This can be a more common problem than you might think, especially in shared houses, where 3 or 4 or more strangers all rent a room each, all coming from different backgrounds and not knowing each other.
Some landlords are more lax than others in the checks they make before signing up tenants, and this, added to the fact that psychopaths can put up a very charming front act or facade, means that they often slip under the radar, and it only becomes apparent they are toxic once you are living with them.
Psychopathy is a predictable personality disorder however, and these people tend to cause chaos, drama and conflict wherever they go, including in shared living arrangements in apartments and houses.
Here are some signs you may be living with a psychopathic housemate:
- Things they are telling you don’t stack up (lies & deceit).
- In general, there is an increase in drama, conflict and negativity since a certain person moved in.
- You find people’s things being stolen and used without permission.
- There are increasing instances of rampant, uncontrolled and inconsiderate behavior.
- You find your privacy being invaded more and more by this person.
- There is an increase in overt or covert bullying and gas-lighting, where they try to shift blame onto you.
I have drawn this list up from my own personal experiences living in shared houses with at least two psychopaths, and have seen first hand how they cause trouble in a shared living environment.
As with all contexts in life, psychopaths can be charming to live with, but also disturbing and immensely irritating. They also have different faces for different people and so can be tricky to detect at first, though with an observant eye and critical thinking, you can weed out these toxic characters and get to the bottom of problems in shared houses and apartments.
Let’s look at each of the points listed above in more detail, so we can more accurately spot psychopathic people we may be sharing houses/apartments with.
1. Things They Are Telling You Don’t Stack Up (Lying)
This is a big one to look out for, where you start to spot inconsistencies with what a person is telling you once you use some critical thinking.
Psychopaths are compulsive liars – they relentlessly lie and deceive others, sometimes for their own ends, but sometimes also just for fun when they don’t even need to.
They know how to come across as very glib and charming, and they also know most people will not cross reference and double check to see if all the claims they make are true.
However, more observant and curious people will quickly spot when a person’s stories and claims do not add up.
Here are some examples of how this will play out with a psychopathic housemate:
- They’ll tell one story of their past to one person and a completely different, in-congruent story to another. Cross referencing stories will often expose this.
- In general, there will be unanswered questions from their past and odd glimmers of skeletons in the closet (Psychopaths always leave a trail of destruction behind them in former jobs and relationships).
- They’ll talk about some amazing, high flying, well paid job they have, yet they always seem to be stuck in the house bothering others, or don’t seem to have a lifestyle that matches their claimed income. They may not work at all or just be overstating their job status.
- Alternatively, they’ll make outlandish claims about their pay, or some amazing bonus, yet one week later will be asking to borrow money to tie them over til next payday.
- In general, just inconsistencies in what they do and say that just leave you thinking “huh? That doesn’t make sense at all”. There will be a general sense that they are just bumbling and bulls**ting their way through each day as it comes.
Of course none of these things in themselves means someone you live with is a psychopath. Sometimes people lie to try and impress others, or they are secretive about their past simply because they are private people who don’t want others prying into their life.
However, with a psychopath, two things will be apparent that won’t be in others:
- The patterns of lying and deceit will be relentless and pervasive, about little and small things.
- There will be a constant tendency towards manipulating others for their own ends.
Someone can lie and be defensive about their past, but still be a relatively private person who keeps to themselves and doesn’t look for conflict. A psychopath is very different; they’ll aggressively and flagrantly lie right to your face, every chance they get.
If you see evidence of such pervasive and repeated patterns of deception and dishonest, it is a big red flag for sure in housemates.
Psychopaths will always be lying in major and minor ways, so always look out for inconsistencies and stories and accounts they give you.
2. There is An Increase in Drama & Conflict in the House/Apartment
Psychopaths are part of the so called Cluster B or Dramatic personality disorders, meaning that they constantly seek to create drama and conflict in any situation they enter. They suffer from a relentless, underlying boredom and need to liven their day up by creating some kind of drama or confrontation.
Another more general pattern to be observant of is when you notice that there is a general increase in conflict and drama since a certain person came into a shared living arrangement.
You just notice there are more arguments, bust ups, people set against each other and general uneasiness and tension.
Be careful with this though, as psychopaths are expert manipulators and are very good at shifting blame onto a target or scapegoat, whilst they walk off scot-free. See our article on the sociopath-empath-apath triad for more on this dynamic.
This means that while some psychopaths may overtly get into arguments with others, many will be more sneaky than that and look to set people against each other who may have previously got on fine. When it blows up, the psychopath sits back and watches the show whilst others get blamed for the conflict.
This is why it is important to really look at things with a critical eye, and not be always taken in by how things may appear on the surface.
At some point, the charming mask a psychopath puts up will drop and the more unpleasant sides of their character will start to leak out. The problem is, they can start to behave in toxic ways towards some, while remaining charming towards others, and this can create a confusing picture, where some housemates can “see” the real person, while others cannot.
Nonetheless, the psychopath will gives themselves away over time.
Here are some things to look for:
- Sneaky trouble-making, where the psychopath engages in “he said, she said” gossip, playing people off against each other. This often comes out when people cross reference each other’s accounts and realize “What? I didn’t say that at all!”. Then the real troublemaker is revealed.
- A general “splitting” of the housemates into camps, which may not have happened before. People being set against each other in groups.
- A general increase in arguments about things which weren’t common before.
- A psychopath will often look to target a vulnerable scapegoat, constantly talking badly about them to all the other housemates, trying to isolate and undermine them.
- Also, watch out for people’s valuable being stolen, where they try to pin the blame on someone else. See the next section for more on this.
Spotting a Psychopath – When the Mask Drops
3. People’s Stuff Gets Stolen & Used Without Permission
This is a common one with psychopaths living in shared houses, where it’s several strangers living together at once. They are arrogant and entitled personalities, and think they can just use whatever they want, whenever they want.
This means you’ll often find them taking other people’s food and drink out the fridge without asking. Sometimes they’ll be subtle about it, just taking small amounts in the hope you won’t notice; other times they’ll be more flagrant about it and take stuff repeatedly, especially if they sense you are a “pushover” who won’t object and tell them to stop.
This isn’t the same as friends living together who know each other well, and sometimes they pinch each other’s stuff, and there’s some friendly banter about it. This is a more pervasive, unacceptable form of stealing, where you don’t know them well enough that you’d be happy with them just taking your food/drink whenever they want, yet they still do it.
Sometimes they’ll tell you they’ve used something of yours, and apologize, saying they’ll replace whatever it was. The psychopath will rarely actually follow through on that promise. Other times they just do it and hope you won’t notice
It can also be a subtle starting point of a more general process that psychopaths engage in where the continually chip away at your boundaries, seeing just how much they can get away with. Stealing bits of food and drink can be a good way of them “testing the waters” to see how much you’ll tolerate, and they’ll move onto more and more unacceptable boundary violations after that.
This is why it’s important to set firm boundaries with this early on and insist that they do not take any of your things without asking. If you let them get away with this, they’ll just start doing more and more things, so cut it off right away.
If they try to downplay this as nothing (“ah come on, it was only one beer” etc), then stick to your principles on this and tell them to get their own stuff. The irritating thing about living with psychopaths is that you’ll see how disorganized and chaotic they are, and how they are unable to properly plan their lives.
They just bumble from one day to the next, without any sense of planning, and so stealing other people’s things is just one example of this. Often shops are nearby, but they can’t be bothered with this. Other people are there to serve them as far as they are concerned, and they just feel entitled to do what they like.
Other times, the theft is more serious, with really expensive things like phones, laptops, cash, credit cards, jewellery etc being stolen. Obviously you’ll have to get the landlord/police involved in these cases, but always lock your door and secure your belongings if you are sharing rented houses/apartments with strangers you do not fully know or trust yet.
Also be very careful with stranger housemates asking suspicious questions about your identity, full name, date of birth etc.
If they are asking these questions in a way that it feels like they are trying to extract little bits of information about you, one piece at a time, then don’t give them the information. Also watch out for them peering into, or trying to open, your personal mail. It’s a common form of identity fraud/theft in some countries to get what information they can and either use it to get loans etc. or sell it on.
Also be wary of complete strangers asking you to sign something like a bank card or an agreement as a “guarantor” or “witness”. This is a common scam I’ve seen and you need to stand firm on this. Don’t put your name to anything that’s not yours, nor give personal details to strangers. They can use their own friends to co-sign documents if they need to.
4. You See More and More Unacceptable Behavior
This one can be more of a slow burn, where the psychopath charms his way in at first, or tests the boundaries to see what he can get away with, and then slowly starts to ramp up the unacceptable behavior more and more if you don’t object.
More generally, you are looking for increasing instances of behavior that show a complete lack of respect and consideration for the other housemates.
Here are some examples of this:
- Noisy partying and drinking at unsociable hours that keeps the other housemates up.
- Making other noise (music, TV, arguments) at unsocial hours that keep others awake.
- Open drug taking that leaves other in the house uncomfortable. Bringing round groups of friends that do the same, creating an atmosphere others aren’t comfortable with.
- Bringing round friends that are rude, intimidating or disrespectful to people that live in the house. May bang on doors, take drugs and make noise in a way that annoys more private housemates.
- Creating a general atmosphere with lifestyle/friends that leaves people uncomfortable in their own house and feeling their privacy has been invaded
- Inappropriate sexual conduct in open parts of the house that makes other uncomfortable.
- Stealing of food/drink or more valuable things that we covered in the section above.
- When confronted about noise etc, the psychopath will often offer a glib, shallow apology, saying it won’t happen again, and then go and do the very same thing the next night.
- Watch out also for broader signs of illegal activity (theft, counterfeit/stolen goods, drug dealing etc). Psychopaths often break the law.
Psychopaths are arch hedonists and are always looking to get the party started, but the problem is they also have no respect for the boundaries or space of others
Again it is very important to set strong boundaries with this again and let the psychopath know this is unacceptable. They will not stop this behavior on their own, because to them, the needs of others do not matter.
If they respond arrogantly and refuse to stop, you can escalate your complaint to the landlord, since all tenancy agreements have clear clauses in them about showing proper respect to other housemates, keeping noise down, and so on.
5. More & More Invasion of Your Boundaries & Privacy
This is a common one when a psychopath is targeting a specific person who they see is particularly sensitive or private. They like to slowly chip away at their boundaries, and one of the ways they do this is to gradually erode their privacy.
You’ll find there is a dynamic that builds if you live with someone who you suspect is toxic and you don’t fully trust, yet they always seem to there, “in your face”, like a pest, every single day.
Look for a constant barrage of invasive questioning – “Where have you been?”, “Where are you going?”, “What are you doing today?” – that just feels excessive and invasive from someone who doesn’t know you.
Some people are just trying to make conversation, but with a psychopath, you’ll find this kind of invasiveness is more pervasive and fits into a more general pattern of an erosion of your boundaries and privacy.
Here are some other things to look out for:
- Constant prying into your personal life, asking questions you are not comfortable with them asking, because you barely know them.
- Just plain unacceptable behavior, like opening your mail without asking, or stealing bits of food like we mentioned above.
- Gossiping about your personal or work life to others in the house. Speculating and trying to smear you as someone who’s “hiding something” by trying to stay private, when they are often the ones with skeletons in the closet.
- A sense that they are listening in your phone conversation or TV/films you watch in your room. They may often drop subtle things into conversations with you to let you know they are listening in.
- Watch out for them even making suggestions as to what you should stop doing/start doing that have an undertone of arrogance and the sense they they have the right to tell you what to do with your life.
- Again, the general theme is one of invasiveness and an eroding of boundaries.
- See our article on psychopaths as invasive and intrusive people for more on this particular dynamic, and how to handle it.
Psychopaths will be constantly trying to chip away at your boundaries and privacy with a relentless series of invasive questions about your life.
Over time, living with a psychopathic housemate, you will find you have no privacy left, such are the subtle ways they are relentlessly chipping away at your privacy with this subtle but toxic behavior.
This is why it is so important, as we have already said several times, to set clear, firm boundaries and call this kind of behavior out as being unacceptable. If they gas-light you into thinking there’s nothing wrong with it, then you really do know you are dealing with a psychopath.
6. There is an Increase in Overt & Covert Bullying
Another general sign of the “mask dropping” with a psychopath is an increase in toxic bullying behaviors. Depending on the atmosphere and people in the house, this can take on overt or more sneaky and covert forms.
If the house has mostly good people in it, then the psychopath has to be more cunning in the way they target and isolate others, and therefore more they will use more covert tactics to cause trouble, like smearing, malicious gossip, exaggeration and so on, to try and set people against each other.
If the house atmosphere is not exactly perfect to being with, with some apathetic and easily influenced people living there, this is a psychopath’s dream, as they know they can easily manipulate these people into targeting one specific scapegoat, who may more readily see through the psychopath’s lies.
Here are some common ways the psychopath will look to cause trouble in shared living environments:
- Talking about you behind your back to other housemates.
- Sometimes outright confronting and starting fights with other housemates for no reason.
- Making disparaging remarks about you to others when they know you can clearly hear them eg. When you are in your room and they are in the hallway.
- Provoking reactions from you and then sneaking around gossiping about those reactions to others, trying to paint you out to be “crazy” or “difficult”. The classic smear tactic that psychopaths are well known for.
- Making up outright lies about housemates to smear them to others. Psychopaths can tell big lies without flinching.
- Gas-lighting – trying to make out certain things were done or said when they weren’t or vice versa. Or trying to downplay abusive and manipulative behavior when confronted on it, or shift blame onto the accuser.
- See our article on the sociopath-empath-apath triad for a framework to understand how psychopaths co-opt apathetic bystanders into targeting vulnerable or empathic people who can more easily see through their lies and deception.
Dealing With Psychopathic Housemates
Here are some quick-fire tips for dealing with housemates you identify as psychopaths, both for co-tenants and for landlords.
Advice for Tenants:
- See our article on the Psychopathy Checklist Traits for some common general traits to identify a psychopath.
- Set firm, clear boundaries when you see unacceptable behavior from them. Tell them to mind their own business if they are prying excessively into your life, and buy their own food/drink if they are stealing yours.
- Consult with other housemates to make sure you are all aware and on the same page if they are acting inappropriately.
- If the scenario is less supportive and the psychopath has managed to charm and “take in” some other housemates, then it is better to avoid conflict and simply move out as soon as possible.
- You should report your concerns about inappropriate behavior to the landlord/owner as well. Again if they are unsupportive and unresponsive, look to move out as soon as possible.
- If behavior is crossing over more into illegal territory (it often will with psychopaths), then record and document whatever you can and contact the police.
- Make sure all your belongings are secured if you are living in shared houses with people you do not fully know or trust yet. Psychopaths will readily steal other people’s belongings.
- See our article on the sociopath-empath-apath triad for a common way that psychopaths will play people off against others on social settings.
Advice For Landlords:
- Be careful with someone presenting an overly glib, charming and charismatic persona when they first meet you. This is a favorite tactic of psychopaths to get people trusting them.
- Conduct thorough character and reference checks on anyone you are not sure of. Psychopaths will always have skeletons in the closet and unsavory things from their past they are hiding from you.
- Take repeated complaints from trusted other tenants seriously. Psychopaths can appear to be fun loving and hedonistic but can create a distressing and oppressive environment for others if they want to.
- Take a zero tolerance approach to violence and verbal abuse towards other tenants. Be aware though that psychopaths are often covert and sneaky with their abuse as well.
- Once you identify a tenant as a psychopath, simply look to get rid of them as soon as possible, since psychopaths never stop their destructive behavior. They remain the same throughout their lives. Let someone else deal with that problem.
- If you continue you tolerate a psychopath’s behavior because he seems “OK” or “a bit of fun” to you, then you’ll find you lose your best and most reliable tenants who get fed up and leave, while they continue to fester, often getting behind on rent as they live irresponsible lives. You get the worst of everything.
- See also our article on the Psychopathy Checklist Traits for some ways to spot them. Especially look out for Glibness, insincerity, dishonesty, and irresponsibility – not traits you want in people you want to reliably get rent off.