First as tragedy, then as farce.
June 25, 2012 3:14 PM   Subscribe

A question about friendship and subletting, with loads of little snowflake details inside. In short: what is the honorable thing to do when a friend decides to move abroad and sublet their part of a small two-bedroom apartment?

Sorry in advance for the absurd length.

In August or July of last year I moved into a dilapidated house in a not so good area of town. Don't get me wrong, there were a lot of things I liked about this house: good location, ok roommates, lots of space, a place for a garden, etc. Around a month after I moved in, another roommate was introduced to the house. Lets call him "Jim." Jim had been planning on living with his girlfriend in a mid-sized, bland city (at least everyone here, including Jim, thinks so) a few hours away. But after coming back from vacation, Jim found to his surprise that his girlfriend had made other plans. Jim had spent thousands of dollars furnishing the apartment that they were to move into together, but within a few minutes of coming back from vacation found himself dumped and without a place to live. The irony here will later become apparent.

He moved back to the town in which the college he recently graduated from is located. There, he lived on the couch of some old friends for a while. Getting tired of this, he decided to move into a jail-cell sized bike closet in our house. Jim and I became fast friends. The best of friends, really. Months passed, and Jim and I became more and more discontented with our housing situation. We both intended to find new places to live for the next year, and around February Jim asked me if I wanted to share an apartment with him. I enthusiastically agreed. We found a modest sized, reasonably priced apartment not far from the heart of town. An excellent find, really. We were scheduled to move-in in early June.

For months, we made a frequent habit of fantasizing about our lives once we had moved out of the dilapidated house we were living in, and into our new apartment. The kitchen at our old house was utterly decrepit, and exuded an unwholesome odor. Jim and I both love cooking, so this was really a horrible thing for us. Jim was single handedly doing a lot of the cleaning in the house, while also working two jobs: one as a bartender at a nightclub, the other as a waiter at an upscale restaurant. I, on the other hand, was teaching weekends and pursuing an academic career during the week.

Jim wasn't happy with his job at the nightclub. Although the money was quite good, the patrons were obnoxious and rude. After he had fully paid down a loan he took out in order to buy a car, Jim quit this job, leaving him only with his waiting job. A little later, I began attending summer school classes. A week or two before we move into our new apartment, Jim tells me that he's seriously considering moving to California. He's unhappy with his job in our town, and feels his life is generally stagnating. He has family there, and has lived there before. I'm obviously upset, however, I'm also understanding. We haven't moved in yet, so it will be easy enough to forfeit the security deposit/contract, and I'd have some time to find a new place before the school year.

Jim ends up deciding to stay. We move in, which is fairly easy for Jim, given that he hasn't had much room to acquire stuff, but substantially more difficult for me. In fact, I still haven't moved some things from my room at our old house, because I paid my rent through June, having been unable to find a subletter for the brief period until our lease expired there.

Now, three weeks after we've moved in, Jim has decided again that he's unhappy with his lot in life, his job, etc., etc. He's decided to move to Mexico in order to get TEFL certification and teach there until January. He wants to sublet his room for the duration. At first, I accepted this decision without much hesitation. But now, upon consulting with other friends and family members, I've started to realize what a hassle this will be for me. Not to mention the fact that I believe a lot of people in my town are infected with what I'll call "grass is greener" syndrome - constantly leaving our town, which is consistently rated as one of the best places to live in the US, and moving to other places, where they end up realizing that the common factor in their unhappiness was not the town, but themselves.

Our apartment is really just too small to live in with someone you don't know or have recently met in. Furthermore, I lead an "alternative lifestyle" which a fair number of people are not OK with, including: alternative sexual practices, waking hours, political beliefs, and the like. So, it seems that I may have to also sublet my room, or potentially just break our lease and forfeit the deposit. I wouldn't particularly have minded finding a single room apartment to start with, so to re-iterate, I feel slighted.

Me potentially breaking the lease is made easier by the fact that we haven't technically signed a contract with our new landlord, who bought the building before we moved in and inherited our contract from the management company that was formerly running it. I'd be interested to hear MeFi's advice here (I know, I know YANAL).

I'd like too to hear what I should do going forward as regards Jim's culpability in this matter: What are the things he should be doing? Me?

As an aside, I told Jim that he should no longer consider himself my friend. I think the way that he has played with his commitments (and I might add, not been particularly apologetic while doing so) is unacceptable. Given that he was willing to indefinitely live in a city he hated with a girl who ended up dumping him, I don't think it's unreasonable for him to live a year with someone who has been consistently pleasant and forthright in a town which is by all accounts a decent place to live.
posted by matkline to Human Relations (16 answers total)
I think you should talk to your new management company.
posted by spunweb at 3:21 PM on June 25, 2012

You already broke up with Jim as a friend, so his only culpability is losing his share of the deposit. Break the lease and get a single.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 3:31 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

He put you in a bind and it's shitty but if he's leaving then he's leaving. You can't expect him to stay for a year now that he's decided to go. He sounds flaky but then that can't really be news to you if you are really good friends. It sucks but try to get out of your lease or whatever you have and get your own place ASAP.
posted by bquarters at 3:36 PM on June 25, 2012

You both move and he pays to break the lease.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:41 PM on June 25, 2012 [9 favorites]

I find that this is a common trend for a lot of people right out of college. I had some friends in school that talked often of moving away, etc, to only have them be married in their hometown a year later. Nothing is wrong with that, but it's just very common. I wouldn't be surprised if he came back sooner rather than later, but I think a lot of the twenties are not knowing what you want in life.

Moving in with someone (SO or friend) also takes a toll, and I'd hope your friend here would understand that his decisions have put you in a hard spot. Ask him to take some responsibility and help pay for the deposit, etc. I'd also get a new single apartment and break the current lease.
posted by neveroddoreven at 3:58 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Woah, this exact same thing (details slightly different, but eerily similar) happened to me when I was in college. The difference being that I did attempt to find a roommate and the quest was unsuccessful, even though I had an awesome loft apartment in a great area. The end result being me flat broke from paying double my rent and having to move back to my home town with my tail between my legs. And the loss of a best friend. My advice regarding the place would be the same as others, bail and try to get him to pay to break the lease.

I will say that looking back on the whole thing, and the awful things that were said behind backs or even to faces, definitely makes me ashamed. Not that I wasn't (as you are) clearly in the right, and allowed to be hurt, or angry about the situation, I just feel like I could have handled it with more poise. From what it sounds like you are not interested in trying to salvage the friendship, but I'll say that at the time I wasn't either, but now in hindsight, I wish I hadn't been so rash. We had become best friends so quickly for a reason (as I'm sure that you and Jim did), and it isn't very often that you come across friendships like that. Just something that I think about a lot now on the backside of the whole situation. On the other hand, I completely understand not wanting to. Even if we had tried to remain friends after everything, we could never have been as close as we were before, and I have a feeling we would have become more superficial friends than anything else. I would never be able to really trust like that again, and part of me would wonder what kind of person would do something like that. But another thing I have learned is that not everyone is as considerate as I am and that is something that I can't necessarily expect of others. Wow, I clearly have some issues left over from all that... sorry for the rambling. Good luck with getting this worked out.
posted by Quincy at 4:01 PM on June 25, 2012

I was supposed to live with a bunch of people but backed out because the living situation, in hindsight, would've been very bad for me. My closest friend in the house stopped speaking to me for a year. The other people were really pissed at me. It was inconvenient. It was expensive. They had to find someone to cover my lease at the last minute. But my friend and I made up eventually and both really regretted that we ended our wonderful friendship over something that, in the scheme of things, was minor. I made up with the other housemates as well. Years later, what seemed like the biggest issue in the world is something no one cares about at all anymore.
posted by girlmightlive at 4:02 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

His culpability should be either: to pay for breaking the lease, pay your security deposit at a new single, and pay for your full moving expenses, or to pay half rent for the duration of the lease, and if he wants to sublet, you have to approve the new sublet.

I really, really, hate people who make financial commitments and then back out.
posted by corb at 4:19 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Given that he was willing to indefinitely live in a city he hated with a girl who ended up dumping him, I don't think it's unreasonable for him to live a year with someone who has been consistently pleasant and forthright in a town which is by all accounts a decent place to live.

I think that those are completely different scenarios, people make lots of sacrifices for an SO that they are never going to make for a friend. I think even adding this makes you sound a little weird. I don't know what your aside on ''grass is greener' syndrome is meant to add, except that you think Jim is probably wrong to be moving away anyway?

Me potentially breaking the lease is made easier by the fact that we haven't technically signed a contract with our new landlord,

I wouldn't rely on this - you did sign a contract, and it probably contained provision to change the landlord party without voiding the lease.
posted by jacalata at 4:24 PM on June 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

He's depressed (or in a rut, at least) and he's doing what he needs to do. All you've mentioned is how this affects you. I doubt it is easy for him and I doubt he wanted to move, so if you keep holding over his head how wrong he is or how he should be able to be happy staying, you'll just teach him that he can't talk to you without being judged, and you'll push him away. Have some compassion for you best friend who is going through some hard times as you try to work out the best way forward.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:47 PM on June 25, 2012

As an aside, I told Jim that he should no longer consider himself my friend. I think the way that he has played with his commitments (and I might add, not been particularly apologetic while doing so) is unacceptable. Given that he was willing to indefinitely live in a city he hated with a girl who ended up dumping him, I don't think it's unreasonable for him to live a year with someone who has been consistently pleasant and forthright in a town which is by all accounts a decent place to live.

You included this statement for a reason even if you say that it's an "aside." Personally, Jim seems like a good friend and an important person in your life. I realize that he put you in an uncomfortable and frustrating situation, but the circumstances could have been MUCH worse.

Is it unfortunate that you have to find new living arrangements? Absolutely. But, life is always changing and even if we agree to something, a better option might come along. A better option that might make us happier, this is why so many people are concerned about the FUTURE rather than the present.

It seems to me like this is how Jim might view things in his life. He seems to consider a variety of options with hope that he'll feel happier because of these options. In other words, he seems to be one of the "grass is greener" kind of people that you describe in your question which might explain why he has changed his mind often and played with his commitments as you say because he even told you that he wanted to improve the quality of his life.

This desire might also explain why he would be willing to move to a city that he doesn't like in order to live with his then-girlfriend, why he wants to now move to Mexico in order to get a teaching certificate, why he considered moving back to his hometown, or even why he wanted to move in with you in the first place.

Maybe it's worth cutting him some slack? It seems like he is unhappy and just trying to improve his life. It also seems like he thought living with you would have been a great decision at first which is why you two were so excited about getting a place together.

This is not the greatest situation to be in as of right now, but the good news is that many things in life can be changed including this particular situation. Good luck with whatever you decide to do. Hopefully things work out well for you.
posted by livinglearning at 4:51 PM on June 25, 2012

Given that he was willing to indefinitely live in a city he hated with a girl who ended up dumping him, I don't think it's unreasonable for him to live a year with someone who has been consistently pleasant and forthright in a town which is by all accounts a decent place to live.

I know you're salty, hurt, and annoyed (and I would be to) but thinking this way isn't helpful at all, and in fact just sounds childish.

You need to talk to your new management company first, anyway, and start going over your lease, which for all you know carries over to the new landlord. It really does nothing to say that Jim should do this and that when you don't know yet what this process will entail. And frankly, his legal and moral culpability are probably going to mismatch with yours anyway -- somebody who decides to break his leasing contract to move out of the country is probably not going to stick around to make sure you're okay with a new roommate or be willing to pay your moving expenses, etc. Especially since you've neatly put him in a position of not really having to salvage the situation since the friendship is now over.
posted by sm1tten at 4:57 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm guessing from all this that you and Jim are both in your early 20's, as are most of your perspective subletters in this college town.

Look, here's how this works.

College towns are for moving on from. Young twenty-somethings tend not to have the most stable lives. It sucks that your good friend is impulsive (and from what you wrote it sounds like you guys weren't so much besties as two people with stuff in common in a bad living situation who got wrapped up in some Grass Is Greener of your own).

But I don't think it's entirely fair that you've "dumped" Jim as your friend, and I think you're feeling way too put upon and sorry for yourself.

You've got an apartment that's a lot better than your previous apartment. You are currently in control of said apartment and have your pick of new roommates. That's pretty much as good as it gets in your early 20's in a flakey college town.

Find a roommate who is nominally acceptable. Someone you get along with, who you can stand to look at a couple times a day, and who is cool with your "alternative lifestyle". Make it work for a year or until you can find a better living situation. Spend this time looking for a better living situation.

Other ideas:

A) Can you even remotely afford to take the whole place yourself?

B) Could you potentially put the other bedroom in the short term rentals section of Craigslist or list it on Air B&B? Or maybe find an exchange student or some other shorter-term renter where you know in advance that they will be moving on?

C) Talk to your landlord. See whether it would be an option to find two new people who actually want to live together, if they would 100% commit to signing a lease, stat. Give those people your apartment and find a one bedroom.

D) In the long term, maybe looking into moving to a place where people your age are a bit more settled. It's not unusual for recent college grads to end up bouncing out of a college town. That's why they call them college towns and not Brooklyn or Hollywood.
posted by Sara C. at 4:57 PM on June 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes, find two new people to rent the apartment who want to live together and get out of that lease!

Jim pays all penalties for breaking the lease. This adventure shouldn't cost you a dime. (although it probably will cost you a little. Sorry.)

The rest does not matter.

Talk to your new landlord ASAP.
posted by jbenben at 6:10 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, it's okay to feel slighted. Possibly not worth ending your friendship over.

But I totally agree that you should find two new people to take over the lease-- if you live in a college town, there are probably people for whom a <1 year lease would be advantageous. Jim should pay all the penalties, but I don't know the best way to persuade him of that if it isn't already obvious to him.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:46 PM on June 25, 2012

Some day you may do this to someone else.

Things happen, things change, living for a whole year somewhere you don't want to be is a huge sacrifice. If you think about it carefully, I'm not sure it's one you'd want to ask a friend to make for you, or one you'd care to be indebted to a friend for.

Make it up with Jim if you can. Work out the costs of breaking the lease and ask him to cover all or most of them. Feel empowered to follow your own dreams, even when it inconveniences your friends.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:17 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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