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Advice on dealing with hostile housemate?
June 18, 2011 6:31 PM   Subscribe

Housemate is acting violent/threatening, land lord won't act. What can I do besides move?

Alright Metafilter...ites? I got some truly helpful advice on a tough situation not long ago, and unfortunately I now face another (unrelated) one. So here goes:


I currently rent a room in a four-bedroom house in Wisconsin. There's only one other renter at the moment, a male about my age (25). At first we were mildly friendly. Then he started to get strange. Getting oddly upset about minor messes I had missed, or things I hadn't done JUST SO (I'm fairly tidy, though there's room for improvement).

So I did my best make him happy and give him some space. This offended him, and he started getting hostile, making vague, implied threats, trying to intimidate me, etc. So I avoided him more. Which upset him more. And so on.

Eventually I was being yelled at as I tried to leave for work in the morning. The threats grew less implied and less vague. I tried several times to ask the land lord for help, but he was unwilling to do anything besides ask the other renter to stop, which of course only made things worse. The last incident of this resulted in the renter screaming at the landlord for a good half hour, but the latter still refused to do anything about it.

There's been about a week of very tense "calm" since then. No screaming or stomping around slamming things, no threats. But I'm still living with someone who hates me, is violent, and has a short temper.

I'm sure the first response from many posters will be "Get out. Now." Which is good advice, but unfortunately out of reach. I don't really have anywhere to go: no friends or family to lodge with etc. Moving is certainly a long-term possibility, but it's going to be hard to find something I can afford, and it will almost certainly be much worse. Apart from this fiasco the room/house is fantastic for the price, and I don't want to give it up because of this bully unless I absolutely have to.

I should also be clear: the chances of threat to my life are pretty minimal: I'm more concerned about battery/damage to my stuff. Still a serious thing, I know, but it's a rock/hard place situation. For now I'm staying, at least until he cranks up the crazy again.


So here's the actual question: besides trying to move (which will be expensive and mean losing a lot), what are my options? Is going to the police going to do any good? What should I do specifically if I do talk to them? The worst he's said are things along the lines of "Yeah, you try that [closing the door] and see what happens!" which is a far cry from "I'll fucking kill you" but still pretty intimidating when it's yelled at you at 6 in the morning. I doubt it's enough to actually do anything with legally though.

Basically, what are my options here (if any) besides giving in to this creep? I know it's a long shot, but all the options look pretty bad: I just want to be as informed as I can before I choose one.
posted by wanderingchord to Law & Government (31 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
The landlord has very little responsibility in managing roommate issues. (Although this varies by jurisdiction.)

Of course if you feel threatened you should leave. Don't be stupid with your life and possessions.
posted by k8t at 6:40 PM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've been in a similar situation in the past. In hindsight, I helped perpetuate it by being insufficiently assertive. Are you by nature a non-confrontational sort of person? I am, and your wording suggests to me that you may be too - in that your reaction so far seems to have been to avoid your housemate, or seek the intervention of a third party.

If you're intent on staying, which I understand, and can't get your landlord to intervene, then you're more or less stuck dealing with the jerk on an interpersonal level. Without any consequences, he'll continue behaving in this way as long as he can. The only consequence it sounds like you can muster at this point is resistance. Don't let him walk all over you, and if he treats you in a way you find unacceptable, tell him that you won't stand for it in calm, clear, firm terms. Assert yourself.

A far cry from a magic bullet I know, but there you have it. Realistically, the guy's never going to be pleasant to live with. If he crosses the line to actual battery, that puts calling the cops over on the table, which might be enough to get the landlord to give him the boot. In my experience people like this tend to be very skilled at walking the line of too-much but not-quite-enough though, so I wouldn't get your hopes up on that.

Look forward to the day you never have to see him again. Plan to get there as soon as possible. It's a sucky situation, I feel for you. Good luck.
posted by chmmr at 6:48 PM on June 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Talk to the police. Maybe they can't do anything, but finding out costs you nothing.

"For now I'm staying, at least until he cranks up the crazy again."

If you feel threatened now, why not do now what you're planning to do (leave) next time he cranks up the crazy?
posted by J. Wilson at 6:49 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


IANAL/IANYL, etc.

If you're not willing to vacate the premises, and keep voluntarily going back, after you've been vaguely threatened, I think the police aren't likely to see those threats as significant, and in a time of reduced civic funding in most jurisdictions, I'd be surprised if they even thought it warranted a house call. Your choices, in face of vaguely "threatening" comments from your roommate, even if delivered in shouts, are, as I see them, 1) to ignore them, and go about living your life, with a hostile person as a roomate, or 2) face up to your roommate, and try to negotiate or demand better interpersonal treatment, on terms of simple decency, or 3) move, or 4) wait for enough evidence of hurt that police will consider it a clear criminal matter.

#4 is crazy; don't do that. #2 isn't too likely to work, if your roommate is actually suffering from paranoia or other mental illness, but isn't actually violent. Bad actors often go on for years, just on the satisfaction they get from making other people more miserable than they, themselves, are. But sometimes, bad actors in a heated situation become really violent, and, bingo, you're in #4. #1 is what you're currently doing, and don't seem very satisfied with continuing to do.

That leaves #3. Move. Even if it is to a shelter. Even if it is to a motel. Even if it is to a worse place than you have now, for more money. Unless you heal fast, and have a lot of faith in your local District Attorney.
posted by paulsc at 6:53 PM on June 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


I should also be clear: the chances of threat to my life are pretty minimal

You don't know this.
posted by jayder at 6:58 PM on June 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


If you're insistent on staying (or staying until you find somewhere to go), then you should definitely move anything that you don't want to be damaged or destroyed into a storage unit or a friend's garage.

But you should probably be worrying more about your life instead of your stuff, no matter how nice your stuff may be.
posted by lovelygirl at 7:08 PM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Crazy doesn't de-escalate. He will not get calmer. He will probably threaten more or do worse as time goes on. He may be manageable today, but not tomorrow for all you know. You should be plotting a move even if you don't have the money to do so right now. Go on a bare-bones budget. Look on Craigslist. Pray you get lucky. If you can get the police or someone who's an expert on domestic violence to talk to you about any possible things they can do, do so (but with budgets, who knows if this is viable). I wish there was the option of going to a DV shelter for you, or that I knew of some way to get you help otherwise, but I don't know jack about the options in Wisconsin.

But you need to plan for a move, even if it's much worse than your living situation is now. This guy WILL FORCE YOU TO MOVE. No question that this will happen if he's crazy and kinda violent already. I was reading the blog of someone who had to move because there was a crazy in her apartment complex and she had to move to a worse place in the middle of the night because the complex crazy person was so crazy and of course the landlord wouldn't do jack about it. This will probably be you some day on a best case scenario. Start planning.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:09 PM on June 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


You can't move immediately, but you should move out as soon as possible, which means you should start looking tonight.

Also, notify your landlord in no uncertain terms that you can't take it any more and you are planning on moving out. So, your landlord has two options - lose you, a sane, nonviolent, nice tenant, or kick out this fellow, a possibly insane, abusive, terrible tenant. It could be legally/logistically difficult for your landlord to kick a tenant out, but maybe if this fellow starts actually scaring away his other tenants, he might be goaded into action.

Good luck.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:28 PM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


The landlord has very little responsibility in managing roommate issues. (Although this varies by jurisdiction.)

It sounds like the rooms are rented separately, so (depending on jurisdiction) there should be an implied agreement for the landlord to provide a safe environment for the OP. I think it's absolutely the landlord's responsibility to evict an abusive tenant, and I guess he just wants to keep the rent coming in.

If I were you, I'd mention to the landlord that I was considering going to the police about the situation since I felt like I was in danger. Hopefully this would get him moving.

If it doesn't, and I *really* couldn't move out, I probably would actually go to the police and ask them for their advice. I have no idea what the criteria for a restraining order is, but I would think death threats would be on the list.
posted by auto-correct at 7:28 PM on June 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Since you're worried about your stuff getting trashed, perhaps a deadbolt on your bedroom door is in order?

But I agree with everyone else--move as soon as you can. Not being able to relax and recuperate at home is horrible. I also agree on calling the cops to discuss what's actionable, because this guy sounds like he's not responding to anything you're doing or saying.
posted by smirkette at 7:37 PM on June 18, 2011


Look into a restraining order. Your roommate would not be allowed anywhere near you, including his or her room.
posted by Justinian at 7:54 PM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Don't forget to record events as well, no matter how trivial. It can be useful to show people, because even if one event doesn't look threatening a sequence of them can, if well-documented.

Good luck.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:06 PM on June 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


So I did my best make him happy and give him some space. This offended him, and he started getting hostile, making vague, implied threats, trying to intimidate me, etc. So I avoided him more. Which upset him more. And so on.

Giving him space and avoiding him triggered the overt hostility? That seems to suggest a somewhat more personal relationship than you've described. Most people who don't like their roommates prefer a minimum level of interaction.

How long have you known him? How long have each of you lived there? Are there any details you are leaving out?

I'd try to get a third roommate in, unless the landlord doesn't want to rent out another room. Even if the landlord is advertising, I'd put up those little flyers with pull-off phone numbers in likely places and that sort of thing – do all you can to push the process along.

The roommate seems to have drifted into some weird faux-intimate domestic abuse scenario, wherein you are expected to do everything he wants under threat, and also have affection for him (or something, if he gets worse when you avoid him). At least one more person in the house ought to jar that bizarre illusion and shake up the dynamic.
posted by taz at 9:10 PM on June 18, 2011


I read this less as a faux-intimate thing, and more as a situation in which this creep feels validated abd powerful and in-control by flying into these rages over trivial things. He's a bully.

By making himself scarce, wandering chord has signaled vulnerability ... The bully now smells blood, you might say. If wandering chord had not slunk away, but rather had confronted the bully's nonsense forcefully, the bully might not have continued this. But as things are going, the bully is sensing weakness and is enjoying terrorizing wandering chord.
posted by jayder at 9:30 PM on June 18, 2011


He's a bully. An emotional one right now, but could easily become a physical one. Stand up to him or move. Tell him to cut the shit out.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:50 PM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Other than the cheap rent, what benefit are you getting from living with this asshole? Yes, the place is cheap. But it's WISCONSIN, not Manhattan. No matter how cheap it is, it's too expensive if someone is screaming at you at 6 AM.

Look for another place. You won't find one until you do, and it's better to do it on your schedule rather than his.
posted by jrochest at 12:09 AM on June 19, 2011


And since I think I wasn't very clear: yes, MOVE. More importantly, get ready to move and plan a move, before you have to flee incontinent. Plan. Save money. Make connections. The fact that you're working out a plan to leave will help you feel better about living with the jerk, because you'll be in control of what happens to you.

Three steps:

1) Start looking for a place now, right away. This means Craigslist, Kijiji, local papers, websites, people you work with, friends, all the avenues you have. If you are a student, look at residence or shared housing. Starting now will also allow you to be somewhat selective: you can pick and choose before you wind up standing beside a heap of possessions by the curb, clutching a lamp.

2) Pack. Get boxes, and box your stuff up now, so that you are ready to move before you have to move. Assuming that you've got a single room's worth of stuff, you can move it all in the back of a taxi if you need to (I have done this, and it can be done, including the futon if you push hard). Ideally, reduce what you actually have in the house to what you can physically carry, as if you were backpacking. If this means you put everything you own in a cheap storage locker so that you can live in a shelter, do it.

3) Reduce your vulnerability. Remove all essential documents and info (passport, banking info, computer) from the house. If you have pets (cat? ferret? hamster?) get some kind person to take them and look after them for a while. If you have things of great personal value (a photo of an old lover; an important book; a musical instrument) get them OUT of the house. Even if he can't get to them, if you can't get into the house because he's put deadbolts on the doors you're still SOL. If you know anyone, or can put anything someplace else (a corner at work? a storage locker? under a buddy's bed?) do it, and get everything sentimental/fragile/expensive/bulky out of the house so that he can't destroy it.

And yes, maybe you are messy and leave dishes in the sink or don't squeegee the shower properly. But even if you're the biggest pig in existence, your roomie does NOT have the right to yell at you or make you feel unsafe.

Seriously: you are living in a housemate situation with a possibly violent and certainly unpleasant person. He is certainly the reason that the house is empty, and that's probably a clue. Get out. It's not going to get better, and this is no way to live.
posted by jrochest at 12:41 AM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, and don't tell him you're leaving. Sneak stuff out when he's not there. If he's never in your room he shouldn't know anyway.
posted by jrochest at 12:42 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Couple thoughts: As someone said, no loss talking to the police... via going to the station, asking to speak to someone. If nothing else, if something ugly does happen, it would only help you to have already notified the police about your concern.

Also, I would give serious thought to, as someone related, telling the landlord that he is not providing a safe environment and that if moving causes him to think you lose a deposit, you will consider all legal means of getting it back.

If you have paid a deposit and you can swing it that on, say, June 30, you have a new place lined up for, say, July 10, I would seriously consider telling the landlord that you are paying no partial rent for the month of July because the landlord did not provide a safe environment, that the money can be deducted from the deposit and that you expect the rest of the deposit to be returned because he violated the terms of the lease (assuming you have one).
posted by ambient2 at 1:04 AM on June 19, 2011


It looks like legally wanderingchord would probably first need to get a Harassment Injunction:
One common type of injunction is a “Harassment” injunction. Harassment is defined in 813.125, of the Wisconsin Statutes as

(a) Strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects the person to physical contact; or (b) Engages in an act that would constitute abuse under 48.02(1); or (c) Sexual assault under 940.225; or (d) Stalking under 940.32; or attempts or threatens to do same; or (e) Engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which harass or intimidate the person and which serve no legitimate purpose.

There is a fee for requesting a harassment injunction.
(emphasis mine)

According to the Wisconsin Safe Housing Act:
Tenants can now break their lease and vacate the property without penalty if they or their child face a real and immediate threat from another person if they stay and if they provide the landlord with certain legal documentation of the threat. This documentation can include a domestic abuse injunction, a child abuse restraining order and injunction, a harassment restraining order based on sexual assault or stalking, or a criminal complaint alleging that the tenant or their child was sexually assaulted or stalked. This documentation is required to ensure that the claims are not baseless, and that the tenant legitimately faces a threat if they stay in the rental unit. Under the new law, if a tenant provides their landlord with this documentation they are not required to pay rent after the end of the month in which they provide notice or after they vacate the premises, whichever is later.
I'd call the Wisconsin Tenant Resource Center, 1-877-238-RENT (7368), to see if this is correct, and if they have specific advice about this situation.
posted by taz at 1:48 AM on June 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


trying to move (which will be expensive and mean losing a lot)

How?

You're renting a room, which means you should have enough personal property to fill no more than a room and a kitchen cupboard and some toiletries. So in terms of possessions, even if you walked away right now with only a bag of clothes, key documents and perhaps your computer exactly how much would you lose? And clearly you would aim to take all your stuff with you in a move.

How desirable is this room really? Why are two rooms empty if the place is as great and as cheap as you say? Why are the other rooms empty? Do you really know the market where you live - it is unlikely that the room is as desirable as you make out if the other rooms are empty? Or is the offensive roommate driving people away after a very short time?
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:08 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The next time your roommate goes off on you, why not call the police? That would certainly back up any harassment claims, and keep you safe. It would hopefully scare him enough to get him to back off temporarily. If your roommate is crazy, though, he might escalate.
posted by annsunny at 8:43 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Threatening another person is illegal. Call the police. Tell your landlord to step up and help, as your landlord has to provide a habitable space, and being threatened is unacceptable. Having the landlord on your side w/ the cops will help.

I used to be a landlord (2 family home). 1 of 3 roomies in the rental got weirder and weirder. When the weirdness got threatening, I stepped in, told her to leave ASAP. She threatened me with a lawyer, I told her that she had crossed the line into threatening behavior and needed to be out in 24 hours. She left.
posted by theora55 at 9:12 AM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Where are you in Wisconsin? I might be able to help you find tangible resources. I'm in Milwaukee.
posted by desjardins at 10:53 AM on June 19, 2011


Also, check the guy out on the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access site and see if he has any violent priors.
posted by desjardins at 10:54 AM on June 19, 2011


Thanks to everyone for the replies. Apologies: this is going to be massive as there's so much to respond to. I'll try to do a summary at the end. Oh and Desjardins: I'll send you a private message so it doesn't get lost in all this.


First, I am planning on moving: already making calls, looking at other places etc. But it's going to suck, it's going to take a long time (a month at the least) and for all the sacrifice there's a significant chance I drop into the same situation all over again. Ultimately moving is probably the only valid option here: I just wanted to be sure of that, and what I should do in the mean time. But yeah, I should have clarified: when I said I was going to stay, I meant in the short term, until I could find a place to move to.


"Crazy doesn't de-escalate. He will not get calmer. He will probably threaten more or do worse as time goes on. He may be manageable today, but not tomorrow for all you know."

Yeah, pretty much what I've been thinking, especially since I've (unfortunately) had to deal with people like this before. There's a difference between people who are simply inconsiderate/brats/assholes and people who have real mental issues.

"I've been in a similar situation in the past. In hindsight, I helped perpetuate it by being insufficiently assertive. Are you by nature a non-confrontational sort of person? I am, and your wording suggests to me that you may be too - in that your reaction so far seems to have been to avoid your housemate, or seek the intervention of a third party."


Bingo. Here's the thing though: I'm not just avoiding conflict because I don't have the balls. I've avoiding it because "standing up for myself" escalates things. FFS, the guy is beside himself because I've been quietly minding my own business: god knows what he'll do if I actually ask him to knock it off. It's a bad hand in other words. Nothing to be gained by playing it.



"It sounds like the rooms are rented separately, so (depending on jurisdiction) there should be an implied agreement for the landlord to provide a safe environment for the OP. I think it's absolutely the landlord's responsibility to evict an abusive tenant, and I guess he just wants to keep the rent coming in.

If I were you, I'd mention to the landlord that I was considering going to the police about the situation since I felt like I was in danger. Hopefully this would get him moving.

If it doesn't, and I *really* couldn't move out, I probably would actually go to the police and ask them for their advice. I have no idea what the criteria for a restraining order is, but I would think death threats would be on the list."

They are rented separately, which is a big distinction: thus "housemates" and not "room mates." The legal situation is a lot different. Researching before I asked this question I saw a lot of back and forth about what ll's are and aren't responsible for here. Personally, I think he's absolutely responsible for ensuring one renter isn't making life miserable for the other, but it's academic at this point: all that matters is that he won't do anything.

He actually suggested I call the police if things went too far (gee, thanks). But again, it's in a dangerous grey area right now where that probably won't do any good.

"Giving him space and avoiding him triggered the overt hostility? That seems to suggest a somewhat more personal relationship than you've described. Most people who don't like their roommates prefer a minimum level of interaction."

*Laughs* No, maybe my wording was clumsy. What I meant was that I was playing along with his strange little rules to some degree to avoid conflict.


"By making himself scarce, wandering chord has signaled vulnerability ... The bully now smells blood, you might say. If wandering chord had not slunk away, but rather had confronted the bully's nonsense forcefully, the bully might not have continued this. But as things are going, the bully is sensing weakness and is enjoying terrorizing wandering chord."

Absolutely. But as I said above, if I call his bluff, aside from the risk to myself, there's a good chance I end up getting in trouble. "Standing up for myself" can be pretty easily twisted into me being the bad guy.


"Other than the cheap rent, what benefit are you getting from living with this asshole? Yes, the place is cheap. But it's WISCONSIN, not Manhattan. No matter how cheap it is, it's too expensive if someone is screaming at you at 6 AM. "

Ultimately I agree, but to answer the question: If I were to move I would almost certainly lose:

-a private bathroom
-half of my living space
-Dishwasher
-good neighborhood
-two huge closets
-Dry, clean storage space

And when you're living on $700 a month because you can't find a second job, cost and benefits-for-cost get to be pretty significant.


Jrochest: I agree with you in spirit, but a lot of that is stuff I simply can't do. I have nowhere to remove anything to, can't afford a storage locker, and moving, when it happens, is going to be a long and nasty process, especially since I don't have anyone to help me. Again though, I agree in spirit. Time to start planning and preparing.



Interesting info on the harassment injunction Taz. I considered something like that, but thought it was a bit far-flung. Might be worth looking into though.



Summary:

1. Talking/personal confrontation isn't a valid option here. At best does no good, at worst gets me hurt or in trouble.

2. Start looking at new places immediately (I am). Until I actually sign a new lease I can always back out if something suddenly turns around here.

3. Though it's a long shot, look into the possibility of harassment injunction/other
help from police. Can't hurt, especially since I live two blocks from the county court house.


Even more summarized: Move ASAP, but look into other options in the meantime.

Thanks for the help, and I'll try to update if there's anything relevant to add.
posted by wanderingchord at 11:11 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


You may be right that the act of fighting back might cause the situation to escalate. As I said, I'm comparing your current experience to my own past one. In my case, I feel that if I had begun to assert myself earlier in the relationship with my housemate rather than allow a pattern develop in which he was dominant and I allowed myself to be a doormat, I may have been able to nip the problem in the bud.

Certainly by the time it was clear that I should have done that it was too late. In fact, by that stage I was ready to go all "Ender's Game" on his ass, and it's good that I didn't because that sort of thing can land you in jail in the real world. But yes, your judgement on the situation will be better than anyone else's, and if standing up will do no good or even harm, that's that.

It is a shame that there's often no more lateral solution to the problem than to grind your way towards moving in this sort of situation. Remember, this too shall pass.
posted by chmmr at 5:09 PM on June 19, 2011


No go on the legal remedy. Officer I spoke to was very patient, but explained that it just isn't enough for them to do anything with. Which I expected, but still, hard to hear.

I guess I should clarify: if things were normal otherwise, if I was just a college student hanging out in a shared house, this wouldn't be any big deal. But I have no one to fall back on, barely any money. This was going to be my home for the next few years, a good home. Now I have to move into some slum (it took me months to find this, and I obviously can't wait that long this time).

Thanks for the help anyway. Sometimes there's just no good solution to a problem.
posted by wanderingchord at 2:19 PM on June 20, 2011


I'm sorry to hear that, wanderingchord. What about the idea of a third roommate? Does the landlord want no more than two in there? Because maybe it could tilt things a bit in various ways.
posted by taz at 3:37 PM on June 20, 2011


So, one last update to close this out (and on positive note). As I started looking for new places, problem house-mate decided he was going to keep picking fights with the landlord. Turns out even LL has a tipping point, and Mr pain-in-the-ass is going to be renting somewhere else come next month. Just luck of the draw though, nothing I could have done to encourage that. But glad that it did.

For anyone in a similar situation though, it really does break down to three categories:

1. "We're both being stupid, sit down and talk"

2. Move

3. Call the police (if there is severe and immediate threat to self, significant theft or vandalism)

And I think most cases unfortunately end up being a #2.
posted by wanderingchord at 10:43 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm glad for you, wanderingchord; I've wondered how this turned out, so thanks for updating. I hope things are much calmer and more enjoyable for you soon!
posted by taz at 2:47 AM on July 10, 2011


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