How to negotiate problems with my new living situation? -- Or should I just move out?
February 9, 2010 10:55 AM   Subscribe

How to negotiate unforeseen problems with new living situation -- Dog peeing. Roaches. Roommate smoking -- Or should I just throw my hands up and move out in a few months?

I'm an artist with little $, spent a lot of money moving from out of state to a 2 bedroom apartment in Brooklyn near Prospect Park SW a few weeks ago. Turns out that my housemate stretched the truth in regards to several issues with the place:

(1) She has an 11 year old poodle that she adopted from a shelter when the dog was 2. I like dogs, so this was fine. When discussing renting the place, she told me that that the dog has 'an occasional accident' (pee), which she cleans up promptly. -- Turns out that the dog is peeing 4-5 times a day around the apartment as if it's his territory. Initially, I cleaned up after him a few times (my family owned dogs, so I've done it before and it doesn't bother me terribly), but it's not my responsibility. I work from home a lot, am in the apartment much of the day (which I told her beforehand), and walk outside my bedroom regularly to find the kitchen stained with four or five puddles of pee. Well, what do I do with this-- I don't want to clean it up, and I don't want to leave it while I'm making food and sitting at the kitchen table. The room smells of stale urine. -- I've spoken with my housemate about it somewhat. She seems to take it fairly lightly. She claims that it started when the dog was 7 or 8, after she got divorced, and the dog began experiencing 'separation anxiety.' She hasn't really made an attempt to train the dog out of it, and simply cleans it up (sometimes missing areas) when she returns from work. She's mentioned that it's doubtful that an 11 yr old dog will be able to change its habits.

What, if anything, can I do about this? -- I've considered asking her to purchase a mat for the dog. But where is the guarantee that the dog will use this mat if it already sees the entire apartment at its disposal? -- Also have considered asking her to put doggy doors blocking off the kitchen (which she might consider cruel to the dog, since the common area is fairly small) -- Or, not an ideal solution by any means, asking for lower rent for mopping up after the dog. -- Any other ideas?

(2) She said she 'smoked occasionally out her bedroom window.' I was ok with this, since the rent is fairly cheap, and the bedrooms are large and far enough apart that it wouldn't carry (much?) into the apt. -- When I moved in, the apartment reeked of cigarette smoke, and it turned out she had been smoking numerous cigarettes in her room with the window closed. -- Amazingly, she actually had cancer a year or two ago (also didn't mention until after I moved in), which she recovered from, and continues to smoke. -- I spoke with her a number of times about this, got her to agree to actually smoke out her window and limit it to a few cigarettes a night or otherwise go outside. Since then, it has been significantly better; have only smelled a trace of smoke once or twice. -- Also suggested she purchase the following smokeless 'electronic cigarette.', which she expressed some interest in.

(3) Finally, there is a mild roach problem, which she did not mention at all. I did not think to ask, since I moved from an area where this wasn't common, and forgot about the prevalence of roaches in NYC -- Apparently, over the last several years, she 'bombed' the apartment twice for them, sprinkled boric acid powder in corners, put Raid gel in crevasses, put small roach traps around, and sprayed the shit out of various areas with Raid spray, all of which materializes as a patina throughout the kitchen and bathroom areas. She also got little vials full of little mustard-colored pellets or grains from Chinatown which she's sprinkled in corners (doesn't know what they are; says that the Chinese use them to good effect) -- I'm wary of chemicals (pesticides, etc), and would like to make the apt as chemical free as possible within reason while warding off roaches. To this end, I want to: (a) clean the kitchen and bathroom thoroughly; (b) plug up cracks and holes with steel wool and caulk; (c) make boric acid balls with egg yolk and sugar, and put them in corners; (d) and put many large-size combat roach traps around in strategic places. I think this would do the trick -- However, this will take a few days, and I'm not looking forward to investing time in this. I feel like she should help me do this, but, on the other hand, she's fairly uninformed about the issue, and I would feel odd 'directing' her.

Phew! That's it -- Should I try to negotiate all this, or is it too much, and should just move? -- The upsides are that the bedroom is huge, the size of a studio; the area is pretty good; and the rent is pretty cheap (for NYC standards). The apt is 2 minutes from Prospect Park and the subway. -- Also, in spite of these issues, my roommate is generally nice, and seems fairly amenable to suggestion. -- As I mentioned, I have little $, I spent a lot of $ moving here, it took me a week to get my bedroom & other practical things set up, and it would be really inconvenient, time-consuming, and frustrating to start looking for another apt and move again. -- I'm not on a lease, which is both good and bad, since I can basically move out whenever, but she can also ask me to move out whenever if I aggravate her too much.

posted by cotesdurhone to Human Relations (28 answers total)
To be blunt, even if you can convince her to change her ways to the extent you'd like, you won't be satisfied living with her. So, the question is - do you want to move now or later? This arrangement is not going to last. My suggestion is to get out of there and do a better job picking an apartment the next time you do it.

When you pick out your next apartment, realize that the landlord/owner/primary leaser has no particular obligation to tell the whole truth to you. Be suspicious, and if you insist on a chemical-free, smoke-free, and dog-pee-free residence, insist on that as a condition of renting the place. Insistence on changing their way of life after renting nearly never works.
posted by saeculorum at 11:09 AM on February 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

All things considered- the rent, your money situation, the apartment location and general quality of the room - I personally would suck it up. The dog pee is problematic, but it sounds like she's making an effort to conform to your wishes on the smoke and many apartments are going to have roaches. A good, thorough cleaning of the kitchen floor with a product that neutralizes dog pee should take care of the smell issue, and you might find that befriending the dog will help with the nervous peeing. All in all, the place sounds less than ideal, but well within livable limits.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:10 AM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: My links somehow disappeared from the final posting.

Here is a link to the dog pee mat in question.

And here is the 'electronic cigarette.'
posted by cotesdurhone at 11:10 AM on February 9, 2010

Best answer: My path forward would be to sit the roommate down and have a very peaceful talk, then if things improve you stay, if they don't you leave.. zero tolerance policy. Unless you are really strapped for cash you should be able to live somewhere that doesn't completely drive you up the wall.
posted by pwally at 11:11 AM on February 9, 2010

Move. Move. Move. Move.

Nothing good will come of this situation.
posted by ged at 11:21 AM on February 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think you should bail, you might be able to get her to quit smoking in the place but the dog will be tough and you probably won't be able to solve the roach problem unless the landlord does something with the whole building. She's probably been living that way for a while so you'll be working against a fair amount of habit trying to get her to change.
posted by ghharr at 11:21 AM on February 9, 2010

So...she never walks the dog?

I'm with ghharr, though. I don't think it's the dog's habits that will be the most difficult to change. She's been letting the dog pee inside the apartment for 4 or 5 YEARS. Also, keep in mind that she lied about her smoking, but I'm not going to fall into analyzing the myriad red-flags here.

Are there any roach-oriented tenant laws you can bring down on your landlord?
posted by rhizome at 11:32 AM on February 9, 2010

The roach traps ATTRACT the roaches into the apartment, while the boric acid/raid repels them. HELLO!?!

Move out. This woman is a wreck and I guarantee you will also find bills unpaid and the like.



For next time .... seal the apartment (kitchen/bath) up good. Done right, you will have little to no need for pesticides.

Apparently, my old building in Manhattan was INFESTED. We never knew, because we caulked/plaster/steelwooled the ever living s*^t out of the kitchen and bath, especially.

I maybe found one roach per year, dead in a cabinet somewhere. That's it.

Whatever you do, don't invite the roaches in AND repel them at the same time. This is kinda what your current roommate is doing to you right now, and you must admit, it's not working!
posted by jbenben at 11:41 AM on February 9, 2010


In my experience, pet owners and smokers who lie about their habits to roommates have no interest in changing those habits, and will make you look like the bad guy if you complain/try to change their habits. With the smoking issue, she's bound to just smoke (and therefore make your stuff smell like smoke) when you're not there, at best. Seriously, not worth the trouble. Just move.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:43 AM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: I was under the impression that the boric acid inside egg yolk and sugar attracts them (based on all I've read). They eat the egg yolk/ sugar, and the boric acid kills them, and also kills other roaches when they go back to the nest.
posted by cotesdurhone at 11:43 AM on February 9, 2010

I was under the impression that the boric acid inside egg yolk and sugar attracts them (based on all I've read). They eat the egg yolk/ sugar, and the boric acid kills them, and also kills other roaches when they go back to the nest.

Cockroaches can survive nuclear war. You're not going to solve a persistent, untreated, and probably complex-wide problem via hedge witchery. I appreciate all of your creative answers for these problems, but really the only reasonable solution is to move.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:50 AM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: I understood the joke. It was funny... but seemingly based on a false premise. -- Just pointing out my reasoning here. I used this method once in the past for a roach problem in my first NYC apt and it worked. -- As for claims of 'witchery,' well, I don't know what to say. Either the problem can be solved with some kind of solution, or it can't. I think that some of these methods are based on empirical evidence, can work, and are far from witchery. If they can't, and the problem (which is currently mild, as I said), among others, bothers me too much, I should flee.

Hypothetically, let's say I decide to stay for six months, simply to buy some time and avoid the hassle of moving again and all it entails. What are some solutions I can try to suggest/ implement to mitigate or even 'solve' the problems?

Thanks for all your suggestions so far! Much appreciated
posted by cotesdurhone at 12:17 PM on February 9, 2010

The roach traps ATTRACT the roaches into the apartment, while the boric acid/raid repels them. HELLO!?!

The boric acid kills them, as does the Raid. Here's a nice page explaining.

Traps do "attract" them, but if the apartment is already infested, it's intended to attract them from behind your saucepan, to where they can eat the tasty poisoned bait -- it's not sending out a siren call throughout the five boroughs to cotesdurhone's apartment. (Though if you're in a multi-unit dwelling and they're in the walls, you may be fighting a losing battle with traps.)
posted by desuetude at 12:18 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you put up doggy doors to block the kitchen, won't the dog just pee in other common areas?
posted by whitelily at 12:24 PM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: By the way-- I'm most interested in recommendations for dealing with the dog peeing issue.

If I leave paper towels on the areas where the dog peed for the time being so that my roommate knows where to clean (otherwise, of course, the pee dries by the time she comes home from work), could this be considered aggressive or passive-aggressive? -- At the same time, I don't want to clean them myself, or leave them to dry.

What's the name of the cleaning solution that was mentioned that gets rid of pet odors?

Any kind of system/ agreement I might devise with her about the issue?

Thanks again!
posted by cotesdurhone at 12:27 PM on February 9, 2010

My use of the term "hedge witchery" is mostly a joke, but I'd keep in mind that, according to this previous ask metafilter answer it could take an extended period of time to work. And, since this is a problem that the occupant previously tried to treat with chemicals already, it might not work--because the problem is probably much more widespread than your apartment. Also, doggies like stuff with egg and sugar in them, too. The internet seems inconclusive as to whether this is stuff you want a dog to gobble up.

But I really think this is a human relations problem, not a bug problem. Your roommate has already been dishonest with you on multiple accounts. It's winter, which means that she probably really doesn't want to open the window or go outside for cigs (my previous experiences have shown me that determined smokers are considerate about this until it's cold out). I'd say, likewise, for walking the dog. She could consider crating the dog, but if she's determined not to even train it, I'm skeptical that anything will happen except that you'll continue to clean up poodle pee. You don't have a lease, though--that's great! Because this place sounds really pretty unlivable, and there's nothing in your post that suggests that your roommate is really genuinely concerned about it, much less willing to change.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:27 PM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah -- the dog would pee in the smallish living room and corridor between our bedrooms, presumably, but at least the kitchen, which I use to cook and eat in, would be free. Then again, this would limit the dog to a small space.
posted by cotesdurhone at 12:28 PM on February 9, 2010

The situation is what it is, and that's all you can deal with. Trying to deal with the way you thought it would be is, in a word, fruitless.

#1: I would suggest you walk the dog during the day and see if it helps. The dog is elderly and probably doesn't have great control. (Yes I know, it's not your dog or your responsibility, but the dog is a member of a household in which you live, and that isn't going to change any time very soon.) Otherwise, try pee pads in the kitchen. Or try both.

#2: If this is basically resolved by her smoking out the window quite far from you, let it go. Smoking out the window was what you agreed to to get a rare, cheap, live-in studio apartment deal in the city.

#3: OK look, it's an inexpensive apartment in NYC; those more or less come with roaches. Your roomate doesn't have a big issue with the roach problem; you do. If you want to put in the effort towards fixing it, you should by all means go ahead and do what you want to do to improve your living conditions. I don't think asking her to help is really the place to go here. It's not really about what's "fair", it's about doing what is in your control to make your own life better.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:43 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd drop the smoking as an issue (with the caveat that you will let her know if she gets lazy about going outside or opening her window, because it really bothers you.)

Perhaps she would be willing to combine tactics for the roach problem? Yeah, you'll likely have to direct her, but if she's okay with that, then you can just tackle it together. As you know, roaches in many old NYC buildings are just a fact of life and a constant battle.

Ohhh, the dog. I think that this is The Problem. I don't know what you can say to convince her that puddles of pee is not a normal, everyday minor annoyance, except to communicate to her that it's gross enough that you're considering looking for another place to live, even though you like her.
posted by desuetude at 12:49 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

In my experience, dogs stop peeing inside when they have adequate opportunities to go outside, which can mean 2-3x/day. Is she taking her dog out on a routine schedule?

I would move. It'll be much easier to un-entangle yourself now vs. later when more drama and missed expectations have piled up.
posted by cior at 1:12 PM on February 9, 2010

Dog peeing. Roaches.

Me thinks it is time to get the hell out of Dodge
posted by en el aire at 1:21 PM on February 9, 2010

I agree with DarlingBri and will add that if you want the dog to stop peeing inside, you're going to have to take it outside. She's not home all day and you are, so even though it is not your dog, I think that if you want to stay (and a cheap large apartment right by Prospect Park is pretty damn sweet) than you just became Head Dogwalker. This is not all bad - fresh air! exercise! bonding with other dog people! the lofty sense of Being a Good Person! - but only you can decide if the apartment is worth the "rent."

That goes for the roaches too - it's going to be your problem, not hers. If I had been living somewhere for a while and had come to an arrangement with the roaches and then a new roommate moved in and wanted me to do it differently, I would back right off and let her try it her way. I sure wouldn't contribute financially or in any other way to her solution.

FWIW I've tried pee pads and they have never worked; in fact, my dogs would politely avoid them at all costs, apparently feeling that they belonged to some other mystery dog and shouldn't be contaminated with their pee.
posted by mygothlaundry at 2:05 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not to hijack, but desuetude wrote: "(Though if you're in a multi-unit dwelling and they're in the walls, you may be fighting a losing battle with traps.)"

YES! You want to kill the ones you have, and prevent future infestations. Not call-in the new recruits from outside with the sweet sweet smell of bait. Many years in NYC, here. Just telling you what works.

OP. Hmm. I can still see a correlation between the roach solution and your responses to ours, actually.

You just moved in. Right now it is dog pee, smoking, and roaches. Soon it will be her alcoholic new bf, the electricity bill, non-return of your deposit, borrowing your stuff, not paying rent on time, etc. etc. etc.

She's sloppy. When folks leave pee on the floor, there are worse problems yet to be revealed. TRUST US.

If you must stick it out for a few months, DarlingBri makes good suggestions.

posted by jbenben at 2:05 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Speaking as someone with a poodle with an inclination to pee in the house it takes a lot of work to get them to stop. We basically ended up crating the dog at night, taking her out every two hours, and never letting her have free reign of the house unless we know she has recently gone outside. This has worked, but it has taken a huge commitment. If your roommate isn't willing to make that kind of commitment, the dog will never stop peeing inside.
posted by bananafish at 2:28 PM on February 9, 2010

Why don't you ask her to close the dog up in her room when she leaves for the day (THAT teaches an interest in stopping the pee problems), or to use a kennel/ crate? That's actually a really reasonable request--you didn't sign up to be the dog's caretaker when you took the room. If she's willing to do that, I'd suck up the smoking habit and do whatever sealing can be done to discourage the cockroaches. If she's not willing to go that far, then I really would leave.

Really, with all the smoke/ insect killing chemicals/ dog urine in the house, you pretty much have justification to leave whenever you wish. It's only a question of when it's convenient for you to do so.
posted by _cave at 3:11 PM on February 9, 2010

Apartment, I mean
posted by _cave at 3:12 PM on February 9, 2010

Maybe she could buy a Scooba and fill it with that anti-pet-urine-smell stuff, and whenever you encounter some pee you just let the Scooba have at it instead of mopping it up yourself. Plus, robots are cool.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:36 PM on February 9, 2010

The smoke is no longer an issue. The roaches--well--apts are kinda a mixed bag as far as roaches go. I've had apartments full of roaches and apartments with no roaches. I haven't been doing anything differently. It's just a different building. You aren't going to change the entire building.

I don't think it's reasonable for you to expect her to fund your preferred roach-killing method if she's already been doing her best to kill roaches.

Put the dog in her room whenever she's not there. This is passive-aggressive. When she asks, say "oh, I didn't want you to have to clean up too much pee, and I'm getting tired of cleaning it." I don't know, something like that. Whatever you do, talk about it ASAP. She was open to the smoking thing, and getting a smoker to change their smoking--that means she's really flexible and willing to change. Give her a chance.
posted by kathrineg at 1:46 PM on February 10, 2010

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