Ethical obligation to pay for kicked out roommate's rent?
June 24, 2009 11:27 AM   Subscribe

My roommates kicked out our 4th roommate mid-month without consulting me and have since made several decisions that I believe have prevented us from finding someone for next month. I am not on the lease and my opinion has totally been discounted in this process, do I have any ethical (not legal) obligation to kick in for next month's rent?

Let me preface this by saying I realize I have no legal obligation to pay for 1/3 of the empty rooms rent, but I have people telling me that I have an obligation as being a member of the household to help out.

I moved into a 4 bedroom house about 3 months ago. I signed a 6 month lease w/ A. A and B are on the lease. C and me are both subleasers. C is unemployed and has happily lived off unemployment for 9 months making no effort to get a job. C owed A and B over 6 months in unpaid utilities. Then around 11th of this month C's rent check bounced, which was the final straw for A and B and so they told C this would be her last month.

I was not consulted, but merely was told that C was going to be kicked out. A and B have since gotten all of the back utility money from C and will be out no money once she moves out.

Now A is really freaked out about the situation with C and to cover herself she is now demanding that any new roommate pay first, last and deposit, or 3 months rent to move in. When I was looking for a place in our area 3 months ago absolutely no one was asking for more than 1st month and deposit to move in. Many potential roommates have balked at paying that much and it was only recently that A was even open to someone paying the 3 months in installments. I believe we have lost at least 2 potential roommates because of this issue.

Adding to all this is the economy is horrible, we are getting very few responses and no one (let alone someone we want) has asked to move in.

This whole time I have been told that it essentially isn't my ass on the line financially so I don't get a say in kicking out C or the new potential roommate or what sort of deposit we can ask for. Now that it looks like we aren't going to find someone they are now hinting that they would expect me to pay 1/3 of C's rent for next month.

I know I don't legally have to pay a dime, but given it was their bad decisions to both allow the situation with C to go on so long and to wait until mid month to get rid of her, and that I was never consulted (and openly told I didn't get a say) that I shouldn't have to pay. So do I have any ethical obligation to pay? Technically I can afford it and really it wouldn't be a financial hardship on any of us to cover 1/3 or 1/2 the rent for one month. But I'm really annoyed that my opinion, which I believe would have avoided this situation entirely was discounted and now I have to pay

I should say I do like my roommates and our house, but at the same time there are lots of likely cheaper housing options in my area and while I don't really want to move it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. I have also actively helped them try and find someone new by posting ads, cleaning the house, and being available to show the room. Actually I've done a lot more than A, but that's another matter...

So do I have any moral obligation to help pay for any shortfall in next month's rent? Should I demand that my 6 month lease be converted to a month to month in exchange for doing so?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
no. none at all.
posted by lester at 11:30 AM on June 24, 2009

They told you it wasn't your ass on the line, so take them at their word. It's not your ass on the line -- don't pay.
posted by katemonster at 11:31 AM on June 24, 2009 [6 favorites]

No say, no pay.

You have the obligations outlined in your lease to the person you're leasing from. Now, if it's "kick in because A and B can't pay, and we ALL lose the place", then yeah, I'd probably throw in with the condition that when things are stable, you're compensated in some way, otherwise... No.

If you want to use paying more as leverage for something else, that's your option, but I probably wouldn't.
posted by Rendus at 11:36 AM on June 24, 2009

I would say that you do not have an obligation. The two who are on the lease and who are calling the shots arranged you to live there for X dollars for 6 months. You aren't under any obligation to pay Y because of decisions they made.

That being said, if they are really pressuring you it might get uncomfortable to hold your ground...obviously.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 11:38 AM on June 24, 2009

"I signed a 6 month lease w/ A."

What are the specifics of the "lease" that you signed with A? If it says nothing about making up for any extra rent due to another roomate leaving, then you're not obligated.

P.S. Frankly, if it was me, I would be looking to move out from under a control freak like A...
posted by Hanuman1960 at 11:38 AM on June 24, 2009

Yeah, saying you don't get a say because your ass is not on the line financially = your ass is not on the line financially, so don't pay.
posted by pombe at 11:39 AM on June 24, 2009

Don't pay. but also make it extremely clear to A that paying for three months of rent up front is a little absurd
posted by Think_Long at 11:39 AM on June 24, 2009

Consult with your local renter laws, but it may be illegal for A to require so much money up front, for those purposes. Here in California you are only allowed to charge any two of: last month's rent, security deposit, and cleaning deposit.
posted by rhizome at 11:52 AM on June 24, 2009

In order to not appear to be acting out of greed and thus be more able to smooth over their resentment when you don't pay, you could offer to cover a third of the shortfall if you start getting a say, starting with the immediate veto of the 3 months rent for prospective flatmates.
posted by anonymisc at 11:52 AM on June 24, 2009 [5 favorites]

Oh hell no, you don't have any obligation to pay. As long as you are meeting your obligations under your lease, I wouldn't even engage them on this topic if I could possibly avoid it. They may be in a tough spot, but it's their spot. Let them figure it out. When they whine about it, say, "Yeah, it's a rough situation. Good luck." If they can't hold up their end of their bargain with you, then they'll have broken your lease contract and you'll be free to go.
posted by jon1270 at 11:53 AM on June 24, 2009

under a control freak like A...

sounds more like a passive/aggressive control freak... the worst kind
posted by teabag at 12:03 PM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

if you dont mind moving out anyway, play the game the other way.

they cant get a roommate to replace C, so theyll be up shit creek if the have to replace you too.
posted by phritosan at 12:05 PM on June 24, 2009

I nth the take on this that your LEGAL obligation is only to pay the rent outlined in your (sub)lease with A, and that given you were denied any say-so or input in any of these discussions about C and C's empty room, you also have no ethical obligation to pay.

HOWEVER, and do not take this as a suggestion you pay just as a warning, I would expect that any good relationship you have with A and B (if any) will cool considerably if you do not chip in. Again, not a suggestion you let them strongarm you into paying, but I would prepare yourself for how to deal with that.
posted by bunnycup at 12:07 PM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

"You made your bed, now lay in it" comes to mind.

A & B have made decisions which will affect their financial well being. It is not your legal or ethical duty to ameliorate the financial effects of their decisions.
posted by torquemaniac at 12:23 PM on June 24, 2009

Not only is it not unethical for you to refuse to pay if asked, it would be unethical for A and B to ask you to pay a 1/3 of C's rent.
posted by Falconetti at 12:28 PM on June 24, 2009

Agreeing with everyone else, except that to my mind kicking C out was absolutely the right thing to do and I don't see any particular reason why A and B should've consulted you about it.

I also don't see why you should be at all concerned about C's room going empty or about A's expectations for what a new roommate will pay because -- after all -- you're not financially on the hook if nobody's paying rent on that room.

Just pay your rent and leave it alone. This is not your problem.
posted by ook at 12:31 PM on June 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Fuck ethics and fuck them. They made a decision, and prior to that, openly informed you that your opinions on the subject were of little interest to them. They told you all along you weren't going to be on the hook and now they are changing their tune and expecting you to pony up? Ethics my ass.

You have three months left. I presume the sublease gives a specific dollar amount that you are obligated for rent. Pay as the sublease dictates, pay as you have been paying all along and then get the hell away from these dummies.

If you were renting Apartment Y and the landlord tossed out occupants of Apartment Z because they weren't paying rent, you wouldn't pay more so landlord could cover their mortgage.

Start looking for apartments.
posted by jerseygirl at 12:45 PM on June 24, 2009

Pay your rent.

And then run the fuck away as soon as you can.
posted by chunking express at 12:50 PM on June 24, 2009

they are now hinting that they would expect me to pay 1/3 of C's rent for next month.

Shoot, I missed this part. Yeah, the correct response here, both legally and ethically, is "no."
posted by ook at 1:02 PM on June 24, 2009

Agreeing with everyone else, except that to my mind kicking C out was absolutely the right thing to do and I don't see any particular reason why A and B should've consulted you about it.

I'll chip in here to say that communication among roommates, and friends, is still very essential. I'm assuming that you are friends with A & B, and this is not just a purely business relationship. Communication that they were thinking of kicking out C would be appropriate because it respects your feelings and inclusiveness in their friendship. By not telling you, they are showing they don't care about your opinion. As was pointed out above, how you react to this will probably affect your relationship / friendship with them.

Personally, I would be upset if a roommate made a change to my living space without consulting me first. Even if it's not my personal space, the fact that C was living there meant they had an impact, again assuming more than a purely business relationship.

I would open the discussion by recapping what's happened - they made a decision without you, they stated your ass was not on the line financially. From this, you are inferring that this is purely business, in which case you will be sticking to the business agreement - the lease - you have. If they would like help from a friend, they should treat you like a friend, and respect your input and effort.

If this doesn't change things, it's definitely time to move on. Be professional about it, give them notice, and don't let them vilify you for leaving them in a bad spot financially. If they want it to be "just business," then make it just that, and nothing personal.
posted by GJSchaller at 1:19 PM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't think you're ethically obligated to pay the extra 1/3. The original promise you made was a (sub)lease through A. You never promised to pay an equal portion of the entire rent, simply the rent for the one room in that house. And any obligation that might have arisen in the meantime (because A and B are your friends, because you don't want to see them financially suffer, because you somehow implied you were an equal partner with them in the lease) was negated when they took action without consulting you and took active steps to make sure your opinion wasn't heard. So no, you're not ethically obligated.
posted by Happydaz at 1:33 PM on June 24, 2009

If you chip in 1/3 of C's rent, they will probably take even longer to find a new roommate, and you'll be non verbally agreeing that this BS is ok, setting a precedent for how they can treat you.

You are not obligated to pay, ethically, morally, legally, or otherwise.

I'll nth that you might want to think about moving - if finding a roommate is really that hard in your area right now (and I had a rough time recently too, it's definitely more difficult than the last couple times I did it), you should be able to find a good place without too much trouble. It doesn't sound like you'll have much competition, and if you're a decent-seeming roommate, you'll be offered a room. Doesn't hurt to look at listings and call around.
posted by AlisonM at 1:46 PM on June 24, 2009

No obligation at all. You pay A $X per month to rent a room. You are still renting the room from A for $X a month - nothing has changed. I would stay out of the entire situation - let A decide what kind of deposit is needed, find the new subletter, etc.

I'm not sure how you all do utilities, but if you normally pay 25% each, I would volunteer to pay 33% of the utilities while the room is open. That would be a gesture of good-faith on your part, and it shouldn't be too much more expensive than your normal share, and some utilities should be a little lower with only 3 people in the house.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:55 PM on June 24, 2009

IANAL, but lets run down the list:
If you signed a real sublet document, refer to your sublet - If it specified "room" and the cost of the room, then you are only obligated for the room. If it specified "appartment" and splitting the cost of the appartment based on the number of occupants, than you could be held jointly liable to a degree.

If it is indeed a question of "Room" and roommate A pushes it, they are breaking the aforementioned sublease.

Lets go further into ways they could be breaking the lease. In MA, if you paid a security deposit, and you are not provided with documentation for how that security deposit is held as well as a statement indicating that you'll be paid the interest earned on the account the depoist is held in at the end of your tennancy. In MA, a landlord has 28 days to provide that documentation - subletters have the same requirements - otherwise they can be considered in-breach of the lease.

Truthfully though, if this was my rooming situation, I'd be leveraging this event to get the heck out as quickly as possible.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:05 PM on June 24, 2009

You're not obliged to fund the 1/3 share until they find a new roommate.

If you are so inclined and see a way to make it work, I think insectosaurus' suggestion that you offer to help out with the utilities is a good one, but don't give it away - you should negotiate something of value in return, be it a veto on the new roommate or they clean the bathroom for a month. This shows good faith on your part.

Don't agree to do the rent though, this sets a nasty precedent as AlisonM says and suddenly you're living in a 3 person house and A has a nice new study.
posted by arcticseal at 2:14 PM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with the folks above that since you are treated as a renter rather then a partner, you shouldn't be on the hook for the rent. You should, however, probably offer to split the extra 1/3 of the utilities since that covers a lot of shared resources that you make use of as well.
posted by nalyd at 4:32 PM on June 24, 2009

I agree with the clearly-established consensus: you are absolutely not morally or ethically obligated to pay for a portion of the empty room.

I would add that in my opinion, A and B have some major balls (and not in a good way). You say at the beginning "I have people telling me that I have an obligation as a member of the household to help out" with the extra rent - by "people," I assume you mean A and B, right? Assuming so, recognize that they are expecting to have their cake and eat it too. you're "a member of the household," but only to the extent that it benefits them. You're an important enough member of the household to be obligated to cough up extra $ to cover the empty room, but not important enough to have any say in who does or doesn't occupy that room and what their rent will be.

In my view, the key questions for you to ask yourself are:
  1. Exactly how important is it to you that you stay living in the house with A and B?
    • Badly enough that you're willing to put up with having ultimate authority over the division of rent, roommate disposal, new roommate hunting, etc?
    • Badly enough to put up with having no say in decisions that could end up costing you extra money?
  2. How important is it to you that you remain friends with A and B?
    • If you want to stay in the house, then obviously it's pretty important -- life is too short to be in an open-ended feud with someone you live with.
    • If you put your foot down about not paying the extra 1/3, you need to be prepared for the chance they'll take it as a declaration of war, a war which your friendships may well not survive. You might then offer to move out, A accuses you of breaking your sub-lease with her, you say OK I'll honor the sub-lease, and there's nothing in the sub-lease about having to pay for part of an empty room. And round and round the argument goes, where it stops nobody knows, etc.
Of course, I don't know any of you guys, so maybe it wouldn't go like that at all. Maybe you could just move out with no argument, no one pissed off, everyone stays friends, no problem. I'm just going off the my sense of the situation as you described it. Are A and B like childhood friends of yours whom you've known forever and always been really tight with? Or on the other end of the spectrum, are they just a couple of girls you met 3 months ago when you responded to their Craigslist ad? So, you know. Factors to consider.
posted by JustDerek at 8:27 PM on June 28, 2009

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