands but does not care. Do you have reason to believe that she does not, in fact, understand how her behavior is affecting you? That is, is your main goal to communicate more with Mary, or to get Mary to change her behavior? – Upper_Case Jun 6 at 18:04
  • @Upper_Case you're correct. I'll edit the question to reflect that. – nlthalia Jun 10 at 19:06
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Your question: how can I get my roommate to understand that her actions are disrespectful and consequently act more respectfully might not have a satisfying answer.

I think Mary does understand that her actions are annoying you and Jane and that she is harming the two of you. She simply brushes it off and sees it as lesser inconveniencies.

This is a difference in how you are raised and experience the world around you, and it never is easy to make such two viewpoints merge. On top of that, I get this feeling from your post, I think that Mary has a bit of a difficult character. She seems to dislike confrontation, but simply solves this by ignoring conflicts and moving past them instead of proactively avoiding them happening.

I have a friend who was in a similar situation during their college days. However, I am from Europe, Belgium, and this friend rented an apartment specifically for students attending college in the city. Around here we have various services who control this 'subfield' of renting. To make sure students are not milked for their money and the places they rent live up to certain standards. The colleges themselves are also active in setting up students with living spaces.

These services also are available as points for help with situations like these. Do you have anything similar like this where you live? My friend went through one of these services and they smoothened everything out.

There are several things you could do yourself, but all of these will likely further escalate things and sour your relationship, resulting in a sour living situation until you are able to find another place to rent. Mary may also turn more annoying/ volatile in her behaviour if you press these matters, as to her these are mild inconveniences, and she probably experiences this as nagging.

Some things I would consider doing, however, this depends on your relationship with Mary, her character and a bunch of other variables, so you should think about this and decide if it will do any good. Chances are they will only make the situation worse.

  • Is the noise nuisance only for you and Jane, or also for your neighbours? If so, you might be able to call the police and make a formal complaint. If things like this repeat, Mary may receive a fine for it. However, this will probably escalate things between the three of you and I am not sure what the law says about this since you share a living space.

  • For the door, perhaps it is an option to change to a lock that will automatically lock itself once the door closes. Like a front door mechanism. This has the downside that you will always need a key with you, once the door falls shut, it locks as well.

  • Does Mary pay her rent herself, or is it provided by her parents or a government/ educational service? Perhaps you can add her parents/ that service into a talk with Mary to negotiate things. If all three of you attend the same Uni/ college, perhaps they have a person/ team that specializes in handling situations like these. Be careful with this as well, as it can have severe consequences for Mary. Where I live, misconduct in a shared living like this can cost a person their grant if they do not change their behaviour.

In the end, I think you need somebody to intervene that has authority over both you and her. And even then Mary can still decide to not change at all.

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