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September 14, 2008 4:02 PM   Subscribe

AskMe the Ethicist: how do we divide this plumbing bill among 3 roommates (or am I a jerk for not wanting to split it evenly)

We are three roommates.

One of us (the one who is a relatively recent arrival to the US) flushed a bowl of stew--containing pork bones--down the toilet, creating a massive plug and a $200+ plumbing bill our angry landlord won't cover, for obvious reasons.

If we divide it equally by 3 (the flusher apologized via email for a "bad decision" but hasn't mentioned or offered to take financial responsibility), I'm $80 in the hole I didn't budget for, for someone else's mistake. This is a lot of money for me.

However, the flusher hasn't been around to talk to since this happened, and the other roommate is hesitant to ask her to help defray the cost....we are all nice people trying to be nice, but if she hasn't offered to pay more than a third, is it bitchy to ask? Should I let it go in the interests of peaceful domestic relations? I honestly don't know. I don't want to create hard feelings or be "the bad guy", but again, it's a real chunk of change-- I don't normally spend that much ever, unless it's a bill, due to the frugal way I've had to live the last few years.

On the other hand, a comfortable, friendly living environment is important to me as well.

I'd write Randy Cohen but I suspect the turnaround here will be faster.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (48 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am a meanie, but I think that the offender should pay. Tell her that the toilet is for bodily functions and nothing else. This might also be a good time to mention feminine products don't go in their either.

She's never lived in the U.S. in a roommate situation, so "exploit" that fact by telling her that the responsible party pays.
posted by k8t at 4:09 PM on September 14, 2008


The flusher should pay the whole thing. It's solely their fault. The fact that their bad decision happened to involve your apartment is completely irrelevant.

Consider: If you backed in to someone else's car while in your apartment's parking lot, would you expect your roommates to pitch in to pay the car repair bill?
posted by 0xFCAF at 4:11 PM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


The flusher should pay the entire bill. I don't ask people to pay for my mistakes and I'm not interested in paying for theirs.

But...

In order to keep the peace (and since she's not offering to cover the entire cost, which is rude and kind of strange) I would email the flusher, or sit down with her, and agree to split three ways this time but from now on it should be understood that if a person causes a problem in the apartment, it is their sole financial responsibility. Period.
posted by Fairchild at 4:12 PM on September 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Flusher pays. Obviously.
posted by jayder at 4:12 PM on September 14, 2008


I don't understand why this roommate is expecting the other two of you to cover any of the cost. It's not like the plumbing had some underlying problem you three would have to pay for eventually, anyway. Instead, she along did something that caused it to break.

It would be incredibly nice of the two of you to help defray the cost for her a little bit. But if she's expecting the two of you to take equal shares of the bill for what she did? Then there are more serious issues you guys need to work out about who is responsible for what. It might be better to come to terms about this bill in order to make sure this sort of situation isn't repeated in the future than just be super nice and timid and not say anything this time.
posted by Ms. Saint at 4:13 PM on September 14, 2008


This is an opportunity to establish ground rules for these kinds of repair expenses. Send both roommates an email saying that stuff like this happens and you want to come up with a framework for dealing with payment responsibility, because next time it might be you who negligently breaks a window or something. It seems hard to argue with responsible party paying, but you could also propose some variation. Leverage the fact this could happen again
posted by tonci at 4:14 PM on September 14, 2008


I understand that you and your other non-stew flushing roommate may be reluctant to confront the stew flusher, but it is only fair that she pick up the whole cost of the the plumbing bill. The basic roommate agreement is that you split the cost of rent. Incidentals should be split evenly among all roommates, unless there is a clear reason you shouldn't. Obviously you didn't flush the stew (and likely wouldn't have if you were in her shoes), so it doesn't make sense that she gets to avoid paying the bill that came about because of the direct result of her actions. You and your innocent roomie may offer to help her out of the kindness of your own heart, but you are under not ethical obligation to do so.

Roommate happiness is not an ethical matter, though. You'll have to decide how much domestic harmony is worth and offer (or not offer) to pay accordingly.
posted by inturnaround at 4:14 PM on September 14, 2008


Well, but this isn't really an ethical question. Of course the flusher "should" pay. But what price do you attach to peaceful relations in the house, and what impact do you think demanding the full amount would have on those relations? This depends on your personality and the flusher's. (On balance though I'd still demand full payment, in a friendly way, in order to set a precedent at this early stage when the flusher can avoid looking mean and just use the excuse of being unfamiliar with the situation - boiling resentment on your part won't be a good recipe for a good atmosphere!)
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:15 PM on September 14, 2008


To be completely fair, which I am sure most people on AskMe are aware, toilets are sensitive in the USA. In other countries it's not unheard of to flush tampons and other things people familiar with American plumbing wouldn't think of flushing.

She didn't mean any harm. She probably has flushed stew in her country without incident. That is why I think it's appropriate to split three ways this time.
posted by Fairchild at 4:16 PM on September 14, 2008


Flusher plays.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:17 PM on September 14, 2008


The person who broke it -- apparently intentionally, as it seems unlikely an accident resulted in pork bones being put in the toilet -- should pay the full cost of the damage their actions caused. The recent travel history of this person is of no consequence. They broke something, they own up to having done so, and are to be held accountable for the damage.

"Should I let it go in the interests of peaceful domestic relations? ...a comfortable, friendly living environment is important to me as well."

Is an environment where others can scam you out of their financial responsibilities a comfortable one? If this roommate overflows the tub and does thousands of dollars of water damage, are you going to pitch for that in the name of fake domestic harmony? If this person melts your pot on the stove, do they get a free pass, too, just because you're not feeling confrontational?
posted by majick at 4:17 PM on September 14, 2008


You already suffered the inconvenience of a clogged toilet, why should you be expected to pay for it?
If she doesn't take care of it, she's a lousy roommate. Not necessarily a terrible person, but a bad roommate.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:21 PM on September 14, 2008


Flusher pays. If flusher wants help to cover it now and promises in writing to pay you two back, that's different.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:25 PM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


She lives with you and only apologized via email? I think you all need to arrange for a time to sit down and talk about this face to face.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:33 PM on September 14, 2008


Flusher pays. But be upfront about it and just act like it's normal and obvious practice, not some big decision that you guys had to come to.
posted by fructose at 4:33 PM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, I'm so different on this thread.

Nope. You pay too. You invited her into the place. You had the choice of inviting someone more responsible.

But you probably ought to have a roommate meeting and discuss other things such as this, now, as well as how other 'costs' should be covered in the future.
posted by filmgeek at 4:33 PM on September 14, 2008


The landlord is the one responsible for fixing the problem. Let the landlord collect from the offending party. The other roommates should play dumb and let the landlord be the "bad guy".
posted by boby at 4:39 PM on September 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


the one who is a relatively recent arrival to the US

Have you talked to her?! If she's a new arrival to the US, she might not even be aware of having to pay herself.

Ya'll should have a sit down and get things straight.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:42 PM on September 14, 2008


I think talking about this incident, and how you're going to handle other future incidents where someone's mistake or negligence results in a financial cost to the household, would be helpful.

You may not have to "talk her into" paying at all.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:46 PM on September 14, 2008


she hasn't been home since she broke your toilet and only communicated via email? something tells me no matter what you do, this isn't an optimal living situation. and that being the case, i'd demand she pay the whole thing. or, you can come out looking like the bad guy by saying "hey, landlord says the bill is 200+ - wacky american plumbers! i can chip in 30 or 40 bucks if you're having a hard time coming up with it"...that way, you're not obligated to pay a cent but you're offering to help to further roommate relations.
posted by nadawi at 4:47 PM on September 14, 2008


Nope. You pay too. You invited her into the place. You had the choice of inviting someone more responsible.

So if you get someone stupid to live with you, you pay for their mistakes?

No way. The person was entirely responsible for needing to call out the plumber. They need to be entirely responsible for the consequences. If it was one of those things with no direct cause, then split it. It isn't.

The flusher pays. Anyone with a brain would expect to pay it, too.
posted by Brockles at 4:55 PM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


toilets are sensitive in the USA. In other countries it's not unheard of to flush tampons and other things people familiar with American plumbing wouldn't think of flushing.

FYI, tampons can usually be flushed, although in older buildings that have tree roots in the sewer lines they can cause problems. Being familiar with American plumbing does not seem to keep people from flushing baby diapers, broken glass, and other things that they shouldn't. I'm not sure if these things would generally be flushed in other countries.

I feel very strongly whoever screwed up the toilet should be the one to deal with the consequences. Your roommate seems to not have learned that the American way is evidently to play dumb and not admit to having screwed up the plumbing.

Respect your roommate for having admitted fault, but let them know that the plumbing bill is their responsibility.
posted by yohko at 4:56 PM on September 14, 2008


You had the choice of inviting someone more responsible.

That is ridiculous. She pays for it all, and you make some clear ground rules from here on in.
posted by fire&wings at 4:57 PM on September 14, 2008


Seconding 'body', the fact that you have no association with said roommate except that you are renting a suite from the same landlord means that the plumbing bill is between the offending tenant and the landlord. Also from your question I am not even sure if your flushing roommate even expects the two of you to split the bill. How do you know this is the case?

At the same time your roommate may not also have the money and perhaps you could still levy the bill on them but offer a loan, it would be fair to you and still provide the good karma.
posted by ageispolis at 5:01 PM on September 14, 2008


You pay too. You invited her into the place. You had the choice of inviting someone more responsible.

Huh? Unless I'm misreading the question, these are just 3 roommates. No one "invited" anyone else. There's no indication that it was at all foreseeable that this was going to happen.

By the same reasoning, you could say that the flusher had the choice of rooming with people who wouldn't make her pay for plumbing costs she incurs.

Realize that this isn't necessarily even an "ethical dilemma" worthy of Randy Cohen unless you ask her first. Based on your answer, you're afraid to even do that. Just firmly, politely say, "Well, it's only fair that you should pay the bill, right?" Don't you think she'd simply be too embarrassed to refuse? What do you have to lose by at least suggesting this?

Also, just a note to filmgeek: more font styles isn't a way to make your answer more correct.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:04 PM on September 14, 2008


You had the choice of inviting someone more responsible.

Amen! Because "do you intend to flush pork bones down the toilet?" is one of the most obvious questions to ask a potential roommate.
posted by scody at 5:05 PM on September 14, 2008 [22 favorites]


Oh, god, please don't make the landlord get involved!

You are all responsible adults. You should be able to get this figured out without having to resort to asking the landlord to intervene. What, are you all 12 years old?
posted by gregvr at 5:10 PM on September 14, 2008


Is there anywhere in the world where flushing bones down the toilet would be OK?

Because I've traveled a lot, and in my experience, US toilets are actually LESS prone to clogging than the toilets of many other countries. There are lots of countries where people don't even dare to flush toilet paper, which is disposed of in a wastebasket.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:14 PM on September 14, 2008


Its illegal to say "your not american, you cant live here" isnt it? Flusher pays.
posted by SirStan at 5:16 PM on September 14, 2008


You've got two interlocking problems:

1. Dealing with the current plumbing-fee situation. I'd go with the majority here and say that the stew-flusher pays. (Did your roommate grow up on the space shuttle? Most terrestrial plumbing systems don't have the hydraulic force to handle PORK BONES.)

2. Preventing similarly awkward situations from arising in the future. I'd rank this as the more important problem, considering the self-centered obliviousness your roommate seems to be displaying.

Neither problem can be dealt with via email. Call a house meeting. Accommodate her schedule but accept no excuses for her absence. You've got to discuss this face-to-face.
posted by dogrose at 5:35 PM on September 14, 2008


the flusher apologized via email for a "bad decision" but hasn't mentioned or offered to take financial responsibility

She hasn't mentioned you splitting it either. I would just assume that she means to pay it herself. Just send her an e-mail saying where she should send the check.
posted by grouse at 5:43 PM on September 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


Wow, I'm so different on this thread.

Nope. You pay too. You invited her into the place. You had the choice of inviting someone more responsible.


But, stew? In the toilet? Who would even have considered that a potential roommate may do that? And if you did consider it, I think the first conversation you had with the person would be along the lines of "Oh, and we don't flush stew down toilets in this apartment, by the way."
posted by odinsdream at 5:50 PM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


If the scenario were reversed and a bodily function were performed into the kitchen sink disposal, I don't think there would be any question about who would pay: the offender.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 6:00 PM on September 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


She hasn't offered to pay anything, if I read that correctly? So you would need to be requesting that $80 in the first place??

She might be horribly embarrassed? I would gently explain that you guys aren't angry and that it's her home too. Then once you have tricked her back then mention Oh yeah, the Landlord was angry about the toilet... and this is the bill. We're not angry but yep this will need to be paid.

Her reaction tells you everything you need to know. I don't care where you're from if there's a bill there and it's for you - you pay it or you're an asshole. A normal person would automatically assume this particular bill isn't divided. If her reaction makes you feel even a little put off - no deal. If she looks like Omg where am I gonna get that kinda scratch from? I'd be inclined to help her find a way. (A repayment system.) And I would be mindful of her dignity and/but make sure there were no other mishaps on the horizon.

But what I'm actually thinking is wouldn't she have paid a bond?? Surely putting the toilet completely out of action counts as damage? If she wants to be a dick about it, that's not a housemate worth having. She's scared of you already (otherwise she wouldn't be hiding). So yeah, just like the other plan - you trick her into coming back but then instead of being kind, figure out what scares her most? (It might be facing this alone with the Landlord or maybe listening to you freak out because you all might get evicted if you don't pay ect.) And just play on that 'til she skips town. The plan does hinge on there being a bond but either way - if she sucks, she's gotta go!
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 7:09 PM on September 14, 2008


Either something's missing from the history, or I'm not sure you have a problem yet. If you have a final number from the landlord on the bill, just pass it along to her as if there's no question that she'll pay the whole amount.

If she protests or asks to split the amount, then you might have a problem to solve. But for now, assume she's going to man up and do the right thing and pay her own bills her own self.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:22 PM on September 14, 2008


FYI, tampons can usually be flushed

But the people who run sewage-treatment plants, water-quality advocacy organizations, and the like really, really want you not to. Please don't flush tampons!
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:47 PM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


You had the choice of inviting someone more responsible.

This is the dumbest moral reasoning I've ever seen on AskMe. Flusher pays.
posted by Dasein at 7:52 PM on September 14, 2008


So, I'm a volunteer conflict mediator at work, and it sounds to me that part of the issue here is that you're doing something I see a lot: you are associating 'nice people' as those who avoid conflict - conflict which is normal in any relationship, and 'meanie people' as those who state their concerns and negotiate out a solution together.

Whoever said it upthread is right -this is an absolutely fine moment to call a little 30 minute roommate meeting and discuss this situation. People avoid conflict like plague, even when there is an equal power dynamic. This isn't something you should try to solve this via email, phone, etc. People often try to, because they don't 'want to get into an argument' or 'don't want to escalate', and sometimes it works to do it non-face-to-face, but often it doesn't. That's because of something that's counter intuitive: when faced with conflict with someone you have to move towards them, not avoid them. Trying to work this out via email opens up too many opportunities for misunderstandings and unspoken thoughts. That's bad for any healthy relationship.

So call a short conversation over coffee, share that you never really had this happen before so you really need to figure out a rule on what to do when someone breaks something, which you know, people do. Toilets, windows, blinds, rugs, each other's stuff, etc. And that you believe it's most fair that whoever breaks it, regardless if they intended to or not (and really who ever does?), pays for it. And then ask them what they think. Cause that's just the opening of the conversation - they may feel differently, and hearing their perspective, you might feel compelled to pay for part of it. Repeat, repeat, repeat that it's going to be important that you all hear and respect each other's opinions and come to a common agreement, no matter how awkward it is to have the conversation....because in the end you're sharing your values and establishing how you want to solve conflict in the house.

Because if you don't figure this out now, your 'new to the country' person may break something else, and you've established the three way split rule, by not talking about it. And it's harder to change an established rule - even by default - than to set one when it becomes clear one is needed. Also, you're setting yourself up to feel resentful - you believe you're being 'fair' by splitting it three ways, but without getting an understanding from him/her, that this is a concession on your part, it means you can't be sure that s/he will view it as one. And if she doesn't for whatever reason (maybe she feels that you should pay more for whatever reason - who knows? You haven't asked)...well often that's when people start feeling pissed.

....And then they start acting like true meanies, because they are 'tired of the other person taking advantage of them'. And then they end up in mediation.

So why not just skip that whole cycle and start talking face to face?

Good luck!
posted by anitanita at 8:11 PM on September 14, 2008 [20 favorites]


I'm with Sidhedevil -- I'm tremendously confused as to what country would think that flushing a bowl of stew with bones would be a) not totally fucking bizarre and b) not harmful to plumbing. I haven't been to all regions of the world, but my general experience is that generally speaking, US toilet pluming is able to handle a lot more trash than that of most countries.

Flusher is obligated to pay. You're gonna have to explain that when things break, the breaker is legally responsible. If you feel that you're friends with this person, I'd say sure, help out as a friend if want, to the tune of whatever you can afford to chip in.
posted by desuetude at 8:39 PM on September 14, 2008


Why is this even being debated?

Hey flusher- that trick with the pork bones cost you $200- Yeah, expensive lesson, but life's like that. Plumber takes cheque or direct deposit, here's his number- I'm off to the movies, bye...
posted by mattoxic at 10:36 PM on September 14, 2008


anitanita nails the correct approach. If you want the correct passive-aggressive approach, and you or the other non-stew-flusher in the apartment are responsible for the utilities every month, you could split it now and then charge the stew flusher $5-10 more every month for utilities without telling them.
posted by one_bean at 11:56 PM on September 14, 2008


Is 200+ dollars a normal price for this where you live, and did you give the flusher an opportunity to fix the toilet herself? It seems expensive to me for such a normal plumbing problem, but I am not in the US. Most plumbing problems cost about 100 euro's to fix here, and many people already think that that is really expensive.
posted by davar at 4:02 AM on September 15, 2008


Just send the bill to her. If she doesn't have $200 with her.
Offer her a loan for that amount that you would be comfortable if she didn't pay (This is only because that's the right thing to do to help a friend in need, not because its your responsibility)
posted by WizKid at 12:44 PM on September 15, 2008


it's obvious that she should be the one to pay to fix something she's broken; it seems to me your question is more about how to handle the situation, not who should do what. give her the bill as if you're assuming that she'll pay for it, if she protests just say that she broke it and she should pay to get it fixed. if she insists and it escalates into a more serious disagreement, you'll have to decide if a harmonious living environment is worth $80 for you.

and then after you've settled this, have a roommate meeting and make some ground rules. things like paying for broken stuff, having guests over, what times to start/stop being quiet at night and in the morning, division of chores - all of that needs to be decided as a group, not by tacit and individual assumption.
posted by Xianny at 2:51 PM on September 15, 2008


Is 200+ dollars a normal price for this where you live, and did you give the flusher an opportunity to fix the toilet herself? It seems expensive to me for such a normal plumbing problem, but I am not in the US. Most plumbing problems cost about 100 euro's to fix here, and many people already think that that is really expensive.

100 EUR = 142.54 USD, and I wouldn't be surprised if the rest of the cost could be attributed to a blockage somewhere further in the line due to the bones that required use of a snake - or anything that took more than an hour to handle.
posted by odinsdream at 7:04 AM on September 16, 2008


100 EUR = 142.54 USD
I know, but that's because of the terrible exchange rate now. Usually, things are more expensive in EUR than they are in USD. For example, games that cost 40 USD are 50 EUR (ex VAT) here. I once had a blockage that required heavy material (no idea what it is called) and we did not know what it caused, and the plumber had to find the right pipes, and still it took about an hour and cost about 100 euro's.

I was surprised that the OP mentioned the 200+ dollar bill as something totally normal, instead of "and it appeared to be a really difficult plumbing problem because of XYZ and now there is this huge bill".
posted by davar at 10:55 AM on September 16, 2008


You may also want to make sure that your roommate knows what not to put down the garbage disposal as well, if you have one.
posted by shirobara at 5:01 AM on September 17, 2008


I use the toilet as a default disposal site for anything too lumpy to tip down the sink and too liquid to go in the trash. Uneaten oatmeal or - yes - stew for example. They're about the same consistency as puke and you'd have no qualms about flushing that right?

I imagine the roommate just had a senior moment and forgot there were bones in there.

Regardless, the flusher pays. Nadawi's suggestion of how that should be phrased seems like the most compatible with good roommate relations in the future. (Although I'd make the offered sum smaller.)
posted by the latin mouse at 7:51 PM on September 19, 2008


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