Living with dirty landlords, and need to broach the subject of cleaning or leaving.
October 5, 2010 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Currently renting a room in a couple's house-- they are my housemates and landlords. I am not liking the situation-- it's extremely dirty. How can I make the situation better, or broach the subject of leaving after I just moved in?

Background: Less than 2 weeks ago, I moved into a room in a husband and wife's home that they're renting out, so they are both my landlords and my house mates. I have access to the living room, kitchen, and bathroom. It is month-to-month rent, but they made it clear they expect and prefer me to live there at least 6 months. I've already paid the first and last month's rent.

Problem: I do not like it here. It was clean when I visited, but apparently, the couple does not keep the house clean regularly. I wouldn't mind usually, but it's gotten to the point where the kitchen and bathroom smell like rotten food because nothing gets thrown out and there are literally piles of rotten food. I feel like throwing up when passing those areas. Technically, my rent pays for kitchen use, but I cannot even enter those areas because it's so disgusting. The entire house smells. I feel like the only place I can be is my room, which is a shame.

I know this situation should not be this difficult (I should either talk to them about cleaning, or move out), but for some reason, the couple makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. I can't explain it, but I know I don't want to make them upset. They are perfectly nice and welcoming to me so far. However, I sometimes hear them yelling at each other during arguments. I know this could just be common marital strife, but I don't want them to yell at me (or more? I could be paranoid, but I don't know them well enough to know that they'll be reasonable and calm if I do or say something upsetting).

1. How can I ask them to be cleaner? This is a husband and wife in their own home, and they are older than me. I am the only other person living in the house. I feel like it would be difficult for me to ask them to change their ways. We do not have a set cleaning schedule, mainly because I haven't even touched the common areas enough for me to get them dirty. We didn't discuss cleanliness before I signed the lease, because it didn't seem like it'd be an issue. How do I broach this subject? Should I even try?

By the way, I cannot clean it up myself. It's disgusting and I feel like vomiting. I afford hiring someone to clean, and neither can they.

2. Or should I just move out? Like I said, I JUST moved in, and already paid 2 months rent and a deposit. They want me to stay at least 6 months, though me lease is only month-to-month. However, I know they got upset the last person who tried to stay shorter. I don't know how to even bring this up. Even if I do bring it up, I need to give them 30 days notice. This means after I tell them, I'll still be living with them for 30 days, and that could be uncomfortable.

I don't have a lot of money, so I'd rather not have to forgo my last month's rent or have to pay double rent somewhere else. I don't have another place to stay (or people to stay with).

In conclusion...
Should I just tough it out and hide in my room until 5 months later? Talk to them about cleaning? Move out right now? How do I go about any of these options? Can someone think of a better solution?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you? What does your lease say? Knowing your rights as a tenant is the first step.

For all you know, they could have a racket of luring in tenants and then grossing them out in order to keep their rents and deposits.
posted by cyndigo at 2:46 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, and fuck them being upset. That's not your problem.
posted by cyndigo at 2:46 PM on October 5, 2010 [12 favorites]

They want you to stay at least six months. You want the house to be cleaner. Since you are paying money to stay there and they are your landlords, tell them quite plainly that you would like to fulfill your end of the deal but that if they don't clean the place to a reasonable standard you will, unfortunately, be forced to leave.

This will be uncomfortable but at the end of the day you are paying money to stay there and you shouldn't be forced to stay somewhere with a level of hygiene so low so as to make you feel unwell.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:49 PM on October 5, 2010 [15 favorites]

First get to know their schedule. This is important.

Second, find somewhere you can store your stuff. And people who can help you move it. When they're not home get your stuff out.

Third, tell them that you're moving out and why. You shouldn't have to pay for space that you're not using, and not being able to use it falls into that category. You should be able to go into your home without throwing up.

Fourth, don't give them a second chance. They'll mess it up and you'll want to move out later. Just get out now.

Finally, kiss that second month's rent and deposit goodbye. Sue to get it back if you really feel like it. But treat it as lost and if you get it back it's happy bonus time. I know you don't want to lose out on money, but is it worth it to live with these people?
posted by theichibun at 3:01 PM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

Don't be too quick to write off your deposit and last month's rent as a loss. Get a friend in there, get a video camera, invite someone from your local tenants' association, etc. Then take them to small claims court if they try to play hardball.

They do sound scary and creepy ... I'd definitely not stay.
posted by cyndigo at 3:13 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

1. How can I ask them to be cleaner?

"Hey housies, I'd like to check in with you about the kitchen. I'm noticing food and dishes are getting left out on the counters, and the smell is pretty bad. I can't cook in a kitchen that smells like rotten food. It's really starting to affect my comfort with living in this house. Can we come to some agreement about keeping the kitchen cleaner?"

If they respond by getting angry and defensive, or if the situation doesn't shape up within a week, tell them next month will be your last month, and spend the remaining time eating takeout in your room.

And the moral of this story is: next time, have an in-depth conversation with prospective housemates about housekeeping.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:36 PM on October 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

"Hey housies, I'd like to check in with you about the kitchen. I'm noticing food and dishes are getting left out on the counters, and the smell is pretty bad. I can't cook in a kitchen that smells like rotten food. It's really starting to affect my comfort with living in this house. Can we come to some agreement about keeping the kitchen cleaner?"

For some people, piping up to say this will be quite intimidating.

But guess what? It shouldn't be. Stating your observations politely, directly, and calmly is part of being a grownup. If you're a guess-culture kind of person, you're likely to hang back and seethe and fret and grow resentful at even being put in a situation where you have to bring it up, but frankly talking about it is just the way it goes. If they show themselves to be people who can't deal with this respectfully or gracefully, then you have greater problems than a little food-stink and you should get out ASAP.
posted by hermitosis at 3:40 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maybe I should have been more clear about my use of "write off." I meant it in the sense that it's going to take time to get it back so the OP shouldn't ever count on having it because once it goes to the courts it can get out of the OP's hands as to when the money comes back into his/her pocket.
posted by theichibun at 3:42 PM on October 5, 2010

I moved out of a place after 6 weeks for something like this. (Six weeks because I gave 30 days' notice.) I LIKED my roommate, but between the dirty kitchen and creepy boyfriend I wasn't comfortable there.

At first I told myself it would only be for 6 months or a year and I could put up with it, and then I thought... WHY? My stuff is still all packed! It'll be easier to move now and I won't have 6 months of hating my place. I still feel weird about it but actually have zero regrets. If it happens again, I won' t hesitate.

And I agree with theichibun: don't give them a second chance. They'll mess it up and you'll want to move out later. Just get out now.

They've got something dyfunctional going on. With the best will in the world, they won't be capable of being great housemates.

I also agree that you should document everything. I bet it's worth fighting for your deposit.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:18 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would take pictures or video tape the house as is and make sure the date is visible on either pictures or video. At least with my landlord, it is in the contract that I need to have in writing what needs to be addressed, that way there will not be any he said she said.

Is it a house, apartment, or condo? It would help to know also if they actually own the residence or if they are renting themselves. If so, find out who their landlord is and talk to them to see what you can do as well.

Find out what your right are in your area as a renter.

posted by zombiehoohaa at 4:18 PM on October 5, 2010

In this situation I would probably send a short factual email with NO explanation.

If pressed for a reason, I would probably lie my ass off while still fulfilling my agreements, like a job move or something. A job loss tends to make landlords psyched to get rid of you (I know I'd rather have someone move out then have to evict them from my apt for non-payment--eek.)

Lying sucks but sometimes you don't really have much motivation to tell the truth and if the other option is living with these disgusting people, then you have my blessing to lie.

Before you start to feel guilty, remember:

1. They understand cleanliness well enough to clean for prospective tenants, so it's not like they are clueless and need to be educated.

2. They did not want to make a lease for 6 months--THEY chose a month-to-month situation. They could just as easily give YOU 30 days notice. The risk goes both ways, if they want it to not they can write up a lease.

3. Their last tenant left on short notice because this is a pattern for them--this isn't a one-time problem due to illness or whatever.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:24 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would leave. Sure, they want you to stick around, but frankly, they're not housemate material.

People who leave rotting food in areas meant to be used by people buying their services (That would be you) are not providing adequate service. People don't let their homes get messy as a once off. It's a continued thing, and either you'll add mental stress about having to clean, OR you'll experience this problem over and over again.

There is also the possibility that their decision to get a housemate went like this:

Partner 1: Bills is Expensive!
Partner 2: Let's rent out a room!
Partner 1: Yeah, and then maybe they'll do all the cleaning!

Fanciful? Yes. But I have seen, time and time again, people make housemate decisions on the basis that the other party will bring magical quality X, where X is cleanliness, or furniture, or fun.

Get evidence, terminate your lease in the appropriate fashion, don't even mention the cleanliness unless asked. If you lose your bond ect, then say "Hey, the house wasn't kept in a livable condition, and I sure wasn't the cause, you were. I also haven't done anything wrong. Bond. Now. Thanks."

(Disclosure: I am of the opinion that it seems to be de rigeur to keep bond in the rental industry, and more people need to stand up and say Hell No.)
posted by Quadlex at 4:24 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Here's what I would do. I would talk to them about getting a rent reduction in return for acting as their house cleaner. It's a win-win situation. I know you say you are too grossed out to touch the mess, but you could hire professionals as a one-off initially, and then keep the place clean yourself. Figure out how much time it would take to clean the place regularly to your satisfaction, and how much your time is worth per hour, and request that much deduction in rent.

You could either present this plan to them as a favour to you - i.e. your finances are worse than you thought, and would they consider this to help you out? or you could bite the bullet and tell them you need the place to be cleaner, but don't want to be the only one cleaning without some sort of compensation.

You say your finances are a bit tight, so this should help you out too.
posted by lollusc at 4:42 PM on October 5, 2010

But then the OP is still stuck with roommates who have yelling fights, which isn't a relaxing environment.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:46 PM on October 5, 2010

Give 30 days notice in writing ASAP.

In this event, you'll be losing a half month's rent. It's acceptable. Expect to get your FULL deposit back since you barely moved in. Make sure that happens when the time comes.

I like the suggestion above about telling them (if you are asked, ONLY) that you've lost your job or have had your hours cut and you need to move in with a friend/relative/move home/whatever. Actually, I LOVE that suggestion.

You owe these people nothing. They are using you. Get out now.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 5:34 PM on October 5, 2010

Absolutely tell them you were laid off.

Then document like the dickens.

When you move out, when your stuff is safe, ask for the deposit back.

If you need to go to small claims at that point, you can.
posted by freshwater at 5:58 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

If possible, give them 30 days notice and then haul ass out of there. If you can afford it, live somewhere else while the 30 days ticks away.

Pay attention to the voice in your head that says something is off here. I don't know if these people are dangerous, but I know there are dangerous people in the world. Or they may just be chaos-makers who will hound you with their crazy-making.

Try to give them a post office box for returning your deposit. Or offer to pick it up in person in a public location.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:21 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree that you should move out ASAP. I lived in nearly the same situation -- not the fighting, but the rotting food left all over the kitchen by my landlord-housemates so that I couldn't stand to cook or eat there. One evening when I went through to get my mail off the kitchen counter, a mouse ran out from behind the uncovered pan of their last night's dinner that was still sitting on the stove. I was completely horrified, but finally felt like I had a concrete reason to ask them to clean up. I told one of my landlords that I had just seen a mouse on the stove next to their food, and I was SO sure things would get better! His response? He brought their fat, non-mouse-hunting cat into the kitchen and let it loose (which was counter to the lease, as the cat was supposed to be confined to their private bedroom/den area in the basement) . . . and then used the microwave to reheat a bowl of that same food where the mouse had been poking around!

I'm sure you'd love to find a way to convince these people to be cleaner, but I really don't think it's going to happen. A leopard can't change its spots, as they say. Get out now while your stuff is still packed and you don't have food poisoning.
posted by vytae at 6:37 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Document everything. Take pictures and if possible, get a friend who would be available to testify in court (if it comes to it) as a witness to the uninhabitable conditions.

Ask yourself if the couple were to keep things clean, if you would be okay living there. If the answer is no, don't bother having the uncomfortable conversation about the mess since you're going to have one anyway about moving out so soon. If the answer is yes, then it's worth trying to improve the situation. Let them know that you don't feel comfortable using the common areas and that maybe you guys could sit down and discuss some ways to make the kitchen more accessible to you.

If you give 30 days notice, you're absolutely entitled to your last month's rent and deposit (if refundable). Make sure you document the condition of the room when you vacate just in case they are unscrupulous folks and try to screw you on your deposit. "Home" should be a place you feel safe, respected and comfortable. Hope it works out for you.
posted by loquat at 8:00 PM on October 5, 2010

You have to get out. They cleaned up for the purpose of letting the room, and now they say "fuck 'em." I've seen this technique in action before, they need your money, and they stage a nice house long enough to get someone in then go back into neurosis-ville. I'm serious. The initial cleanliness followed by rotting food is a pattern that I have seen and it does not turn out well. Think of it this way: they lied to you about your future living conditions to you to trick you out of your money.

You will probably have a huge argument with them on your moving out, and they will probably set some requirements or claim some agreements or just basically be crazy people about it, but you have to leave. Do you know why the last person moved out early? It's because these people aren't just messy, they are crazy.
posted by fuq at 6:02 AM on October 6, 2010

Please follow up and let us know what happens!
posted by cyndigo at 1:21 PM on October 7, 2010

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