In Defense of Group Houses by Robyn

group house living, originally uploaded by emilygoodstein.

Group houses come in 3 different categories. There’s the group of bestest friends who’ve moved here from college and assumed they’ll be bestest roommates (OMG! We can have wine and cheese parties and iron together and have Top Chef marathons YAY!) only to have it turn into Catfight 2009 because someone keeps LEAVING THEIR F*$#@#G COFFEE CUPS IN THE DINING ROOM. There’s also the random Craigslist house, where everyone keeps to themselves and has a mutual hatred for the one gaseous housemate that has a blatant disregard for wearing anything besides boxers and hogs the TV with endless hours of Family Guy. Until they all decide to throw a house party in which they are best friends for the night, and back to double checking their bedroom door locks the next. The third type of group house is the one where everyone is actually friends (however randomly they met) and generally enjoy living together under one roof. And if someone forgot leaves their clothes in the dryer for a bit too long…it’s ok, man, just get ‘em out when you can and we’ll go for pizza.

Thankfully my group house experiences have fallen into the last category. But I know people who consider group housing just another version of frat house living, sans the Delta Chi chants. Maybe I’ve just been blessed to have good experiences…except my old roommate while living in Germany – Helga (actually Sasha, but she looked so hefty-operatic it was my code name for her while bitching about her over the phone). Helga the Horrible who considered the apartment her own private nudist colony, screamed at me auf Deutsch for changing the channel away from Celebrity Big Brother, and who played into every typical German stereotype right down to blasting David Hasselhoff in the shower (resulting in me unwillingly memorizing two of his albums) while getting every single lyric wrong with her glass-breaking singing. Helga, and subsequently Baywatch, still makes me shudder to this day.

What are your best/worst group living experiences? At what age are you too old to live in a group housing environment? What is the best male/female ratio for a group home? And most importantly are there any closeted David Hasselhoff fans out there?

18 Comment

  • i live with my best friends, and i wouldnt trade it for the nicest single bedroom condo in all of dc!

    that being said, kalia can you stop leaving your *(#$^ all over the #*$(%& kitchen and stop #$(&%& my *()*&#$ all the &(^*%(&% time!?!?

  • As one who is both gaseous and watches endless hours of Family Guy and/or Battlestar Galactica, I realize I should live alone, and I do except for my cat. However I remain fully clothed at all time as I am ashamed of my body.

  • I am the boxer and bsg guy, luckily I have remarkably patient roommates.

  • I’ve actually lived in a version of all 3 houses… well it was actually the same house with different groups of housemates. This first round was straight out of Real World… a gay guy, a lesbian, a jewish american princess (her initials actually spelled JAP), my really good girl friend from college, and me. I will never live with girls ever again. It ended with all the b****** moving out and me and the gay guy forming a great group of roommates via craigslist. Then it was 2 gay guys, 2 straight guys and me. I was in heaven! And then we had a gas leak and all almost died.

    Robyn, you forgot to mention that the reason group homes exist is because they’re really cheap and the landlord knows you won’t complain if it’s a disgusting shit hole. I’m pretty sure by the time you’re 35 you can’t live in these situations anymore. But to each their own…

  • That’s why I can’t live with other people. I have to have my own space.

    During my stay in Petworth, I shared a place with an engaged couple and their cats. Their cats got more respect than me. That situation didn’t last very long.

  • You know something Robyn you make me nostalgia for how my old house was. We didn’t call it group house then, but that is what it was. I use to live with my three brother, and four cousins. We live in the apartment in Takoma Park (in Maryland) with my parent, aunt and uncle. So we had a huge group house! Here is the problem with this, we never remember who night it was for dishes. So that pretty much mean when you need a spoon you need to pray to Santa Cleopatra and dip your hand in the sink to pull one out. If it didn’t have a bug on him you in business, but usually you just have to be extra careful to wash it.

    The other problem we had was the bedrooms. Let me just tell you I really appreciative of my bedroom now because I only have me to sleep with. Then I always get close to my brothers and cousins because we sleep on a floor bed with no wood border. It was nice for cold winter but it get old when you are a senior in high school and you need to snuggle with children. That is life though. So I turn out okay, no?

    I miss my group house, so if anyone interest in living with me sometime (we save good money on the rent payment) give me a yes! Keep up a good work Robyn!


  • Love your work, Robyn. These articles are so clever and thought-provoking.

    My best group house was with two of my best friends and two of their friends in grad school. I think the fact that we were friends before helpd, but the real success came because we were all low key, laid-back people. (It helped that three of them were surfers.)

    Most nights ended up with some beers or whiskey/obscure-hungarian liquor shots, and kung-fu or Ben Stiller/vince Vaughn movies, House, or Project Runway. (Okay, yeah, maybe you didn’t expect that last one. It was still great shit.) It was all about similar and complimentary personalities.

  • I’ve had an okay Craigslist experience so far, and it’s been two-ish years. The current group of us get along fairly well. My issue is that I’m relatively laid back. I don’t care if you want to leave your dishes in the sink overnight, or your mail on the table until the next time you go upstairs, I don’t care! My housemates, however, tend to be quite the opposite. And one of them has taken to unplugging EVERYTHING to save a few pennies–including the STOVE. The frickin’ STOVE! Same housemate also refused to chip in for the new shower curtain I bought because we didn’t discuss buying a new one first. A) the new one was only $10, and B) the old one was MOLDY. Now that I’m ranting…I share a bathroom with guys. I never lift the toilet seat–no reason to. They do every single day. So I decide to clean the bathroom, and lift the toilet seat only to find under there is black with MOLD. I mean, SERIOUSLY!

    Rant over…for now. I’m ready for my own place. Or at least to live with fewer than four people.

  • I had a great group house experience in Arlington 1993-2001. Best part was my rent of $240/mo. Never went up. Over that time I had 40 roommates cycle through. Great core of roommates. A couple of nuts that only lasted a month or two. Worst one threatened to shoot a roommate over a dish in the sink and later that week was under the delusion that people were running in and out of the house and her room in the middle of the night. Guns+delusions=please leave.

  • Crin, was your roomie a young lady named K***** with a meth habit?

  • The last group house I lived in we couldn’t afford the heat so we turned it down to 50 degrees and covered the windows with comforters. I like to think it brought us closer. Until none of us did the dishes for a month. Then everyone hated each other.

  • I’ve had great group home experiences and awful ones–within the same houses, too. Although most of my experiences usually started out great, every one of them disintegrated into chaos and bitter feelings at the end. I don’t remember a single time a person moving out wasn’t surrounded with a bunch of bullshit drama.

    The most ridiculous experience I had was when I moved out of the last group house I was living in and one of my former roommates–who previously had seemed pretty sane–got intensely mad at me for not giving her my couch and my boyfriend’s internet router. And then she made fun of the bookcase I gave her/the house. Suffice to say, I was not at all sad to leave after that.

  • @ Alex, was the obscure Hungarian liquor Unicum? Some of my best group house memories involve Unicum. Of course, we were living in Budapest.

    I have mostly fond memories of my group house days. The aforementioned group houses in Budapest (there were 2; the first was 2 guys and 2 girls and our landlady was TERRIBLE. She locked us IN the apartment on the day we were moving out and was demanding more money and making up things about how dirty we were. She didn’t think any of us spoke Hungarian and when I’d finally had enough, I lost it and called her a crazy old whore, and then called my friend at the American embassy to call the police. But my roommates were cool and still some my best friends. The second our landlord was Hungary’s best professional bowler. He wore all leather and once came to collect the rent with his jaw wired shut, offering only that bowling was a dangerous sport. That house had a revolving cast of roommates and my bedroom had a pool table in it. (I can sleep through anything) I think the people living there today are still friends of friends of friends of ours, and it’s been over 10 years since any of us have lived there.)

    My group house in Baltimore was me and 3 to 4 guys. Our neighbors were crackheads (for real, like, they sat on the stoop and smoked crack like we would smoke cigarettes) but they were really nice. The other side was an old boarded up funeral home. The neighbors all thought I was the guys’ hooker who apparently slept with them to pay the rent. We did nothing to indicate that might have been the case, but I guess that’s just how it goes sometimes in Charm City. I’m also still friends with all of them.

    Now I live alone with my dog and I love it. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a roommate to keep the expenses down, but I love my Helga/boxer-guy (for me it’s my Snuggie, but whatever) ways too much.

  • Has there been an “In Defense Of…” for NOVA yet?

  • Ah, yes, the group house years. I thankfully have been beyond them for the last decade, I was 31 when I finally moved out of mine. When I first got to DC after college, it was just a roommate thing – two of us from college sharing an apartment. He was a neat freak, I am not, but I kept the mess contained in my bedroom and used coasters in the living room, so he didn’t care much (did I mention we were both totally closeted gay guys and never admitted it to each other?).

    Then I moved into the real group house – 5 people in Takoma Park in a house with two kitchens and three bathrooms. We had a large number of roommates over the years, in fact only one person was in the house the entire time from 1991 until 1998 when it broke up (I moved in about 4 months after the house formed). It was a variation on the Craig’s list house, but in the world before the Internet. Most of us played Ultimate, and that is how we got together. The house was mainly male for most of its life, which meant no cleaning and very little cooking. You washed your own dishes and clothes – I spent most of the years eating out to avoid the messy kitchens.

    The worst part of the house was actually moving out after 7 years. We had a huge amount of stuff left by old roommates, and only some of it was suitable for the curbside drive-bys (you know, you leave valuable stuff on the curb and let anyone who wants it take it). It took us an entire week to move everyone out and clean the house enough to turn it back to the management company.

    The best part of the house was there was a keg cooler and a pool table in the cellar – instant party! And if you got bored with that, there was always someone who knew where the hot house parties were that weekend – no need to create your own social life; it was included in the $300/month rent.

    When I finally moved into my own apartment, I was totally shocked. When I went on a business trip, the stuff I left on the coffee table was still where I put it!

  • I loved living in a group house until we got the roommate from hell who ended up soaking a bunch of us for hundreds of dollars while we were studying for exams and took his friends with him when he moved out. We were paralyzed because we were studying. He is one of the few completely evil people I know- worked for the City Paper for years, but never amounted to anything.

  • Lived in a group house in Baltimore with two very nice grad students. One was from Mexico so sometimes we hosted people dropping in from Mexico who had to visit their PhD advisor for a few weeks. It was pretty great. I found it through the college paper classifieds, so it was predisposed to having fairly responsible people as roommates.

    The second place was in DC from Craigslist and it was pretty good. I only moved out because the rent was being jacked up after a renovation and I was going to lose sq. footage at the same time. But I still drink with one of the guys from that house and they were all really nice folks once I got the hang of the vibe at the house. (It took some adjusting to the random male stranger watching TV in my living room till he won me over with his grilling skills. He was a friend of a roommate who wasn’t allowed to grill on his apt balcony.)

    I think the main thing is screening well for roommates. My old roommates in San Francisco had all kinds of crazy roommates because people were desperate for a place to live and they didn’t listen to their inner voice that told them people were insane.

  • I have some good and some crazy experiences. I’m a big fan of the randomness of Craigslist roommates. I moved into a house in Shaw 4 years ago and was living with 3 complete strangers. One guy was a total slob that created a mouse problem, the girl was sweet and we became very good friends, the last guy was an alcoholic, 35 year old, DC public school math teacher.
    This last guy was probably the worst roommate I ever had. He got so drunk that he urinated in the middle of my bedroom floor because he thought he was in the bathroom (Lock your doors, no matter how trustworthy your roommates are). He somehow locked himself in the basement one night and my roommates thought I did it (I only wish I did). He thought turning his stereo up to full volume at 3am on a weekday was good because it would cover up “other” noises. He drank gin everyday and said it was good because the kids knew the smell of beer and noy the smell of gin. He didn’t pay the one bill he was responsible for because he said that we were supposed to pay him first. I would say 35 years old is reaching the end of group house living. He did say to me once- “I’ve been living in group houses longer than you’ve been an adult.” Honey, that’s not a thing that justifies your behavior or a thing to be proud of. We kicked him out claiming that he was a danger to us and himself. He is now some drunken lobbyist for the medical industry. Oh, he only preys on women who are 22-23 years old because he thinks they’re easier to date than women who have more establishes careers. How’s that working for ya? Aren’t you almost 40 now?
    The disgusting slob had his psychotic girlfriend over all of the time and she would throw hissy fits about where the silverware tray was and scream about how she was not happy with the housemates. She thought she owned the house or maybe even lived there. When you would bring your concerns up to the boyfriend of this horrid beast (I once asked if she had mental problems), he would just shrug his shoulders and say that she was particular about some things. This guy also had problems with paying the cable bill and he then moved into his bi-atch gf’s apartment. Hopefully she has been medicated by now. I now see him around the neighborhood and hear that he winked at a friend of mine on Attracting mice and letting your former gf terrorize your housemates are not attributes that he lists on
    The third housemate was sweet, but sometimes absent minded. I did have to turn off the gas oven and stove top a few times after her. She moved to NYC for grad school and thankfully does not attract mice or psychos and has a great apartment with her boyfriend.
    The beauty of group houses is that everyone moves on and new people move in. I know- duhhh. Well, After living through a few hellish situations, I stayed put, found new people off of Craigslist and had a wonderful group house. After mouse-man and gin-man moved out, I found some guys off of CL that lived in the house with me for a few more years. The house was magnificent and we threw BBQs and parties. I had one friend move in once and it just did not work, but I had someone else move in more recently and it was great. So, you just get the hang of picking the right people and living in peace. So, friends may not work out all of the time- but new friends can come about from strangers on CL- Option 3 is my favorite.
    I have moved out of my group house and started a new one with one friend and one CL stranger. We’ll see how it goes, so far, so good.

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