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Can I Take My Housemate to Small Claims?

It’s a cold winter morning and you cannot wait to have your first coffee of the day. You hobble to your fridge and grab the milk only to find three measly drops. Not a splash; not enough to satisfy your craving. You stand in the kitchen, pondering actually going to the grocery store and buying milk for the second time this week or simply seeking legal advice about suing your roommates for petty theft.

Before taking any legal steps over always getting left with the crusty end of the loaf, here are a couple of hot tips to get you through the rest of your lease.

TIP #1: Assess your own personal liabilities

It takes two to tango, so before sending them the letter of demand, check yourself. Be honest and think about what your part in all this is. There are weeks that you might’ve rapidly consumed an entire loaf in three days because you forgot what happiness felt like and thought you’d find it in six Nutella sandwiches. Everybody has their days, everybody makes mistakes— including you!

TIP #2: Pick your battles

Litigation is expensive but milk isn’t. There are some days that the milk will get to you and other days that you may get over it. If there are bigger concerns such as cleanliness or crossing of housemate boundaries, then this is something to consider chatting about. But as always, remember that shared living is a constant balance between compromise and conducive discussion. Pick what you want to chat about carefully.

TIP #3: Drop a few hints

They’ve left crumbs in the butter, so maybe you can drop a few hints too. Well-intentioned gentle reminders are not bad. Avoid harsh tones or unnecessary sarcasm because you never know if you are catching someone on an off-day.

TIP #4: Know your opponent

Understand the person you are living with. You have probably been living with them anywhere between a few weeks to a few months, so it is fair to say you have a rough idea of their routine. We’re not talking what their favourite colour is, but at a minimum, how they generally tend to function on a day-to-day basis. For this reason, maybe recognise that they froth a litre of milk for their three bowls of cereal a day and maybe make a mental note.

TIP #5: Submit all your evidence

No one can read your mind, so there will come a point where being upfront will not be detrimental. The other tips recommend that you initially be passive so you can read the situation. You can work out where your housemate is at and then broach the subject. The important thing is when you finally decide to chat, you can refer to a couple of times where certain types of behaviour have annoyed you or left you frustrated. This does not mean interrogation of any kind, because this makes neither party particularly comfortable. For this reason, give them a couple of situations that you were not overly happy with and see how they respond.

TIP #6: Make lemonade out of the lemons your housemate gave you

Chats with housemates can be taken in several ways depending on the person you are living with. If the person feels offended, they are unlikely to change their behaviour because they feel attacked and it might be on you to remedy the situation. If the person acknowledges that their behaviour has just not been up to scratch, you could have a really productive conversation about making some changes and arrangements. If the person is neither here nor there and has a pretty sub-par conversation with you and you believe that nothing will change, you may have to set some boundaries yourself. No matter what the outcome of the conversation is, there are always options: get a bar fridge for your own personal milk supply; come to terms with the fact that you might just need to live with people who do things a little different to you or; accept that you might just need to move the hell out of there.

Sharing houses can often bring people with different habits, different attitudes and different values under one roof. Whether you are living with your best mates or total strangers, there are some consistent issues, petty or not, that will affect you throughout a rental agreement. Like any problem, some people might view it as a big deal and others a minor thing that is not worth talking about. These situations are tricky and rightfully so. Take every day as it comes and give people the benefit of the doubt. At the end of it all, don’t cry over spilt milk.

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