How to exit gracefully from an unworkable & unaffordable living situation?
July 21, 2012 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Back in May I cosigned a lease for an apartment with a friend of a friend running from July to July. Thanks to changing circumstances since then, I can't afford it and I have no choice but to get out of the whole arrangement by September, before university starts back up again. The province I'm in has extremely pro-tenant rental laws, so transferring the lease will not be a problem. What concerns me is dropping this bomb on the cosigner, who is 4000 km away until, well, just when I'd have to leave. Since we were introduced in April for the purposes of being roommates, he's also shown himself to be far more naive than he appears when it comes to stuff like this. But I've also committed a huge error in judgement by signing for this place, and I feel guilty for helping to convince him. I've accepted I'll have to burn more than one bridge. But I'm way too overwhelmed by the hundreds of responsibilities have piled up on my shoulders, and need to tell him very soon. How do I make this as quick, painless and guilt-free as is possible? More on the "changing circumstances" inside: read just the bold bits if you're short on time.

Things have been going very poorly for me ever since the summer started. I landed a well-paying job right after the term ended (a cook at a swanky hotel), where everything went really well for a while. A matter of days after the landlord did the pre-signing reference check, I was switched to a different boss and fired by him soon after because he said I didn't speak French (the workplace's language) well enough. The work I've found in the two months since has been sporadic, temporary and at or below minimum wage. I haven't told the landlord this, which is a huge failure on my part. I can make rent but not do much else.

This is a problem because I also have debt and bad credit to deal with. I owe several thousand on a defaulted credit card from a couple years ago, and almost two grand to the electric company thanks to past roommates who skipped town without paying their fair share. This weighs on my conscience constantly, and has been a major factor in feeding some pretty serious depression and anxiety issues that are ever-present and hold me back from a more active social life, or any dating at all. Since I moved in here a month ago, I noticed my old habits of shutting myself up in my room and self-medicating with booze and drugs are returning. Summer is really the only time I can make progress on debt thanks to the demands of school, and on that count I'm worse off than I was at this time last year.

The cosigner was originally supposed to be here to help me move in and find furnishings, set everything up, etc, but he bounced not even a week after he signed the lease. We split the cost of essentials 50/50, and he paid his share quickly, but I was the one who did all the actual work: tracking down appliances on craigslist, arranging movers, going around town to find free furniture, etc. My monetary investment in the place has been equivalent to about a month's worth of rent.

Everyone involved has demonstrated their naivete. I made a colossal error of judgement by signing in the first place and demonstrating wishful thinking about what sort of money I'd have coming in and my ability to handle stuff like bills. The cosigner is only 20 (I'm 23) and has only lived with roommates for a year (which I didn't find out until later). He also dumped a shitload of work and responsibility onto my plate, the cherry on top being having to find a subletter for his room and paying a portion of their rent to reduce the price to an acceptable "last minute" level. This seems motivated by inexperience and confusion rather than a desire to take advantage of me, but I don't know him well enough to make that call.

So basically I'm tied up in knots wondering how I go about doing all this? My first step is to tell him, but he's been almost impossible to reach since his girlfriend travelled out to his current location last week. We talked on the phone briefly a few days ago and I tried to drop as many hints as I could that I was having cash flow problems, but I don't think they registered. When I drop the bomb it's going to have to be over the phone as well, which I hate doing, but I guess has to be done.

First of all I wonder what is it that I owe him, aside from timely notice and finding someone to transfer the lease to? If I continue to have the bills half in my name for a few months after I move out and pay them out of my chequing account, am I being a pushover? What I am about to do is a huge dick move, and I feel like shit for it, but my back's against the wall.

I've accepted that the days/weeks of work I put in finding stuff for the place will be for naught. I don't care about most of the furnishings and stuff, because I got them for free anyways, but is it too much to wonder if I can find some way to get my share of the apartment-related costs back? There are no security deposits in Quebec.

I've talked to a few good friends about this, and the consensus was that I should cut and run, rent a cheap room in a cheap area, and try to save up as much as possible. I'm inclined to agree with them. The friend who introduced me to the cosigner lives around the corner, but I haven't seen hide nor hair of her for almost a month.

I fucked up pretty catastrophically and am in way over my head, and although I know this problem is more manageable than it seems, it just doesn't seem that way now and everything is just far too overwhelming. How do I begin to pull myself out of this mess I've created?
posted by denmarkstreet to Human Relations (6 answers total)
Take a deep breath.

Are you on reddit? The people on /r/montreal may be of more immediate assistance than mefi just because we're closer.

If the landlord is a human, go to him and explain. You're giving him plenty of notice to find new tenants for the September school year. No, he isn't obliged to break the lease for you, but some landlords will choose new tenants who can pay over someone who can't pay.

You may be able to locate new tenants yourself by advertising on craigslist. The benefit to this is that if you bought decent appliances you may be able to sell them on to the new people.

If you're a student, you may have the right to health care from your university. Find out if they have counselling services and go download some of this onto someone else. You need to do some of that rather than exclusively staying in alone, plus they may have assistance to offer you in organizing your financial affairs also, who knows.
posted by zadcat at 2:34 PM on July 21, 2012

Oh yes, and what with Bill 78, some students will be restarting their winter term in August because of interruptions caused by mass student protests back in the spring. So you may be able to find someone for the apartment even before September.

Although you know, go down to Berri square Sunday at 2. Pin on a red square and do a bit of shouting. I think it might be good for you and you may make friends.
posted by zadcat at 2:36 PM on July 21, 2012

I know this feels like a huge problem, but it's really not. You're going to feel much better when you tell people.

Today, talk with the landlord. Tell them that you lost your job, and you cannot afford the lease. Do they know someone who might take over the lease for you? What costs are associated with breaking your lease?

Today, talk with your roommate. Do not call him naive. Tell him the same thing -- you lost your job and you cannot afford the lease. Tell him that you've been partially funding the subletter, and spent X hours running around town getting all the freebie stuff. Does he know someone who could take over your room? Tell him you are already talking with the landlord, the subletter, and the friend to help find a substitute. Beyond that, would he be willing to trade the task of finding someone to take over your room for the X hours you spent running around town and getting his place set up for him?

Today, talk with the subletter. They probably noticed that you lost your job. Tell them you cannot afford the lease. Do they know someone who could take over your room?

As soon as possible, talk with the friend who introduced you to the roommate. Do they know someone?

This is going to be ok, but you must communicate with the people who will be financially hurt by this and the people who might have a solution for you -- right now. Time is of the essence.

As soon as you get a resolution to this problem, write it all up in a letter and send it to your landlord and your roommate, and the person who will be taking over your part of the lease. Do this by certified mail (mail that requires a signature when it is delivered).
posted by Houstonian at 2:40 PM on July 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

i don't have much to add except:

If I continue to have the bills half in my name for a few months after I move out and pay them out of my chequing account, am I being a pushover?

i wouldn't have my name on the bills, and certainly not paying them, if i was not living there. if whoever is living there wants electricity and water they can pay for it themselves. if your friend wants to still live in the apartment in the fall he can get them transferred into his name at that time.
posted by cupcake1337 at 3:35 PM on July 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

. He also dumped a shitload of work and responsibility onto my plate, the cherry on top being having to find a subletter for his room and paying a portion of their rent to reduce the price to an acceptable "last minute" level. This seems motivated by inexperience and confusion rather than a desire to take advantage of me, but I don't know him well enough to make that call.

Whoa. Your roommate isn't even covering his half of the rent? I don't care what motivates that, he's screwing you over. I would call him right now and say you can't afford to subsidise his subletter and you need him to send you a cheque for the shortfall. It should absolutely have been his responsibility to both find the subletter and cover any difference.

Given how useless he is, I think you would be completely covering your obligations to find a replacement for yourself and tell him you will be available for an hour or so to help transfer the bills into his name/your replacement tenants name some time before September, or cancel them all on September 1. Feel free to take any appliances or furnishing with you to your new place.

I'm not quite sure what the 'apartment related costs' are: furniture you bought, utilities bills or deposits, etc? That will affect whether you are likely to get anything from him for it. I would be tempted to wait for a cash payment covering both this and the subletter subsidy before letting him know you were leaving, because I think he'd be more likely to pay. Or leave the August bills for him to cover or something (with sufficient notice) if that would square you up.

Overall, if you find a replacement tenant who is not a psycopath, he is almost entirely unaffected by the whole thing, so dont blow it up into 'a huge bomb' or worry that you're fucking him over. He's still going to have the apartment at the same rent and be living with someone he doesn't know. No big deal,and definitely not a dick move - stop beating yourself up.
posted by jacalata at 8:06 PM on July 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

This kind of situation is totally normal in college, don't sweat it. You've already been a more than great roommate and as long as you find someone reasonably acceptable to take your room you're not burning any bridges. Don't sweat it, stuff like this happens all the time in real life and you don't even know this guy.

But you can and should ask him to reimburse you for any funds expended on furniture etc or just sell your stuff or take it with you. Right now it's all your stuff, If I were your roomate-to-be I'd be MORE than happy to kick several hundred dollars your way to arrive at a fully furnished apartment. He may be too young to know that but that's his problem, not yours. Also make sure you get any money for deposits etc back form them now, not when they move out.

Breathe! You're not doing anything a million other college kids haven't done before you and so far you've been more than reasonable.
posted by fshgrl at 8:14 PM on July 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

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