Is my cat a stealth arsonist?
April 18, 2011 7:09 AM   Subscribe

My roommate is blaming an oven fire on my cat, and it's causing some tension between us. Help me figure out the best way to handle the situation so we're both satisfied.

I was spending the night at my BF's place this weekend when I got a text yesterday from my roommate telling me that it was urgent and he needed me to call him ASAP. I was panicked, thinking that something happened to my cat. Thankfully, my cat is fine, but my roommate told me that he was woken up in the middle of the night by the smoke alarm going off. He had been storing some dishes and other items in the oven, and the oven had been turned on, and a wooden server caught on fire.

Thankfully the damage was just limited to the oven and no one was hurt, but he is now asking me to replace the expensive dishes he was storing in the oven, because he figures my cat must have been the cause of the fire. He thinks that the cat jumped on top of the stove and hit the dial to the oven as he jumped off.

I am torn on this, because I can't really fathom how the cat could have done that, even if he had been on the stove - we have a gas oven, and to turn it on, you have to push the knob in and then turn the dial. I just can't picture the cat being able to do that just by jumping off the stove. But I also can't think of how else a fire could have started in the oven, so I'm willing to take some of the responsibility for my cat in lieu of another explanation.

But I also feel like storing things in the oven is a very obvious fire risk, and that he should also take some of the responsibility for keeping his dishes in there. I said something like that to him, as diplomatically as possible, and he got kind of annoyed and said "fine, then, I won't ask you to pay anything." Like I said, I am willing to take some responsibility, but I don't think it's 100% my fault that his dishes got singed.

So, what would be the best way for both of us to walk away from this and still have harmony in the house? I've only been living there since February, and for the most part it's a good living situation, so I'd like to keep it that way. Is my offer to pay half fair? Should I pay half of what the dishes originally cost or the replacement cost? (I don't know what the dishes cost yet, but he said they were his special holiday dishes and were expensive.) I figured I would get some advice before seeing him tonight - thanks for any insight!
posted by Neely O'Hara to Human Relations (76 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Pay nothing. Plan to move out. Living with the mentally ill is no fun.
posted by flabdablet at 7:13 AM on April 18, 2011 [51 favorites]

I think paying half is fair, given the circumstances.

I don't think it's impossible the cat could have done it - a cat leaping off could probably push a oven knob down and round fairly hard. That said, keeping expensive non-ovenable things in the oven is pretty stupid. You could have easily caused the same thing just by turning the oven on to pre-heat without checking there was something in there.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:15 AM on April 18, 2011 [7 favorites]

Pay nothing. Don't reward this kind of behavior.
posted by bilabial at 7:15 AM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, possible non-cat explanation - the roommate accidentally left the oven on and went to bed. I've accidentally left a gas hob on after cooking because I turned the knob the wrong way ("off" and "lowest heat setting" are in opposite directions).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:16 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

There is no proof of any kind that your cat was responsible. If there's damage to the apartment that needs to be paid, I can see sharing that. But there is no connection between you and damage to his personal property.
posted by hermitosis at 7:17 AM on April 18, 2011

Perhaps he leaned on the knob by mistake? That seems more likely than the cat jumping on it. I also think you should pay nothing and that your roommate should now know this is why you don't store things in the oven.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:18 AM on April 18, 2011 [8 favorites]

Do not pay, and do not go down the 'well maybe if my cat jumped off with just enough force and did a half-upside down twist, he *could* have turned on the oven' road. What's more likely--that your kitty did it, or that a human did it?
posted by methroach at 7:18 AM on April 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

Why is your roommate storing anything - much less flammable items - in an oven?

Your offer to pay for half is more than reasonable given that the whole "cat turned on the oven" theory is simply guesswork, whereas a wooden item being stored in an oven can clearly be identified as a reason for the fire's origination.

Your roommate is a little dull.
posted by Rewind at 7:18 AM on April 18, 2011 [8 favorites]

Incidentally, I have accidentally turned the oven/stove on before while leaning against the range to get something out of a cabinet, or by backing into it.
posted by hermitosis at 7:18 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

He had been storing some dishes and other items in the oven,

That's a bad idea, because this:

and the oven had been turned on, and a wooden server caught on fire

can happen.

It's a gas oven; it's always on (that is the pilot light is always lit). This keeps the oven at some temperature, which may or may not be high enough to cause a wooden server covered with flammable lacquer to ignite.

Was the oven actually on? That is, did your roommate need to turn the oven dial to off?

If not, then no cat involvement. if it was, it's entirely possible the dial was not entirely turned off, so did not pop out, so that the cat could turn it without pressing the dial in.

The dial could well be old and loose enough that it's too easy to turn; this needs to be checked by your super. And in any case, don't store flammable stuff in the oven.
posted by orthogonality at 7:21 AM on April 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

Seriously, what is more likely here - the cat turned on the oven (which i doubt; I have smart cats, but that they're not that talented), or he accidently left the oven on, or accidently turned it on himself? Further more, why is he storing things in the oven? Don't pay the fool anything - it's his mistake, his accident, and it should be coming out of his wallet. The cat is just a convenient excuse.

Unless you can pin in on the landlord for a faulty oven, but even still, there's no way you should be paying for this.
posted by cgg at 7:24 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh and to be clear: I think it far more likely a human failed to turn the oven off, than the cat turned it on.

And in any case, the fault lies with the guy who left flammable stuff in the oven.
posted by orthogonality at 7:25 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

He was unwise to store flammable stuff in the stove. It's called "meeting trouble halfway".

Someday, someone tired/sick/in a hurry, is bound to turn on the stove without checking.

Tell him to f--- off.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:26 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you rust your cat? Are you sure he doesn't have a vendetta against your roommate? Because I think that's the only solution. here.
Or your roommate left the oven on after cooking. Or had the brilliant idea to turn it on to dry the dishes and it didn't go so well.
I myself would probably pay half just to keep the peace. But I'm spineless and hate confrontation. YMMV.
posted by Epsilon-minus semi moron at 7:26 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wait, why was your roommate storing dishes in the oven? It sounds like he was trying to dry them, forgot he left the oven on, and then decided that he couldn't have possibly done that and blamed the cat. That sounds a lot more plausible.
posted by justkevin at 7:27 AM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have turned on the oven (and the stove, actually, although in that case the apt just fills with gass) with my butt many times. In cramped NYC kitchens, it's easy to do. I'll bet that's what happened, but of course, there's no way to know.

I have a great many local friends who don't cook and use their ovens for storage. I'll remember this anecdata next time they're bragging about how it's such a great use of the space.

I was about to tell you to go ahead and pay for the dishes, but upon further reflection, I'm not so sure it's a good idea. With a cat in the apartment -- hell, with HUMANS in the apartment -- it's a dangerous precedent to set, unless you're willing to fork out money every time your cat acts like a cat, or is imagined to have done so. Other people in this thread are right -- he shouldn't have been storing anything in the oven, let alone something that could potentially be damaged by it. He took that stupid risk, and now he should pay for it, particularly since the evidence against you and your cat is tenuous.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:28 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just to clarify as I'm reading through all the responses - my roommate doesn't cook much or bake at all, so he's been using the oven as storage since before I moved in. He definitely wasn't using the oven on purpose, and the dishes had been in there for ages, so he wasn't trying to dry them. But perhaps he did turn it on accidentally. I will keep reading and considering all the possibilities.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 7:31 AM on April 18, 2011

Yeah, scenario 1 is magical cat turning on the oven. Scenario 2 is human closing the oven door, thinking "did I forget anything," turning around to scan the room, and accidentally hitting the dial. One of them is more plausible, and you don't owe any money for that one.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 7:32 AM on April 18, 2011

To the other people in this thread -- in NYC, using ovens for storage is an extremely common thing to do. Many people here basically never use their ovens -- I've heard of friends who put boxes of off-season clothes or shoes in there. So that part of the OP's story makes perfect sense, in context.

That said, however common, it's also an extremely stupid thing to do, particularly since the standard NYC gas oven has a pilot light and is basically always on (and quite warm.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:32 AM on April 18, 2011 [7 favorites]

*Trust your cat, obviously. I think rusting your cat would get the humane society called on you, or something.
Also, agreeing with everyone else. It was irresponsible to store flammable items in teh oven in the first place. I once put a delivery pizza in an oven on warm to prevent it from getting cold while I took a shower. I left it in the box. My shower was interrupted by the smoke alarm. I didn't blame my cats.
posted by Epsilon-minus semi moron at 7:33 AM on April 18, 2011

Don't gas ovens normally have a pilot light? I'd blame the pilot light before I'd blame the cat. This is a ridiculous story. Moral: Don't store things in the oven that are flammable. In fact, don't store things in the oven period.

Even were you to nanny-cam the cat, discover it was passing its nights doing pedicures on the stovetop & playing with dials (in which case, HELLO, you'd get fricassed kitty from the burners before you got the oven hit critical), the fact is none of this would have happened if roommie hadn't been storing things in the oven. Tell him to man up, take responsibility for his stupid move, and that losing a few dishes was a cheap price to pay considering some of the other things that *could* have happened.
posted by Ys at 7:40 AM on April 18, 2011

If the fire was equally caused by the agent who turned it on and the flammable materials, and if there was an equal chance of the Turner being him or the cat, then at most you should pay 25%. Of course, if the dishes weren't in there, they wouldn't have been damaged, so really, 100% of the dish damage was his fault, though I could see splitting the cost of the oven damage 25/75. This is more than fair given how unlikely the cat story is (does your cat climb around on the stove a lot?) so if this suggestion takes you into "fine then!" territory, I'd let it.
posted by salvia at 7:41 AM on April 18, 2011

your roommate was clearly panicked and looking for a way to cast the blame on something knowable in the face of fear, which is really common (see: every UFO sighting ever).

you should really table this until he's not freaked out, and rhn talk about it over dinner or something. i'd help him pay for it as a mark of solidarity (assuming you two are at least a little close), but asking you to pay everything because of his freaked-out blame game is a dick move. he'll probably realize that when he calms down.
posted by patricking at 7:45 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, 2 months in and he's got you wondering if your cat is capable of turning on a gas oven? This is likely just the start of the crazy-making. Paying half won't satisfy him any more than paying nothing. Paying the whole cost will just reward his nutso power trip. GET OUT ASAP.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:47 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was spending the night at my BF's place this weekend when I got a text yesterday from my roommate telling me that it was urgent and he needed me to call him ASAP.

Because... he was sentimentally attached to these dishes and didn't think he could go on without them? The fire was continuing to spread as he texted? Your cat was waving matches in front of his face and sniggering? You say you were away for one night; I'm not seeing what's so 'urgent' that it required an immediate text and phone call, rather than, say, speaking to you once you got home.

I'm with everyone else on the likelihood that this is his (or the oven's) error rather than your cat's, but his response strikes me as unreasonable above and beyond that. If you want to cough up some/all of the price of the dishes to keep the peace, that's up to you - but I'd caution that 1) you might want some independent verification of that 'expensive special holiday dishes' thing, and 2) in my experience of unreasonable housemates, placating them didn't help in the long run.
posted by Catseye at 7:48 AM on April 18, 2011 [18 favorites]

Your roommate was irresponsible to store anything in the oven that's not meant to be used in an oven. Don't pay for any of it.

That said, those claiming that a cat cannot turn on an oven are underestimating cats. Years back, I came home to my apartment to find that the cats had managed to turn on not one, but two gas burners. One was lit, going full force. The other was set to the "ignite" setting (electric ignition, not pilot ignited), and was clicking (e.g. trying to ignite). Based on the temperature of the apartment, it'd been going for hours (and in fact, warped the laminate on a cabinet!).

The cats were found hiding behind the television, looking terrified and yet indignant that anyone would think that being the only ones in the apartment at the time made them the prime suspects.

Moral of the story: never underestimate cats. We were able to confirm fairly well that it was caused by them, as we later witnessed one of the cats playing with the knobs. At that point, we pulled the knobs off and stored them in a drawer, and put them back on the stove when needed.

(aside: not all gas stoves have a pilot light, and in fact, I'd be willing to bet most modern ones you might come into contact with don't. If it clicks when you light it, it's an electric ignition system, meaning there is no pilot light)
posted by tocts at 7:49 AM on April 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

If he is blaming your cat for turning on an oven with a push down and then twist mechanism, he will shortly blame the cat for stealing from his prescription medicine bottle.

The decision here is at what cost peace? What do you pay to keep it, or not.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:53 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your roommate stored something flammable in an oven with a pilot light? He's lucky he only lost some dishes - the entire apartment could have burned down. He should be apologizing to you for doing something so dumb, and thereby putting all you belongings, as well as your cat, at risk of being burned up. Your offer to pay half was more than generous.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:54 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

First, the statement that "it's a gas oven; it's always on" is not necessarily correct. Stoves and ovens have been coming with electronic ignitions for years.

Second, I hate to say it, but it is entirely possible for a cat to do this. My cat has twice jumped up on the stove and clicked the handle in and to the left just enough to turn the gas on. He aims perfectly to get one foot on the handle so that he can push off for his next oh-so-graceful leap.

Third, accidents happen and your offer to pay for half should suffice. Even if the cat did it, which you will never know for sure, splitting it is the right way to handle it.

Fourth, it was probably your roommate.
posted by johnn at 7:54 AM on April 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

Have either of you ever seen your cat jumping on or off the stove? Even cats who hang out on counters usually don't walk around on the stove. If the stove's not near flat counter space, or has raised burners, he's even less likely to jump on it. If neither of you has seen a cat hair on the stove, that's more evidence in your favor (though cat hairs float and collect on practically everything).

If it's an old oven, I kind of don't trust those things anyway. I've had apartments with old gas ovens that always felt warm or had dials that didn't always click in the "off" position.

The question here, though, is not whether you're in the right (I think you are), but how to resolve this cordially. When he cools down, bring up the idea that you suspect the oven is faulty, and you want to make sure you guys and your property are safe. Call the landlord (or a repairman), explain what happened, and have him send someone up at a time when both you and your roommate are home. Don't mention the cat, because you want the guy to inspect the oven thoroughly and not shrug all "musta been the cat did it." Maybe you'll find evidence in your favor, but at the very least you'll know your future risk.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:56 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tough call. I'm also thinking of all the repercussions of paying something versus paying nothing. Depending on how nasty/crazy your roommate is and the legal situation of having a cat in the apartment. Are you on the lease or do you sublet? How attached are you to this apartment? How much of a hassle would it be to find another place? Because whatever you do, you might have to consider this.

Paying some or all:
you keep the peace - for now
no revenge acts from roommate
precendent set for all kinds of other "kitty damage"

Paying nothing:
bad vibes/dagger eyes from roommate = unpleasant home life
revenge damage to something of yours ("your cat must have done it")
roommate decides kitty is against code (and gets landlord to evict you and/or kitty)

All that said, I think patricking is right. He's probably freaked (another reason why he called instead of telling you on your return). Wait a bit, treat him to dinner, discuss the situation. See how it goes. I think it might be wise to do what salvia said: pay 25%.
posted by likeso at 7:58 AM on April 18, 2011

He had been storing some dishes and other items in the oven, and the oven had been turned on, and a wooden server caught on fire.

Was that the only wooden thing in the oven? What else was in there?

Do you trust this guy to be truthful about this?

Has your cat ever been known to jump on the oven and play with the knobs?

'Cause honestly, this sounds like a load of bullshit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:00 AM on April 18, 2011

my cat has repeatedly turned on my oven and burners before, to the point where i have had to take the knobs off when i leave the house. so it is more than possible. however, storing anything in the oven is stupid for multiple reasons. your offer to pay half is more than generous but not even necessary.
posted by ps_im_awesome at 8:02 AM on April 18, 2011

Have either of you ever seen your cat jumping on or off the stove?

My cats have done things when I'm not around that I've never seen them do. That's not a terribly strong argument.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:02 AM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Half is reasonable, as is a quarter, or even none because who sticks something *wooden* in an oven that anyone other than themself has access to?

But if you do pay, you need to make it clear that you will no longer pay for replacement of anything that is stored in the oven, even if he has surveillance video of your cat (or of you) turning the oven on without checking to see if someone stuck flammable stuff in there. It's must easier to insist on this new rule if you've paid for replacement, especially as you seem to have tacitly okayed your roommate using a functional oven as storage.
posted by jeather at 8:05 AM on April 18, 2011

Your roommate doesn't bake, but is it possible he had friends or family over while you visited the BF? It seems like a good time to have company, and that company might cook and get distracted. My roommate's family comes over to bake or slowcook on weekends, so this is the first thing that came to mind.
posted by plaintiff6r at 8:05 AM on April 18, 2011

Mexican Yenta has the right idea - you should be indignant he stored a flammable wood piece in the oven risking your life!

(remember, it's smoke inhalation that is usually fatal when a fire starts.)

That said, and even if cats are magic...

Your roomate sounds controlling and problematic. I agree it won't stop here if you give in to keep the peace. Definitely check up on the replacement dishes cost (eBay?) and think twice about paying anything.

You've only been there two months. You did not decide to store flammables in the oven. I don't see why half the burden is yours, even if this fellow is reasonable.

*I also agree you might want to insist on getting the oven serviced since no one actually saw the cat on the knobs. That can be very dangerous if it's broken and turns on by itself!
posted by jbenben at 8:09 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't offer to pay for the damaged goods. That's your roommate's fault, since he left valuable, flammable stuff in the oven.
Do offer to buy a set of knob covers (like these - just searched on 'gas oven knob protector'), so 'the cat' can't do this again. Also I agree with those above who think your roommate sounds a little control-freaky/cat-hatey, and suggest looking for a new place to stay.
posted by aiglet at 8:29 AM on April 18, 2011 [9 favorites]

Looking at this from another perspective, most dishes, even expensive ones like china, can handle oven temperatures these days. So the damage to the dishes is much more likely to be due to the wooden serving item he had in the oven catching fire and scorching other items.

So, even if the cat did turn on the oven, the damage to the dishes is not your responsibility.

Now, in keeping the peace, I would sit down and talk to roommate about this. I can only imagine how disoriented (and frightened) he was, waking up to a screaming smoke alarm and a fire in the oven. I've had a fire in my oven before, and the first impulse of my husband, who is an electrical engineer and should know better, was to want to open up the oven and put water on it.*

So, chances are he was really freaked, had no idea how the fire started, pissed off about the dishes and wooden thing catching fire, looks around and finds your cat looking smug (which is just the cat's normal expression) and came up with this idea that the cat is responsible for everything. Which could even be the case--but it was his own actions that caused the real problem here: leaving flammable objects in the oven!

*Correct approach: shut off oven and wait for fire to die down. Do NOT feed fire with oxyen by opening the oven door, and certainly don't put water on it as it is most likely a grease fire! Clean oven once it has cooled down. Oh, and order pizza for dinner. In case of serious fire, have fire extinguisher handy.
posted by misha at 8:34 AM on April 18, 2011

My dog turned a burner on when she jumped up to investigate a dirty pan on the stove. Ovens are usually even easier to turn on, since you don't usually have to push down and turn, like with the burners.

So it's certainly possible your cat did it, but it's mostly your roommate's fault for storing stuff in the oven. It's possible that they turned it on by brushing up against it or bumping it when doing something else.

Also, most ovens don't have pilot lights anymore, and haven't for 30 years or so.
posted by electroboy at 8:37 AM on April 18, 2011

It's unlikely your cat did this. Probably a good idea to move out.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:38 AM on April 18, 2011

What would he have done if you turned the oven on with his stuff in it? Asked you to pay for it? I know that I don't check the oven for stray dishes before I turn it on. You just don't leave things in there. My response here would probably be something along the lines of, "Why the hell did you have that in there to begin with!? What if the apartment had burned down?"
posted by Logic Sheep at 8:39 AM on April 18, 2011

Have you seen the damaged dishes?

Depending on what they are maybe they can be washed. Most dishes should be able to take the heat of an oven so the only damage should be from the burning wood. I think you should make sure the stuff isn't salvageable before you do anything else.

Your roommate seems a little high stung so it might be best to make sure that this isn't something that can be fixed.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 8:52 AM on April 18, 2011

One of our close family friends used to store food and other stuff in her oven, because she rarely baked anything. Although this made many of us uneasy, she was 95, and had been storing things in this manner for almost her entire life....

.....which was tragically cut short by a house fire that originated at night in the kitchen.

Don't store things in the oven that don't go in the oven. (Especially if it's a gas oven).

Even in the incredibly unlikely scenario that your cat turned on the oven, your roommate's behavior is still nuts. I'm a pretty forgiving and compromising kind of person, but there's no way that you're responsible for any of this.
posted by schmod at 8:55 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd also consider going into the discussion all "oh my cats would never do that." Like any reasonable person, you are currently admitting to the slim possibilities. But you're faced with someone who in the complete absence of evidence is 100% sure it was the cats. So in order to argue him down to a nice agnostic 50-50 or 25-75 split, you might have to come in with more certainty than you feel, with some variety of "you don't know it was the cats," "my cats have never done that before," "I doubt it was the cats," "you might've bumped it while cooking," and so forth. Introduce reasonable doubt about the cats' guilt. (I'm not sure I personally could do this, which is why I'd be looking for new apartments. It doesn't feel right to me, but the entire system of US law is based around taking adversarial positions and making the best possible case for them.)
posted by salvia at 8:56 AM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Look, your cat didn't turn on the freaking oven. Didn't happen. Promise. I am a lawyer (I am, in fact, your lawyer!) AND a doctor AND a veterinarian AND a baker and I am telling you here and now that your cat did not turn on the oven.

Your roommate either turned on the oven because they meant to, but forgot the stuff was in there. Or they did it by mistake when they were heating some Spaghettios, or they did it by mistake when the leaned against the knob for a while. But it really wasn't your cat.

You could split the cost, for the peace it might bring, but it might open up the door for more craziness somewhere down the road. Is the peace worth the possible crazy?
posted by dirtdirt at 8:56 AM on April 18, 2011

I undestand wanting to avoid confrontation, but I would be very careful about capitulating to what might be the first of a string of unreasonable demands. (Is this the first strange demand?)

Did the cat turn on the stove? I dunno, it's possible I guess but really, a reasonable would chalk this up as an "accident" that had many causative factors leading up to it. What is riskier and more out of the ordinary behavior, storing a wooden bowl in a gas oven or owning a cat? Both *may* have contributed (and there may be other contributors, eg did your room mate have friends over that night, does he drink or take prescriptions?), but it seems to me those two things don't carry equivalent weight.

What ought to concern you is that not only does this person think they don't carry equal weight, it's that he immediately thought that you owning a cat was the *sole* cause of this accident.

I'm very generous in my dealings with other people and tend to give everyone the benefit whenever there's doubt. I personally would offer to help in however amount it wouldn't seriously hurt me (40%? just to be generous but to send the message that I don't accept that I caused this). But this person just got a D- on his room mate midterm and I'd be looking around for other living situations.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:02 AM on April 18, 2011

Let's frame this another way. If I leave my winter coats in the spare bathroom hanging on the shower rod and your cat accidentally turns on the shower (actually has happenend) then would you feel any sort of responsibility?

If it was me who left the dishes in the oven I'd feel like an idiot, but I'd understand that there is a certain risk involved. If something accidental happened it would be my own fault. If I was half asleep, startled, and really pissy I might ask for compensation but in the sane light of day I would take it back and own up to my responsibility.

Just like coats stored in a room where leaks can happen, storing flammable things in a place that gets hot comes with risks. IMO your roommate played the odds and lost.

For the sake of household harmony you may want to cave and pay for part of the damages, but I think paying half is more than generous. Anything more and you're getting taken advantage of.

(FWIW I'm a person who stores things in the oven too. Cast iron. Yes, I've scrambled for trivets and pulled incredibly heavy, blazing hot pots out of the oven because I forgot they were in there before I preheated for my pizza. Lots of times.)
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:53 AM on April 18, 2011

Pointycat has turned on my gas stove. I am not kidding. I saw it happen. I was at the counter; he jumped on range & his back foot pressed a knob in & when he lifted his foot, the knob turned to ignite. (yes, I have a witness, too who also could not believe it.)
My range & oven now have toddler knobs on them and product pages/review pages for this product, there were several reviews stating that dogs & cats and turned on stoves and the knob covers are great for this problem. So it happens.

I have also turned the stove on with my butt (leaning) so while the cat thing can happen, so can other things.

However, there is assumption of risk, imho, in storing things in an oven so I can't imagine paying more than half. And if your roomate is being crazy about it, move out.
posted by pointystick at 10:00 AM on April 18, 2011

Whether or not your cat did this, I know it's feasible because years ago my sister's cat turned on a burner on the electric stove and ended up scorching his tail.
posted by essexjan at 10:03 AM on April 18, 2011

Can someone please explain how a cat can turn a small dial requiring some form of torque without a disposable thumb?
posted by jasondigitized at 11:14 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can someone please explain how a cat can turn a small dial requiring some form of torque without a disposable thumb?

If the cat was standing on the stove and then ended up using the front knob as a step/launching platform, the act of jumping off of the stove could easily both push the knob in and turn it. Could probably happen on the way up too. No disposable thumbs necessary, and the cat doesn't have to be playing with the knobs to make it happen.

Without any reasonable proof of the cats actually doing this, I think it's fair for you to not pay for the damage to the dishes but do get safety things for the front of the stove, like aiglet said.
posted by wondermouse at 11:30 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

disposable thumb

If I was a cat, I wouldn't throw my thumb away.
posted by spaltavian at 11:45 AM on April 18, 2011 [18 favorites]

Can you take a photo of your oven's controls and post it on here. I'd like to reserve judgment till i see it.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:12 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have lived in studio apartments. I know how tempting it is to store things in a rarely used oven. I still know that it's stupid. Anyone with half a brain should be prepared to take the consequences of storing items in the oven. And anyone stupid enough to store wood in an oven is lucky they aren't dead.

Do what aiglet said.
posted by freshwater at 12:19 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have to admit that it were me I would: 1) pay the half to take the moral high-ground and be the adult in the situation, but also not be a dupe; then 2) begin looking for a new housing situation because it's clear from the immediacy and intensity of the blaming of my cat that the room-mate has an unexpressed problem either with cats, or with me, or with me spending time with a BF (or some combo of the three). (And, wow, even with scant storage space in city apartments, storing anything but oven-proof items in an oven is begging trouble.)
posted by aught at 12:26 PM on April 18, 2011

My first instinct is to say "don't give in to roommate's outrageous demands and don't pay a dime because it's his own fool fault for storing dishes in the oven" but - a pet-owning renter in New York might be squeezed for options if they can't move on short notice. (One of the many reasons I moved to the 'burbs was so I didn't feel so constrained). So if the OP is an illegal or semi-legal subletter in a tight market with few options if she DOES get kicked out by a temperamental's tempting to capitulate and pay half. And it's easy for the lease-holding roommate to go on a power trip because they KNOW you're over a barrel.

If this is you and you'd be in dire straits if the roommate got a hair up his butt about you or your cat, or if you feel he might harm your cat, pay half and start looking around for a new place (and have a savings account and network so that you are not out of options if the worst happens). Otherwise, have a friendly but firm talk with your roommate and say something like, "I'm very sorry about your dishes, and you must feel bad about your possessions being ruined. BUT accidents happen, and I don't feel I have to be responsible for the destructive things life might toss your way. This is what happens if you store your dishes in the oven or live with pets (or kids). How can we not let this happen in the future?"
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:35 PM on April 18, 2011

As others have said, you could offer to pay some if you want to keep the peace/salvage the friend/roommateship. But I think your individual cat's activity should be considered here. I know that my cats, and all of the cats I've had, have never jumped on the stove, ever. Other people here obviously have or had cats that did or do. So it's apparently within the realm of possibility that it could have been cat-caused, though unlikely. This is definitely a judgment call.
posted by FlyByDay at 1:19 PM on April 18, 2011

I know two different people whose cats have turned on gas knobs when leaping onto the stove tops, once an oven and once a stove burner (scorching the kitty a bit, but he's fine!).

I also know many people in NYC who store things in the oven. Mostly kitchen stuff, but I've heard the off-season clothes thing too.

I'm torn about how you should handle it, but I don't think it's far-fetched AT ALL that your cat actually did start the fire. As such, it would really be nice of you to help him with the replacement costs (and keep your cat out of the kitchen when no one's home!). How much do you like living with this person otherwise? Moving's expensive, and living with a tense roommate situation is terrible.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 1:19 PM on April 18, 2011

First, the statement that "it's a gas oven; it's always on" is not necessarily correct. Stoves and ovens have been coming with electronic ignitions for years.

The ones I know of that have an electric ignition have to be held in the ignite position to light. Are there electric ignitions that light an oven nearly instantly, such that a cat could do it?

In any case, storing flammables in the oven is dumb. I think 25% is about the most you should pay for anything.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:59 PM on April 18, 2011

Don't think I've seen this brought up, but is there some sort of underlying issue with being gone a lot while having a pet at home?

I've seen roommates become pretty resentful when they are staying at a place with a roommate's pet they don't really like/know/etc while the other person is spending most nights with their significant other. Sometimes it's been justified, sometimes not, but it might be good to make sure that sort of situation is sorted out.

Personally, I've paid for dumber stuff to keep the peace, but the sort of 'demand you pay' thing might be a warning sign, which is why I think most of the folks in this thread are going all DTMFA.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 2:24 PM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Disclaimer: I work at a major appliance manufacturer.

(1) It's not impossible that your cat could have turned on the oven by accident, but it's extremely unlikely. It is far more likely that your roommate turned the oven on by mistake.

(2) Under no circumstances should anyone store anything--especially wood, for God's sake-- in the oven proper, or the broiler underneath (assuming you have one) because of the likeliood the someone could turn the oven on by mistake. Like your roommate. Who probably did.

(3) aiglet has the right of it, here. Instead of paying for something your cat probably didn't do, buy your roommate (who probably turned the oven on) some knob protectors, and call it a day.
posted by magstheaxe at 2:25 PM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

1) If the cat had accidentally bumped a cabinet or storage box containing dishes, no fire would have resulted.

2) If the cat had accidentally turned on an empty oven, no fire would have resulted.

The only problem here was the presence of flammable items in the oven. Refuse to pay.
posted by General Tonic at 2:38 PM on April 18, 2011

Can someone please explain how a cat can turn a small dial requiring some form of torque without a disposable thumb?

Some cat do have, as you put it, "disposable" thumbs, that is, polydactyl ("Hemnmingway") cats have a sixth digit that can be opposed to its other digits.

That said, even a non-polydactylic cat cat can turn a dial, using eitehr its body weight or a combination of paw and mouth.

A cat cannot, however, store flammable things in an oven, which is the real problem here.

My final advice to the OP: don't pay the damages; do pay for cat-proofing the stove.
posted by orthogonality at 2:44 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

If your roomie has taken over the stove...then he is responsible for upkeep and safety. It would make sense to just pull out the knobs so there is no feline or human accident. Why did he not do so? This is what people with kids and ovens do.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:07 PM on April 18, 2011

Also, most ovens don't have pilot lights anymore, and haven't for 30 years or so.

Really? The three I deal with regularly all do, (but only one is remotely new).
posted by small_ruminant at 4:25 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cats are pretty crafty, but I'm pretty sure 'push knob/turn dial' is beyond most of their abilities. I wouldn't help replace his damaged cookware (why reward stupidity?) but in the interest of keeping the peace I would buy and install childproof knobs for the stove. And make damn sure the flammables get stored elsewhere.
posted by Space Kitty at 6:34 PM on April 18, 2011

I just brushed by my gas oven, which has a knob that needs to be pushed in an turned, and turned on my oven. My cats jump all over the place (I have 10), and they have never turned on the oven. But I have accidentally done it a number of times, as has my husband. So I do not think it was the cat.
posted by fifilaru at 6:46 PM on April 18, 2011

There are a 100 things more likely to have turned on the oven than your cat.

There have been many suggestions above about what you should or shouldn't do, so I won't add to that. I am, however, worried about your cat. Is your roommate at all a vindictive type of person? Perhaps you should take the cat with you when you visit the boyfriend, if your cat travels at all well.
posted by deborah at 11:33 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm going to have to fall on the side of the cat turning it on, if the roommate is trustworthy enough to not just be lying about something. Has anyone ever had a cat jump off of them? They put a LOT of force out. Jumping off the stove and slipping a foot could easily turn the oven on.

The cat didn't turn it on because he was trying to turn it on or screwing around with his new friend the appliance. But if he was jumping in the right direction, it is absolutely plausible. (At least in my kitchen- if a cat jumped off my stove onto the fridge, it could easily happen.)

So, if there is something nearby that the cat could have been trying to jump up onto, it isn't just not impossible, it is plausible.

If the roommate isn't lying.

I still wouldn't pay for anything though.
posted by gjc at 6:42 AM on April 19, 2011

I'm thinking along the same lines as deborah. Sometimes solutions aren't only about what's right or logical. If you don't know this person really well (and it sounds like maybe you don't), there are other things that must be considered. What if the cat "accidentally" escapes the apartment the next time you are gone? A person with a grudge against the cat may not exercise due diligence to make sure this doesn't happen.

For this reason, I'd try very hard to make sure the resolution is amicable, even if it means compromising on what seems right.
posted by taz at 8:03 AM on April 19, 2011

Wow, you guys gave me so much good input - and figured I'd provide an update.

In a way, it hasn't been resolved at all, in that I have barely seen my roommate all week long, and he's barely said one word to me, so there hasn't been any more discussion of payment. But I feel much more comfortable knowing that although yes, my cat could have conceivably accidentally turned the oven on (especially because my cat has been on the stovetop before), the consensus is that the roommate really shouldn't have been storing flammables in the oven. And, I looked in the oven the other day, and it turned out there was something plastic in there as well, and there is a huge glob of melted and then cooled plastic on the floor of the oven - I have no idea how that's going to get off. And he is still storing things in there, including more plastic, and his boxes of tin foil and plastic wrap! At least he took the knobs off the stove, though.

As for the cat, I'm not worried about his safety - for all of the drama and weirdness, the roommate has always been pleasant to the cat, and that doesn't seem to have changed, thankfully.

But all the responses got me really considering whether this is a tenable living situation - he has made some other unreasonable requests in the past as well. Only a few weeks after moving in, I was at my bf's and got a panicked call from the roommate telling me that he needed my help, that he owed a credit card payment that night or his APR would go up, and since he didn't have a checking account, he wanted me to make the payment for him and he would give me cash the next day. I was really uncomfortable with that request, and didn't do it, but that coupled with the oven drama in such a short amount of time makes me think it's not going to get any better. I hate moving again so soon, but better than staying in a bad situation. Thanks for helping me get clarity on the situation!
posted by Neely O'Hara at 9:02 AM on April 22, 2011

he needed my help, that he owed a credit card payment that night or his APR would go up, and since he didn't have a checking account, he wanted me to make the payment for him and he would give me cash the next day.

I'd been giving your roommate the benefit of the doubt before, thinking maybe he was really freaked out and bewildered by the place nearly burning down for no identifiable reason. But damn, that is a seriously unreasonable request. He sounds like the kind of guy who won't have the rent in time, and won't pay you back if you cover him for it. He also sounds like the kind of guy who will forget he left the oven on.

Here's hoping you find a great new non-flammable apartment with a non-weird roommate soon!
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:11 AM on April 22, 2011

I stand by my original advice.
posted by flabdablet at 10:18 AM on April 22, 2011

got a panicked call from the roommate telling me that he needed my help, that he owed a credit card payment that night or his APR would go up, and since he didn't have a checking account, he wanted me to make the payment for him and he would give me cash the next day.

I am glad you didn't do that, because that's just NUTS. Between that and the fact that he's still storing things in the stove, he sounds like he ought to be living with his mommy instead of a roommate.

Get out ASAP. I'll ad the caveat that in desirable cities, you get what you pay for as far as living situations are concerned. Inexpensive shared living in these kinds of cities means putting up with crazy/flaky/mean behavior, illegal sublets, contraband pets, and slumlords who won't make repairs. I have found (from living in SF, not NY) that being willing to pay a bit more means nicer roommates and far less precarious living situations. (Living alone is ideal, but not always do-able!)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:25 PM on April 23, 2011

Really? The three I deal with regularly all do, (but only one is remotely new).

Some commercial ovens still do, but I think they're pretty much nonexistent in residential stoves.
posted by electroboy at 6:07 PM on April 23, 2011

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