How do I deal with my roommate?
December 10, 2010 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Help me deal with my roommate in a nice, calm, rational way

You may remember this question I asked a few month ago about my new roommate.

My roommate moved in at the end of August. She's been a pretty decent roommate. Aside from a few unwashed dishes-the living situation is going well.

However, the financial situation is not going as well as I expected.

The lease is under my name. Each month I get the rent bill which includes the electric. I divide the electric bill (there are 4 of us total) and send an email that states the amount due (base + electric) and instructions to make the check payable to the management company. I also instruct my roommates to leave the check on my desk or on the front table.

All the the information is written in the subleases that I ask them to sign. It states that the rent is due by the 5th, who to make the check payable to..etc.

I usually send the email between the 27th-30th (it depends when I get the bill from building management).

For the last 4 months, this particular roommate has just not done anything right.

The first time she gave me a cashiers checks, made out to ME, without the electric included. She gave it to me after the 5th and I had to run around depositing it and transferring money last minute.
After I explained what was wrong, she apologized and said she'd give me the electric in cash. After two weeks-she gave me the cash.

(Just a note: I only come home about once a week-so she hadn't seen me. However, she could have stilll left it on my desk. My room is always open and they know they can go in to leave money.)

The next month-she gave me a cashiers check (payable to the management company) with the electric. She gave it to me on the 6th. Technically it's fine-because I don't have to pay until the 10th..but it wasn't the agreement I made with her.

The next month was fine-she paid me on time and gave me a cashiers checks made payable to the management co.

This month-she paid me before the 5th-but she forgot the electric and made the check payable to me. Again, I had to run around depositing the money and then transferring it. (I have a local bank for deposits, but I don't write my rent check from it)

I actually hadn't realized that she made the check payable to me and I emailed her to inquire where the electric is. She responded and said she'd be home "within the hour" and she'd pay me. I waited around for her-but when she came home, she ended up going into her room and closing her door. I waited awhile longer-but then I had to leave the apartment. In the meantime, I deposited her check, transferred the money, and upfronted her electric. I was only home once since then (last night) and I asked her directly for the money and she told me she'd leave it for me that night. She didn't.

On top of the rent + electric-she also is supposed to pay me for cable ($26 per month). I email the roommates the cable bill info on the 5th-she usually pays me around the 20th and that is only after I ask for it.

I understand it's not a HUGE problem-she does eventually pay and she's not a deadbeat. However, I'm very well aware of my money. I pay all my bills on time and I expect the same from everyone else. If someone sends me an email and explicitly writes "make check payable to"- I would make it out correctly and if I didn't-I would correct it right away.

Little things like this really irk me and I never know how to deal with them. I always debate sending her an email or sitting her down and talking to her but my solutions always seems passive aggressive or too parental.

Any ideas on how to let this just roll off my shoulder?
posted by duddes02 to Human Relations (39 answers total)
I would sit her down (I think emailing people you live with as the only form of communication is pretty passive aggressive) and say pretty much what you said here "I understand it's not a HUGE problem-[you do] eventually pay and [you're] not a deadbeat. However, I'm very well aware of my money. I pay all my bills on time and I expect the same from everyone else." Also say something along the lines of "if the terms I wrote out in the sublease weren't clear I can give you more detailed instructions to follow if that will help". I think it's fair to be anal about your money, especially when you set up those expectations from the beginning, which it sounds like you did.
posted by greta simone at 12:54 PM on December 10, 2010

I think one thing to stop doing is cashing/transferring/running around if she makes the cheque payable to you. That might just reinforce her bad behaviour. She might think, "Oh, duddes02 will sort it out," when really she needs to be learning to write the correct name on there.
posted by cranberrymonger at 12:55 PM on December 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

I can understand why she wouldn't want to leave cash on your desk if you're not around for a couple of weeks.

It is clear that she thinks the electric is not part of the rent, and since you're divying up both the rent and the electric four ways, it seems like it would be smart not to point out that it's a separate amount, at least on her 'bill'. Just give her the full total and maybe spell it out on each month's note that you can take check or cashier's check made out to Management Company, or cash.
posted by aabbbiee at 12:57 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are there penalties in the sublease for not complying? Monetary penalties?

My lease has a late fee in it. If we do not get the least in on time, we have to pay more. You may need to add something like this. Sit down all the roommates, explain in person exactly how the rent is to be paid, and if it is not paid on time, there will be a $50 late fee. Hand out a piece of paper with this written on it. Have them sign it.

If you have enough to cover the rent temporarily, do not worry about running around depositing her checks, return it to her with a note that says "this is not a valid form of payment, as explained in the lease addendum you signed. Please get proper payment to me by the 5th or be prepared to pay a late fee." Then charge her a late fee.
posted by brainmouse at 12:58 PM on December 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

I try to be very careful about making sure roommates are paid on time and the right way, and I'm certainly much better than most (at least, anyone I've ever lived with), but sometimes even I screw up/forget. Something that helps me is to have a reminder in a central location, like a whiteboard in the kitchen or a note on the fridge. And if she goes in her room and shuts the door, it is ok to knock and ask to be paid.

Be a little bit more assertive in your dealings with her, and be grateful she does eventually pay you. I know how tough it is to deal with roommates who are less responsible than what you'd like them to be. This isn't a horror story. It's just annoying.

Try the white board thing. I'm a big fan of the white board.
posted by phunniemee at 12:59 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just assume she's going to pay you late every month and prepare for it in advance (save money, etc). If she pays you late, then make her fix it. Don't fix it for her.
posted by empath at 1:03 PM on December 10, 2010

Response by poster: Actually, the sublease states that there is a late fee (which hits if I don't get paid by the 5th). Technically, the late fee isn't charged to me until the 10th (in all my years of renting, I have never had late fees, woo hoo!).

I always intend to pay my rent by the 10th (even if that means covering her while she writes me a new check). If I charge her the late I just... keep it? That seems really malicious, no?
posted by duddes02 at 1:06 PM on December 10, 2010

You could use the late fee for communal things such as paper towels, soap, dishes, etc. If she has to pay more, she's more likely to pay on time. We have a white board and late fees at my apartment and I've made sure to pay on time after paying extra for the electric a few times.
posted by Logic Sheep at 1:10 PM on December 10, 2010

I would sit down with her and write out on a card exactly what you need and when you need it by, and then post that card on the fridge or somewhere she can refer back to it as needed. Be sure to stress that this is the only form of payment you'll accept from now on: "If you haven't paid the rent *this* way, then you haven't paid it -- I have. And I like you, but I'm not covering your rent."
posted by hermitosis at 1:12 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would sit her down and ask a few questions about her. Whether her finances are stable, and whether she maybe has trouble getting these checks made up as required. Some people just can't do this kind of stuff in a precise manner.
If there are no such problems (i.e. she has the money, and she is actually able to do a bit of consistent administration), explain that it is important to you that these payments are being made according to the agreed deadline, and to specifications. There's nothing anal about this; worrying "how will it be this time around" costs time and energy that you deserve to be spending on other stuff.
posted by Namlit at 1:18 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Warn her. Tell her that you cannot deposit rent cheques made out to you anymore, because the way you set up your banking doesn't allow it to work, and remind her that, as of January, you will be enforcing your cheque and late fee policy. (Or allow her to pay you, but only if it covers all of rent + electric + cable and is received by the 2nd, if this works for you.) Then add a whiteboard or something else with the information. Be nice, but be clear.
posted by jeather at 1:19 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's not malicious to keep a late fee that she incurred, even if it's only "late" getting to you. Consider it a fee she pays you to handle everything so she doesn't have to.
posted by InsanePenguin at 1:22 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I charge her the late I just... keep it? That seems really malicious, no?

You're bearing all the risk of the lease. You're handling all the money. You are the one whose credit/rental references/etc. will get screwed up if the rent doesn't get paid. Because you bear the risks, you also have the right to assess fees and yes, keep it -- or split it between everyone else's rent next month, or use it to buy communal things as suggested by Logic_Sheep. But when you bear all the risk it is not malicious to do things like have a late fee if things are late.
posted by brainmouse at 1:23 PM on December 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

do I just... keep it? That seems really malicious, no?

Look at how much time you've spent running around transferring funds and the risk YOU are taking if her check bounces. That seems kind of malicious too.
posted by CathyG at 1:24 PM on December 10, 2010

I think you should sit her down and ask about her financial situation.

If she is having trouble scraping by financially, maybe this isn't the apartment share situation for her and she should move to more affordable digs. If she is fine with money and she should be told about how much extra work you do nearly every month to get her to cover her share of the bills.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 1:27 PM on December 10, 2010

Response by poster: I do feel that the whiteboards, notes, and reminders is very parental-like. I'm not her mother-it's not my job to keep remindng her (or babying her by cashing her check).

It's only my job to tell her how much and to who.

I'm going to use the late fee idea-even if I don't use it, I can keep it as backup. It'll help ease this mild stress forsure.
posted by duddes02 at 1:31 PM on December 10, 2010

I don't think it's passive-aggressive to use email. It's a good record to have. I used to have a 2 family house, and tenants who began to pay late would always get worse. She's causing you hassle and worry. Sure, ask her about her finances, and be nice to her, but tell her, in no uncertain terms, that she must get the rent to you correctly and on time. If I were you, I'd put the amount due, and the name of the rental company, on an envelope, as a helpful reminder. Yes, she should pay a late fee, and yes, you can keep it.
posted by theora55 at 1:48 PM on December 10, 2010

If the sublease clearly states that a late fee is incurred if you're not paid by the fifth, and somebody doesn't pay you by the fifth, it is not at all malicious of you to enforce that late fee and keep the money even if you yourself are not penalized.

On another note, is there a reason you need to "run around depositing and transferring money" if she mistakenly makes the check out to you? Can't you just endorse the check over to the management company and give it to them?
posted by Gator at 2:02 PM on December 10, 2010

I also agree that email isn't passive agressive, it puts it in writing with a date so you have a record of everything. This is how my roommates and I deal with our bills and it works great. If someone is late giving me a check for the electric I can just point to the email and say "I sent that out X days ago, what's the deal?" and avoid any other discussion or excuses.
posted by bradbane at 2:24 PM on December 10, 2010

"Dear Roommate,

I'm sorry to bring up what is really a relatively small issue, but over the last few months I've found myself running around at the last minute to deposit checks, pay the rent, and have had to cover your portion of various bills on a few occasions because of your lateness. I realize you have always eventually paid me, but giving me your portion of the rent a few days late or writing the check to me instead of the management company or forgetting to include your portion of the electric bill causes me far greater inconvenience than you probably realize. When you write the check out to my instead of the management company, I have to go and deposit it right away and then hope it clears by the time the management company deposits my rent check. When you forget to pay me on time, I have to personally cover your portion of the rent or bills and sometimes I barely have enough money to cover it. I worry that during a particularly lean month, I won't be able to and we would be forced to pay our landlord late and probably at the very least incur late charges, if not more serious consequences. If you could make an extra effort remember to make your check out to the management company and to get your rent + electric to me by the 5th of every month I would really appreciate it. Remember you can always leave the check on my desk if I'm not there. Thanks again for your help.

posted by whoaali at 2:39 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

duddes02: For the last 4 months, this particular roommate has just not done anything right....

Actually, from your own narrative, that's not accurate and casting it that way isn't going to help you let it roll off.

I understand it's not a HUGE problem-she does eventually pay and she's not a deadbeat. However, I'm very well aware of my money. I pay all my bills on time and I expect the same from everyone else.

That's nice. But not everyone else has the same financial and organisational abilities or priorities as you. You're getting roomates off Craiglists; the fact you're having this issue with one roomate and not three of them is a win. I think you need to have an expecation that collecting money from roomates is going to be inherently problematic. You've built room into the drop-dead deadline of the 10th for this, and it actually seems to be working out well on that schedule to me.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:43 PM on December 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think all this is good...but having had a lot of roommate tension in my past, before I discovered the sweet, sweet bliss of living alone...I recommend this: When you "sit her down," do this in a neutral shop, ideally. Not at home. This really makes all the difference in keeping a calm environment, because people aren't feeling like having a SERIOUS TALK in their own home, even if it's shared, etc. In general, I found out-of-the-house to be a good place to talk about all house issues, rent, cleaning, pets, etc.
posted by sweetkid at 2:55 PM on December 10, 2010

For what it's worth, I've been the household bursar for all of my roommate arrangements, and I've always approached people in person a few days before to ask them to to get me money by day x, and, if they hadn't done so of their own accord by day x, gone to them on that day and asked them to cut me/the landlord a check right then and there. I phrase it casually--"Hey, I'm running over to the property management office. Do you have that check?"--and there's never been a problem.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:14 PM on December 10, 2010

Everyone has some good ideas above. I'm wondering if maybe this is actually a communication issue more than anything. That is, perhaps the emails you send about this are confusing to her. Are the salient details (the total) and the name of the management company close together in the email you send? Does this roommate know that you're usually not around or are you assuming they know? (Perhaps she feels awkward just leaving money out or going into your room, even if you've said it's ok.)
posted by purple_bird at 4:06 PM on December 10, 2010

"Hey, I realize now that I'm making this much more complicated than it needs to be. Here's what I want to do going forward: I'll email you all the amounts, and you drop me cash or check made out to me no later than the 5th, so my checks don't bounce. There's a box on my dresser, just drop it in there."

Seriously. You made this way too complicated. Have them pay you, and you pay the bills in full yourself. I guarantee your management company doesn't want to get multiple smaller checks, either, and this means that any checks-bouncing issues (or whatnot) will be between you and the roommate to work out, rather than pulling in the management company.
posted by davejay at 4:54 PM on December 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Oh, and my advice does answer the question, because it's clear your roommate wants to pay, but sucks at the complicated details. So this gets rid of those details, and will make it much easier to have a conversation if she doesn't pay on time in the future -- having a conversation like "you haven't been paying your bills on time" is a lot more straightforward and less awkward than "you have been paying your bills on time, but not the way I want you to."
posted by davejay at 4:55 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

If If she's getting cashier's checks, she probably forgets to take the name of the management company along with her... Can you make it more foolproof by texting her (so she's carrying it around)...or at least including in every e-mail...something really simple?

PAYABLE TO: X Management
posted by anaelith at 4:57 PM on December 10, 2010

Yeah, I agree with davejay that this is way too complicated. I'd go a step further. Calculate the average electric bill and charge her a flat fee, so her rent is the same every month. Have her use online banking to pay the property management company this amount by the 5th. A check will arrive in the mail. Voila!
posted by alternateuniverse at 6:44 PM on December 10, 2010

I do feel that the whiteboards, notes, and reminders is very parental-like. I'm not her mother-it's not my job to keep remindng her (or babying her by cashing her check).

A white board isn't parental, it's helpful to people who need visual reminders. Nearly every roommate situation I've seen with 3+ busy people has a place somewhere in the house where people can leave notes. Then again, most of these households are people who have been living in roommate situations for 10+ years, and long ago got over any issues that affected pragmatic communication.

I also think you just need to write a single check to management, as anaelith says.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:52 PM on December 10, 2010

Stop accepting any checks not made out to the management company. Warn her in writing (via email, too) that's no longer an option, then stop accepting them. Why on earth would you run around crazily to enable her bad behavior? Stop it.
posted by mediareport at 7:09 PM on December 10, 2010

Random thoughts:

Why is she paying with cashier's checks? Does she not have a checking account? Maybe having one would make it less of a PITA for her so she could more easily help you. Also, if it was a personal check, it would be easy to knock on her door and say, hey this is wrong, can you void it and give me a correct one? Uh, yeah, like now.

Have a rubber stamp made with the management company's name on it for stamping her checks?

Make a bulletin board divided into 4 squares, one for each roommate, except for a header at the top. The header is, the name of the management company ("make checks to:") and the amount due. Each month, each roommate pins their check(s) in their square. Never underestimate the power of not wanting to look like the only dirt bag who hasn't done their job.

If it were me, I'd just lay it out there next 5th. "Hey, this is the 4th month in a row you have screwed this up and made it harder for me. Is this process not working out for you, or are you just not understanding what I need?" I know, I'm not good at confrontations either, and prefer not to have them, but I've learned that sometimes that's the most painless way in the long run. Plus, she might have an unexpected answer that your process IS too hard for her, due to some weird circumstance (like, why doesn't she have a check book again?)
posted by ctmf at 7:24 PM on December 10, 2010

Not to say that you shouldn't talk to her or that she doesn't need to get her act together- but this process seems pretty convoluted, especially for someone who does not have inherent organizational abilities. The fact that you're only home once a week makes things more difficult. It sounds like she is trying to do the right thing but is easily distracted/ organizationally challenged/relying on you to pick up her slack. As someone who can be like that sometimes, I advise you to make payment extremely easy and clear; i.e., leave her clear instructions, or post them somewhere, of what exactly needs to be done. Then ideally, if she gives you the money in the wrong form, you could just hand it back to her and tell her you need her to fix it. However, since you're only in the apartment once a week, that would be a problem. I think that there are going to be inherent communication problems if avenues of communication are not open often enough.
posted by bearette at 7:37 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Here's the thing: as long as she's not having actual financial issues and isn't a deliberate deadbeat, you can choose to Be Right or you can choose to Be Paid. This doesn't mean you have to accept the pattern. This does mean that unless you want to find a way to boot her, then the system you have doesn't work right now. It doesn't work. Oh well.

Welcome to life, and to management. Of course, you're right. She's inconvenienced and frustrated you and nearly caused bank account havoc for you. She should do things the way you have told her to do them. She's not. can spend time thinking about how she should be doing things, or you could try to get her to leave or whatever, or just ruminate on it. I think you'll find it more successful--and you'll resent it a bit less--if you reframe solving this as a favor you're providing to a younger person who is fucking up and may or may not get that and may not be able to do better. True, you don't owe her that. You owe her nothing. You could dictate the exact terms just as you want them and that is your right. I'm sincere. But...then all you got out of that was Being Right.

Actually talking this over with her and identifying the actual necessary shit that needs to get done would be a genuine favor to her--a better favor than cashing her checks. It'll be a favor to you, too, honestly, because you need some perspective on differentiating between what's essential to the real goal--bills paid on time, peace in the house, and stability--and what's not--e.g., your exact system.

Go out for coffee or something and say 'Hey, look, I need your input here, because we both want the same thing: all the bills paid on time and everyone to have a decent idea of their bank accounts' status, with the least hassle and frustration possible. The system we set up in the beginning isn't working. That's what we agreed to--is there something in particular about it that's not working for you? Is there a way to figure this out?'

Let go of being completely right. Unless you want to boot her, being right isn't relevant to getting the problem solved. You are on the same team: Team Avoiding-Eviction and Getting-Along-With-Minimal-Hassle. Then come up with ideas. And really listen to her input. I have a couple of suggestions: ask her if her bank has online bill-pay or a similar system? She could, say, set something up with that for the rent each month--either to you or to the management company--and run a second, separate transaction for the electric, or she could write a personal check for that portion. And it's not difficult to set up an auto-reminder email off gmail or whatever.

Oh, and screw a plain whiteboard. Whiteboard calendar, or cheapo wall calendar in a public place. Keep the rent due dates and any big events that require accommodations or notice on it. This is nice anyway, because if Tim is going to be gone next week, and Sally is having a few people over on Thursday evening, hey--centralized info without having to keep track of the common space.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 7:49 PM on December 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Nthing the too complicated thing. She doesn't sound malicious just disorganized. The last time I rented in a house with one leaseholder who then sublet rooms to three other people the leaseholder handled everything. We each paid her the rent. She sent an email every month with the total of the bills and any shared expenses (TP, cleaning products, etc) divided by four, and she left the bills and receipts on the table for anyone that wanted to verify amounts. We had one person to pay a single totaled amount. She took check or cash. Plus, and I think this is important, she seemed to keep enough money in her account that she could swing someone being a few days late on something without having to overdraft or pay late fees to the owner. With one other roommate it's not so critical but when you get this many people the leaseholder, IMO, has to be a bit of a den-mother or den-father, keeping things organized and people in line.
posted by 6550 at 12:20 AM on December 11, 2010

She's paying with cashier's checks either because she's been burned by someone who didn't cash checks in a timely manner and/or because money's tight and the cashier's check manages your interaction with her bank account in the most drama-free way possible. Because she wants or needs to pay you in cashier's checks (for good reason, really, and in some ways, better for you), having to split it up into a few different payments is awkward / time consuming /means she wants to give you cash.

To simplify her life, and therefore your life, one of the suggestions / options I would put out there would be, every month she pays you rent+electric+cable (which seems to be a stable amount, so you don't *really* have to wait to bill her, right?). Unless there is some reason everyone needs to pay the leasing company separately, which I don't know. But I tend to agree with everyone that it appears that you're making the process too complicated for her, for whatever reason (financial, personal organization problems, whatever) -- and you're not interested in the *reason* -- you don't want to be in her business - you just want to make this transaction work for everyone.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:19 AM on December 11, 2010

Response by poster: I did ask her why she pays with cashiers checks. She said she didn't have a checkbook (I asked her why she didn't just order some from her bank-and the answer is because her parents are joint owners on her account). The last actual check she gave me had someone elses first name (her mother?) and an address in her home town.

Also, I did ask her for a new check (payable to management) and she apologized and said that she only had this one check (I guess her mother mailed her only one).

I may have to rethink my system-it is MUCH easier for me to write the entire check for the apartment. I would mail it on the 1st and that gives everyone else some time to pay me. The reason I didn't do this in the past was because I didn't want to front the rent (it's over 4k per month). At this point, I am in the financial situation where I can wait a week or two for them to pay me back. It'll also be easier for the roommates to include cable and only have to pay me once a month.

Thanks for the tips!!
posted by duddes02 at 9:24 AM on December 11, 2010

.....and that gives everyone else some time to pay me...At this point, I am in the financial situation where I can wait a week or two for them to pay me back.

Yikes. You already know one of your roommates is immature/disorganized/whatever and your solution is to loosen up the deadlines for rent even more than you already have? Good luck with that. Seems to me you're just setting yourself up for future (and possibly major) trouble. There's a deadline from the landlord and a late fee. They miss the deadline, they pay the late fee. I'm not sure why you seem to prefer making this complex, but letting an immature roommate know you're willing to cover her share of the rent for weeks at a time is really bad strategy in this situation.
posted by mediareport at 9:39 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thinking about this more, I'd like to revise my suggestion a bit -- make it simpler as I describe, yes, but don't have them paying AFTER the rent and all are due; have them paying in advance. Mediareport is correct that you shouldn't have to front the rent, but simpler is still better for all concerned. Does your bank clear checks (after the first one) in five business days? Then give 'em up to five days before the end of the month to give you a check, or the last day of the month if they'd rather do it in cash. Fair to you, fair to them, simpler for all.
posted by davejay at 11:40 AM on December 13, 2010

Would it make it easier for you to calculate an average monthly cost and have her write out her checks in advance, with you returning or receiving the difference at the end of the year?

Even if not, in the interest of reducing your own stress, I think you might try paying her portion of the bill up front if possible, then deposit her check into your account whenever you receive it. It wouldn't work if she was bad at making the rent, but since she actually does always pay it would mean less running around and account-shifting on the day for you.
posted by lhall at 1:00 PM on December 14, 2010

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