Navigating roommate tension

By Brittany Stuckless

Posted on November 8, 2021
It’s important to understand that living with a new roommate can be a daunting experience that may cause you to feel isolated or anxious. This can be especially difficult for newcomers, as there may be tension due to language barriers or personal differences. Below, we’ll discuss roommate tension and making sure your living situation is right for you.

Why are roommate relationships important?

Your roommate doesn’t have to be your best friend. That said, building a friendship with a roommate can bring you a lot of joy. It is also okay to just have an understanding that you will split bills and rent. As long as you are cordial and respectful of each other’s lifestyles, this arrangement may work best for you.

However, in some cases, your roommate may become a close friend. If you and your roommate have a close bond, this may also allow you to meet some of their friends. If you feel like you can get along well with your roommate, you could form a friendship and start building a social circle. notes that it’s up to you and your roommate to establish if your relationship is strictly based on housing, bills, and keeping the space clean. The other option is building a bond with your roommate. What ends up happening with your roommates may depend on things like, common interests, age, and personalities.
Roommate relationships are also important if you have difficulties with your landlord. While it’s important to know your rights as a tenant, landlords can sometimes break the law. Sadly, they might try to take advantage of newcomers who aren’t familiar with tenant rights. By having a solid relationship with your roommate(s), you can all stick together and stand your ground.

Roommate tension

Housing discrimination laws exist in Canadian provinces; however, sometimes, there may still be tension between roommates. You may struggle with language barriers, political or religious disagreements, and other types of conflicts of interest. It’s also possible that your personalities clash.

First, newcomers and people born in Canada may struggle with language barriers. For instance, if English or French isn’t your native language, there may be times when you and your roommate have a hard time talking to each other. This shouldn’t cause a toxic, negative relationship. However, in some cases, miscommunication may lead to arguments.

Secondly, being from a different country may mean that you have different religious and political values than your roommate. It’s important to find a roommate who treats you with respect regardless of your beliefs. If your roommate talks down to you or mocks you for your views, it is not the right living situation for you.

Furthermore, it’s important to note if a roommate seems hostile based on your differences. They may take their anger out on you or make your life difficult. If you notice signs of this, you should find new arrangements as soon as possible. Signs of a hostile roommate include:

  • Overreacting to minor situations
  • Controlling behaviour
  • Bullying (physical and psychological)
  • Intimidation
  • Gaslighting

Lastly, your roommate must understand that being a newcomer in Canada is a difficult change. Your personalities may clash if your roommate is an outgoing person and you feel shy or nervous about meeting new people. Your roommates should understand that it takes a while to feel comfortable in a new place.


There are many different reasons why you and your new roommate may have tension. It could be a serious situation that you should leave. It could also just be a simple case of a misunderstanding and a struggle to connect. Luckily, there are ways to help ease the tension and understand each other.

Many student housing buildings at college and university campuses have mediation services available. This may be a good idea for newcomers struggling to build a relationship with their roommates. For example, Cambrian College explains the process of arranging a mediation meeting with your roommate.
During a mediation meeting, a third party will help you and your roommate discuss your differences. If you feel isolated from your roommate, explain this to the third-party mediator. Your roommate may need to hear about your struggles as a newcomer in a different country.

You don’t need to live on campus to arrange a mediation meeting. If you know of a loved one, friend, or any person who could be a third-party mediator, try reaching out to them. You can also ask your roommate if you could have a house meeting. Regular meetings can help solve problems before they happen, and all roommates will have a chance to talk.

What if my roommate relationships don’t improve?

If your roommate comes across as disrespectful or unwilling to change, you should part ways. Sometimes conflicts can’t be resolved by mediation, and it’s better to start the process of finding a new roommate or place to live. You deserve to be comfortable in your own space and to feel safe.

Additional resources for roommates

Living with roommates for the first time
Tenant rights in Canada
Small talk: What it is and how to get better at it

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