won't you please be my neighbor (and not my roommate)?
October 18, 2011 11:05 PM   Subscribe

My elderly neighbor lived in my rented room before I moved in. He still uses the public areas of the house as his own. What are my obligations? Lots of snowflake details inside.

I moved into a house with two craigslist roommates about three and a half weeks ago. Both men have been living in the house for a while. My predecessor in my room was a man I'll call G.

G. is the next-door neighbor. He's 78, walks with a limp, and has difficulty hearing, but he is mentally agile. This past January he had a fire in his house, where he broke his neck and was incapacitated for several months. The house lost power and water. My landlord let him use my room and have the run of the house for at least a few weeks before renting it to me.

The bad: G. has left the room, but he has not left the house. He cooks a hot breakfast every morning, taking up the kitchen for an hour or two. He often cooks dinner. He's not very clear at cleaning up his dishes from these meals - there is almost always a dirty frying pan on the stove. Twice he has had his girlfriend over in the evening, and they've had dinner and hung out for up to three hours.

Maybe I'm just testy, but some of his tics have annoyed me: he's asked me to drive him in his car to the local college football game (he has trouble walking from the parking lot to the stadium), he told me to compost my potato peels ("I don't know how you guys do it back in [midwestern state], but here in [coastal state]..."), he told me to lower the blinds during the day.

The good: G. has tried hard to be friendly. He owns an apartment building in a popular vacation destination near me, and he offered to take me there one day. Yesterday he apologized if I felt that he was getting in my way in the kitchen, saying that the landlord has been really generous to him and he would hate to inconvenience a tenant of his.

I feel like the boiling point came this evening. When I moved in, G. told me that the power would be back on in his house in about a week, so I was prepared just to wait it out. That time has come and gone, and now when I ask he gives me vague answers, saying his son is in charge of it. Tonight his girlfriend came over, and he made a point of asking me to come into the kitchen with him and her and have some cake. I feel like that this was meant to be a peace offering, but frankly I'm not interested in a peace offering that solidifies this relationship as it stands today. I refused, apologizing and saying that I was busy with work, but I felt like the bad guy.

I've asked the landlord if I can tell G. to leave. While he's fine with whatever I and the other guys in the house decide, he made it clear that he would prefer if he let G. use the house. When I asked my roommates, one says he really doesn't care and is happy to go along with whatever I decide, and the other (the landlord's son) was a little more tentative but said it would be fine if I told G. to use the house less.

Generally I would have no problems with telling him to go take care of his crap elsewhere, but I feel really bad being so cruel to an old man who's had some bad luck in the past year and who is trying to be friendly. On the other hand, I feel taken advantage of and it infuriates me.

What should I do? I'm not sure how I can balance my conscience and my frustration.
posted by dd42 to Human Relations (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I feel really bad being so cruel to an old man who's had some bad luck in the past year and who is trying to be friendly. On the other hand, I feel taken advantage of and it infuriates me

The extent to which he is putting you out seems kind of minimal, in comparison with the callousness of kicking him out. Could you ask him to clean up more thoroughly?
posted by bardophile at 11:15 PM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think you should tell him his breakfasts and his lack of cleaning and his girlfriend's visits are really inconveniencing you. Tell him to stop it. It's not clear why you feel sorry for him. If he owns an apartment elsewhere, he's not exactly badly off financially, so it's not like he can't afford to eat out if his kitchen isn't usable. And it sounds like his house IS repaired now, so he should stop using yours.

I was in a similar situation in a shared house once where the guy who had previously rented my room was an illegal immigrant with almost no resources, and he used to sneak back into the house at night to sleep in the kitchen. He also used to cook there. But the difference is that my 'roommate' snuck around so no one would even notice him, let alone feel inconvenienced. This guy is taking advantage of you.
posted by lollusc at 11:16 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Move. If the other roommates and the landlord aren't interested in getting G. out you, as the newest person in the situation, aren't going to be very successful and will likely breed resentment if you try to push on this. It's going to be way less hassle for you to move. Just tell your landlord you signed up for a living situation with two roommates, not three.
posted by 6550 at 11:34 PM on October 18, 2011 [19 favorites]

What Bardophile said. And then some. By all means ask him if he can clean up better, and you could politely say that you maybe need a bit more space in the house, but his HOUSE BURNT DOWN and he BROKE HIS NECK this year, and he is doing his very best to be nice to you. Why don't you cut him just a little bit more slack?

I know stuff like this can feel like it cuts really deep sometimes, that seems part and parcel of being a human animal in a (non-family) shared living space (I know that one well) but seriously, he seems like a predominantly kind old guy who is trying to do his best to make up for any inconvenience. At times he may lack self awareness, but guess what, I think you do too a little at the moment. This should annoy you, but not infuriate you. Ask yourself who and what you're really angry about. My hunch is that this is really about something else.

The fact that you asked this question at all is a good sign, but (and I really don't mean to sound snarky, and I'm sorry if I do) you might well give some thought as to how you'd like to be treated when you're old and a little bit vulnerable.

Take him to the bloody football match. It won't kill you. And next time he offers you cake have some. It's good for the soul.
posted by Chairboy at 11:40 PM on October 18, 2011 [14 favorites]

you don't have to want a part time 4th roommate (and i disagree with those trying to make you feel badly about that), but the landlord and his son would prefer this guy gets to keep using the space. you're outvoted. i think you either have to deal with it or move.
posted by nadawi at 11:47 PM on October 18, 2011 [9 favorites]

Your "good" list doesn't seem very thorough. Can you think of other positives to having this man around? A mentally agile 78-year-old man can be a valuable resource that you could take advantage of to make your life interesting in myriad ways. Be a bit more sociable, and get creative.

Believe me, I am eminently sympathetic to your objections. I'm not "Mr. Neighborly" in my own life, and I like my space and I want everybody to respect their boundaries. But then, I don't go on Craigslist looking to share houses with random strangers. I have plenty of friends who do do that, and I know full well that there is invariably a lot of 'give' in that dynamic. The situation that you're describing, while it might drive me nuts in exactly the way it's driving you nuts, doesn't sound at all atypical for Craigslist rentals. Not to be callous, but your description of the situation sounds a bit like somebody walking into McDonald's and then complaining that he couldn't get his burger cooked medium-rare with a warm pink center. If you want to place a higher value on your privacy, then the capitalist reality might be that you need to...place a higher value on your privacy. Pay more, elsewhere.
posted by red clover at 11:57 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you should cut the guy some slack if he is still without power with regards to cooking and having his girlfriend over but make it clear to him that he needs to clean up after himself and don't run errands for him - that has nothing to do with him being without power. Don't compost your potato peels if you don't want to and don't lower the blinds during the day just because he tells you to. Its your home, not his.

I would say to him "I appreciate that you're not able to cook in your own home yet but you really need to clean up after yourself. Every morning there is a dirty pan on the stove and frequently dirty dishes are left behind after breakfast/dinner"

I would also find out what you can do to get his power back on if the son isn't dealing with it.
posted by missmagenta at 12:09 AM on October 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

This seems way more cut and dry then other posters are making it out to be. Unless otherwise specified in the lease the tenants are the only ones who are allowed to use the facilities of the building. If you want to make a stink and kick the guy out do it. If you are feeling compassionate and like its not worth the effort then don't. If you think that you can not live with everyone after you make the decision to kick him out, move.

Morally...questionable anyway you play it. Being walked over by a landlord sucks. Kicking an old man who his down sucks as well.

Really its up to you, but there is no real magic solution that makes everyone happy here, but your options are fairly well outlined.
posted by Felex at 12:11 AM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd be annoyed. More so due to being conflicted about irritation versus this man's rough luck. Sure, asked him to clean up after himself. But everything else is on your landlord. I wouldn't expect to change the situation, but it seems fair to name your price for staying. Ask for that amount to be your new monthly rent.

If the landlord balks, you can find someplace more agreeable.
posted by Feisty at 12:15 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

The landlord's desires trump yours. Put up with it or move.
posted by twblalock at 12:17 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

A couple things are not clear: Is this man living in the house next door, a house without water or electricity?

Would it be possible to ask his son when the house will be in order?

Thing two: What were you told about this when you moved in? If you were told it would go on for a couple-three weeks or so, letting it slide to the point that it lasts for a month is one thing, but...

You didn't sign up for this and as one who has craigslist roomies, has dealt with plenty of give and take with all that, this is something different.

I'd be more than a little irked if, surprise, someone was in the kitchen every day, not cleaning up after themselves, asking for rides, taking issue with what I do with potato peels, telling me to lower the blinds. That's ridiculous. You live there and he doesn't.

There is a big difference between being accommodating and understanding, and someone abusing the kindness of others and being rude.

Worrisome that the date for all this ending has passed and there's nothing concrete or close about when it will end. It smells like the guy might be around when Thanksgiving rolls around, when it's Christmas...

I'm also someone with parents this man's age so I am sympathetic to his situation, to a point.

Because he said he would hate to inconvenience you, if there's no clarity from him or his son in about a week, I would bring up that conversation and let him know you need to know when he will no longer use the house where you live.

By the way, I comprehensively disagree with the deal-with-it-or-move thoughts. Dunno where you are, how easy it is to find other places, but moving's a big pain in the best situations, not one you should have to deal with if someone is out to walk all over you.
posted by ambient2 at 12:27 AM on October 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

but it's not just one person walking all over him - it's 3 - the landlord, the son, and G. they all seem to be perfectly fine with this situation. even when the OP tried to get everyone on board the son said he'd agree to have G "use the house less" - that's not someone looking to have this guy not cook breakfast there every morning.

this is the way it was before you got there and it'll be like that after you leave. you get to decide if you're going to be the "bad guy" (and probably still fail at your goals) in the interim. this isn't something that telling G not to come over will fix because the son will just disagree and let him in/tell him it's ok/blame it all on you. that seems like a way bigger hassle than moving.

an insensitive question, but an important one - was the fire started due to his negligence? if so - he's cooking in your kitchen every day. keep that in mind when you're figuring out what to do.
posted by nadawi at 12:44 AM on October 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ask yourself if you'd be OK with this situation if it wasn't so intense.

What if breakfast was 30 minutes? How long does it take to make coffee and a bit of toast and eggs?

What if dinner was no more than 1 hour in the kitchen?

There is no need for him to be using your pots and pans and silverware. He should provide his own cookware - if it burned down with the house, he'll need to be getting more soon anyway. Then if something is dirty, put it in a corner and he'll have to deal with it.

Ask him to bring his own coffeemaker and not use yours.

Can he pay for a cleaning person to come clean the kitchen 1 hour a week? Can the landlord?

Be seen as flexible but firm: the situation as it stands now isn't working. So propose some solutions and figure out what you'd be happy with. It might all be contingent on a clearer timeline.
posted by barnone at 12:51 AM on October 19, 2011

Do you have a lease?

This is really unprofessional of the landlord, I really don't get all of the arguments that amount to the landlord getting his way.

I rent too, my landlord can't have maintenance come over without my approval let alone non-tenants use my kitchen!

This has been going on for 9 months? Was this explained when you moved in?
posted by tremspeed at 1:18 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To answer people's questions and correct faulty assumptions...

Unless otherwise specified in the lease the tenants are the only ones who are allowed to use the facilities of the building.

Not in this case. I have a lease to my individual room, which states I rent the room and have access to the public areas. It doesn't say anything about who else has rights to the common areas. But the landlord says:

Now it is your (3 of you) house, and you have all the rights to set or remove any accommodation. I suggest you have a discussion with [one roommate] who also knows him well. Then tell me what rules (or access, if any) you want [G.] to have and I will tell [G.] the same.

Is this man living in the house next door, a house without water or electricity?

Yes. He has some source of electric light, maybe a lantern.

Would it be possible to ask his son when the house will be in order?

I haven't met the son, and I don't think that he's in the area. I think he's handling the paperwork (supposedly the plans for turning the power back on have to be approved by the city).

Thing two: What were you told about this when you moved in? If you were told it would go on for a couple-three weeks or so, letting it slide to the point that it lasts for a month is one thing, but...

I should probably say that I've never met my landlord in person, so moving in was really a strange experience of seeing what the situation was on the ground. I didn't want to poison things out right at the outset (especially since I have a month-to-month lease, where I could be kicked out at any point with 30 days' notice), so I tried to be chill and not grill everyone on the details. One more surprise was another tenant in a cottage in the backyard, but he at least only very rarely comes into the house.

G. told me, vaguely, a week, but looking back I think that was probably just a feint to get me off his back. Since then he's told me several times that it'll be "soon." He wasn't volunteering so I didn't want to outright ask him, to try to preserve a friendly relationship.

was the fire started due to his negligence?

This is something I've tried to get the landlord's son to talk about, but I haven't received any answers. It's possible.

Moving is possible. It's always an inconvenience, but also I live in an area of expensive suburbs where apartments or rooms are at hard to come by. I would love a studio, but I don't think I could get one without spending ~$550/month more, which I really can't afford.

Thanks everyone for the feedback. It's been helpful to see how others view the situation.
posted by dd42 at 1:22 AM on October 19, 2011

If you only have a month-to-month lease on your individual room you have even less leverage to get G. out of there.

Sure moving is an inconvenience and maybe you can't find a studio in your price range. But you can undoubtedly find a more standard living situation with a regular roommate or two rather than neighbors with use of your facilities and surprise backyard tenants. Even if you are successful in getting G. to stop using your house without breeding resentment towards yourself (unlikely) the landlord sounds like he's taking a pretty non-traditional approach to things and the situation won't suddenly turn into one with more structure and regulation. At least the month-to-month thing also benefits you since you won't have the pressure of breaking a lease to deal with.
posted by 6550 at 1:47 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think it's great that the landlord is helping his neighbor out like this, but it's massively unfair to you to advertise a space as being one way when it's actually another.

I don't think your neighbor is at fault, it's really the landlord for not setting clear boundaries with all this tenants.

The hard ass, passive agressive side of me wants to suggest this: call adult protective services on your neighbor. They won't let someone who's 78 years old live in a dwelling without heat or water. Either he'll finally get it fixed or they can make him move somewhere else.

And start looking hard for a new place.
posted by sbutler at 2:12 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Month to month? Yeah. Move. You're outnumbered here and the stress isn't worth it.
posted by Lieber Frau at 2:35 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you should also consider that G's insurance would probably pay for temporary accommodation for him, and as I say upthread, it doesn't sound as though he is financially badly off anyway. He should be staying in a hotel or temporary rental, not in a burned out building without basic amenities. If you decide he should no longer have access to your facilities, I bet he'll actually end up in a better situation in the long run.
posted by lollusc at 2:45 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can ask your elderly neighbour to be careful to clean up. You can just go in the kitchen and use it as well in the morning, telling him you really need access to the kitchen for meals as well. It doesn't sound like you've asked these things of him. You don't need to drive him somewhere. There's no harm in throwing your stuff in a compost bin if one is already set up, and if it isn't, you can tell the guy you don't have time to set up composting. If you're in the room with the blinds open, you can tell him you like the sunlight. It's not clear to me if you've asked him to stop taking over the kitchen or to clean up his pots and pans, or you just let it go because you thought it would be over soon.
posted by jeather at 3:56 AM on October 19, 2011

He's your roommate. Period.

How would you approach an annoying roommate on these issues? Do that.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:12 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a lease to my individual room, which states I rent the room and have access to the public areas. It doesn't say anything about who else has rights to the common areas.

You know what? Mentally reframe this. You do not have two roommates; you have three, one of whom is G. Now, treat him accordingly and tell him to wash his damn dishes.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:56 AM on October 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

If his house isn't fixed, you should (after finding out when the house will probably be fixed) just deal with it. I don't know if you've ever lived in a modern house without power, but it's pretty tricky and tiring, especially if you've been sick or injured recently. This guy is down on his luck and it really, really behooves you to accept that he's going to be there until he has light and power.

If you're struggling with feelings of "unfairness", try to unpack those. I get hung up on "it's not fair" a lot, usually when I don't have a visceral sense of what other people are going through.

I'm a huge introvert and I would hate having an extra housemate - I've had an extra one from time to time when folks needed a place to crash, and I know it gets annoying. But his needs are greater than yours through no fault of his own - it's not as though he's sleeping on your couch and playing video games all day instead of job-hunting or something.

I mean, do ask him to clean up his dishes.

Also, try spending some more time with him. I find that unless someone is really unsympathetic, once I've spent a couple of hours intentionally hanging out with them I simply no longer resent them as much - even if they still annoy me a bit - because I can't help but see them as a whole person with needs and desires like mine.
posted by Frowner at 5:11 AM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

You could always bring this up with the landlord and ask for money to be taken off your rent since he has allowed an extra person to use the common spaces, thus limiting your ability to use them and adding to your work since you have to clean up after him. I really think it's the landlord's job to set the boundaries and expectations here.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:44 AM on October 19, 2011

The people telling you to just "take him to the bloody football match", etc., are completely out of line. You didn't sign up to be a care provider, or this guy's friend. You leased what you thought would be a home, and you don't have one. This sucks and you're completely in the right to be annoyed and to complain.

The problem is, though, you'll never get this to work. The landlord and son are against you, and even if you "win" this, you've put yourself at odds with your landlord, your roommate and your neighbor. Again, this won't really be a "home".

Move. Until then, put up with it. It's your only practical option.
posted by spaltavian at 6:25 AM on October 19, 2011 [8 favorites]

It sounds like you like clear boundaries, and you are in a situation where there are none.

It could be a great experiment - testing yourself to see how flexible, open and casual you can become and stretch yourself on how much you can shrug off - if you choose to stay. As you've said, you're testy, but others are unbothered. You certainly should move if you really can't flex any more in this matter.

But, I tell my kid, "You know, you can choose not to be upset about this." She's not naturally very resilient, and I'm getting the impression she's a little like you've written yourself - feels easily taken advantage of, likes rules and structure, and is a bit of a right-fighter - and so, talking to you like a mom, I'm saying that sometimes you have to tell yourself these things. "I don't have to get upset about this." "I don't have to care so much." "This is a '10' upset over a '2' thing."

I get that you didn't ask for a new old-guy best friend when you moved in, and I don't want to talk to you like you're seven, but this may be a learning opportunity for you. As an adult, you have the advantage of enjoying your own control and decision-making ability in personal matters - you don't have to push yourself any more than you want to. You can choose to move away instead of working your way through it. Kids are still learning these things, and need the time in the trenches. But whatever you do, I hope you choose the kinder option.
posted by peagood at 7:20 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is horrendous. Move.
posted by ninebelow at 7:26 AM on October 19, 2011

Your roommates and you are the occupants of the house. Not the 78 year old male. Landlords cannot come into the house without giving written notice 24 hours prior to arriving. The public area of the house is a public area for your roommates and you. It is not a public area for guests of the landlord. The 78 year old guy that is showing up should not have keys to the building. In fact, the landlord giving an unregistered occupant keys to the building is a violation of any rental agreement and you need to phone him and tell him that he can be pursued by the rental ombudsman for this violation. The landlord is at fault. Not you.

To all the other mefis out there: Have any of you guys ever read your jurisdictions tenant agreements? It's moderate difficulty to parse, but the information is out there. You shouldn't just pull information out of your ass when dealing with rent issues.
posted by DetriusXii at 8:46 AM on October 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

For my location 24 hour notice is required for access to the house by any landlord or agent of the landlord. I would assume that G would fall into this category (as he is not an invited guest of any roommate). Personally, it sounds like your not all that attached to the place, yes its a pain in the ass, but move.
posted by Felex at 9:11 AM on October 19, 2011

Rules about landlords needing to give 24 hours written notice before coming into a house don't necessarily apply when they are renting out individual rooms to tenants who are allowed to use common space. The landlord might need to give advance notice if he's entering someone's *room*, but the shared common spaces are likely different. (I looked into this when living in Baltimore in a situation where the landlord, who lived next door, came over to watch TV in the living room sometimes. Unfortunately, there was no way to stop him since the living room wasn't our space, officially, just a space we were allowed access to.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:20 AM on October 20, 2011

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