Am I being unreasonable in this room mate situation?
November 3, 2012 2:47 PM   Subscribe

My room mate and I have had a falling out over my suggestion that I pay my rent directly to the homeowner, as she does, rather than to her.

My room mate and I have had a falling out over my suggestion that I pay my rent directly to the homeowner, as she does, rather than to her.

I moved in with my new room mate ("Mary") on August 17th and paid a prorated amount for the 17th through the end of the month.

The homeowner rents the place for $1000 and arranged, at Mary's request four years ago, to accept her rent on the 5th of each month, so when Mary initially moved in she paid her first month's rent + five days. She had a longterm room mate who also signed a lease. When the last lease ended last year, no new one was created. Mary's longterm room mate moved out in July.

I arranged to pay Mary $540 a month and I gave her the $200 deposit she suggested. We set my due date as the first of each month, with a grace period of 5 days. We signed a room mate agreement regarding this arrangement. I viewed her as my acting landlord and she also saw herself in that role. She set the amounts and the due dates and they worked for me, so I accepted. I understood that I was not paying for the full half of the utilities (gas $20, electricity (variable), basic cable (don't know that amount), although I'm paying for more than half the rent.

One of the reasons she said she was ok with the deposit and utilities arrangement was because she knew I was coming out of an emergency situation caused by my previous room mate, who was on the lease and had sublet to me (I was not on that lease). She stole my money rather than pay the rent, and lied to me about it. I was surprised by an eviction notice. Upon leaving, I lost some of my belongings along with the roof over my head.

After moving in with Mary, I found that she does not get along with any of her adjoining neighbors, and had complained to the homeowner that she would move out if the homeowner did not step in. In September the homeowner decided to create a new lease in order to have assurance about how long Mary (and I) would live there. We both signed a lease that begins on the 5th of each month and has a 5 day grace period. It ends on December 31st, at Mary's request, as she is not sure she wants to stay. Once I signed the lease, I saw my agreement as one between the landlord and myself, but out of habit I wrote October's check to Mary.

The first week of October Mary had family emergency and left the state for a week, taking my check with her. She never cashed it, and I received a text from her after a few days asking me to go to her bank to deposit a second check. Mary knows I have no car and that it would be a 2.5 mile walk to do this. There was no explanation, and I was unable to do it. She texted back that this was fine. Then I got a visit from the home owner's association (who picks up the checks) asking about the rent. I offered to write a check, but was told not to worry about it as they would deal with Mary, who I was informed has been late paying rent in the past.

At that point I decided it would be best for the upcoming months to pay my rent to the landlord directly rather than to my room mate so that neither of us has to be affected when the other has an emergency. When I saw the HOA person again before Mary returned I was assured that I was ok for the month.

When Mary returned, my check went uncashed for another week, although she gave me bogus dates on two occasions saying she was cashing it. Never did she explain what was going on, inform me of whether the rent had been paid, or even apologize. Since the HOA did not visit again I did not say anything, however, when Mary asked me for the November check, I informed her that since I have a lease I would be writing my check to the homeowner.

Here's my situation: Mary went ballistic. She instantly claimed that since I "want to go by the book":

1) I owe her $90 because my new lease begins on the 5th, which means I now get 5 free days of rent.
2) I owe her half of the $1250 deposit she's "invested" (she is adding interest, it appears), which, minus the $200 I initially gave her, means I owe her another $425.

and claims that

3) she is still in charge of the rent and
4) if she dies, her half of the deposit will unfairly go to me
5) I am being rude and disrespectful for disregarding the lowered deposit and the amount of rent she set up for me in August.

My responses have been:
-My agreement with Mary was for the first of every month, which I have paid. If anything, any free days I owe for would go to the homeowner, not Mary.
-Any deposit I pay would also go to the homeowner, who should collect my half ($300 since I gave Mary $200) and then return Mary's half to her, minus $200.
-Mary can have a lawyer help draft an agreement that should she die, her deposit goes to anyone of her choosing
-My desire to pay my rent to the landlord comes from personal experience and it makes sense to want a sense of security by having a lease and paying the landlord directly, just as she does.
-I am willing to pay half of the utilities every month.

Am I wrong in any of this? What is the right thing for me to do here to both protect myself and be fair to Mary? She was certainly nice to give me a break when I first moved in, but I don't think kindnesses should come with strings attached that require me to do what she wants for as long as I live there. Now that I have a lease and some sense of stability, I don't understand how we each benefit more by my giving $540 a month to Mary.
posted by Piscean to Law & Government (21 answers total)
I have no idea what any of this has to do with who you should make your rent check out to.

It sounds like you and Mary don't see eye to eye on a lot of important roommate type things, you don't like her on a personal level, and you should move out.
posted by Sara C. at 2:54 PM on November 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

She was certainly nice to give me a break when I first moved in.

No she wasn't. She saw an opportunity and took it. You've got a bad situation on your hands and I would suggest getting a lawyer immediately because you could get sued by a lot of different parties right now and you need someone with more knowledge of how to break this kind of thing down. In the future, it'll probably be best not to enter into any non-traditional lease agreements, particularly those where a tenant suddenly becomes your land-lord when they ought not to be.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:54 PM on November 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

If you have a direct agreement with the landlord, Mary has nothing to do with it anymore. Pay your share to the landlord directly, and work out a new utilities payment arrangement with Mary.

That said, Mary sounds a bit... "volatile". You may want to start looking for a more stable living arrangement regardless of how you handle the present situation.
posted by pla at 3:00 PM on November 3, 2012 [10 favorites]

At this point, it's two months; you're not going to get evicted in two months, unless the landlord has already started proceedings (well, I don't know where you are, so I could be wrong - but usually it takes longer than two months to evict someone). So I think you should do whatever causes you the least hassle and start looking now for a new place to move to on January 1. Because this is a bad situation and it's not going to turn into a good situation, whatever you do, and your roommate is going to continue to be a crazy person whether you write checks to her or to your landlord.
posted by mskyle at 3:00 PM on November 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Continue to pay your rent to the landlord.

The rest is too complicated and I do not understand it.

I would ignore EVERYTHING, consider the $200 gone, and start looking for a new place to live when the lease ends. Seriously.

Communicate with this Mary person as little as possible. Go by your lease with the landlord, since by my reading that is the contract in play.

Or consult a lawyer to cover yourself.

Stop with the dramaz. Just deal with your lease.

Pay half of the utilities until the lease ends and/or you move out.
posted by jbenben at 3:03 PM on November 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Am I wrong in any of this?

"Mary can have a lawyer help draft an agreement that should she die, her deposit goes to anyone of her choosing" probably added unnecessary fuel to the fire. When someone is being unreasonable, sometimes the best response is no response.

What is the right thing for me to do here to both protect myself and be fair to Mary?

1. Pay your half of the rent directly to the landlord.
2. Agree to pay for half of the utilities for November and December.
3. Don't put any additional money toward the deposit.
4. Don't expect to get the $200 deposit back, and don't bother asking for it. Consider any deposit money you do get back as a bonus.
5. Move out as soon as your lease is up.
posted by TheCavorter at 3:21 PM on November 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is way too complicated for AskMe. In my opinion, it's too messy to continue living with Mary any longer than you have to. However, the "beneficial" interest in Mary's deposit is hers, which means you'd be stealing it if you got it after she died, and her estate could pursue legal action. That's what the executor of an estate is supposed to do. The arrangement for who pays the deposit, and how much, is going to be in your lease, in your residential tenancy act or similar legislation, or it'll be determined by common law. Given that you've altered the arrangement, I have no idea how that would play out legally. Finally, the five days aren't rightly yours. You have a responsibility to make that right. Again, I have no idea what that looks like to the law in your jurisdiction, but it's not the scale or type of problem that should be adjudicated by lawyers anyway.
posted by smorange at 3:33 PM on November 3, 2012

4) if she dies, her half of the deposit will unfairly go to me

This person is a nutjob and you should flee.
posted by elizardbits at 4:32 PM on November 3, 2012 [35 favorites]

1. Yes, you owe Mary 5 days rent.
2. What to do about the deposit depends on whether your landlord is willing to be involved. The best outcome for you is that you tell her yes, you want to go by the book now, and pay the landlord half of the deposit. In that case, Mary owes you your $200 back and she can get the remainder back from the landlord. She has absolutely no right to add interest for you - the landlord should be paying her any interest directly. (Ohio Tenant Code requires this. )

If the landlord doesn't want to be involved then I would just tell her you didn't feel comfortable paying her a larger deposit because it wouldn't be protected by the Ohio Tenant Code.

You quite possibly are paying your equal half of rent+utilities: $60/month for electricity+basic cable is very feasible. She was nice in not requiring much of a deposit, but whatever. I'd actually suspect that her former roommate never got her half of the deposit back, meaning that Mary was getting extra deposit money from you.

claims that
3) she is still in charge of the rent

What do your new leases say? If Mary is responsible for the full rent and you are not, then she's got a point. If you are listed as responsible for your half of the rent, or (most likely) jointly responsible for the full rent, then she's wrong. Honestly, if the HOA comes by in person to collect the checks, then what you should be doing is both sticking your check to the fridge on the 1st of each month, then whoever is home when the HOA comes by hands it over. Anything else is suspiciously tricky - are you even sure that the rent is $1000 altogether?
posted by jacalata at 4:36 PM on November 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Tough break dude, you moved in with a psycho, happens to everyone once in a while - especially when you're desperate.

Whatever you decide to do with this mortarbomb of insanity, I can tell you from bitter experience, someone's gonna need to move out, and do it soon - probably when that lease ends.

Despite her threats, I think it's highly unlikely it will be her (psychos are generally quite wedded to their homes), unless the landlord dislikes her as much as everyone else does (possible, I suppose). Depending on the desirability of the place, you need to either a) Get the down-low from the landlord about the possibility of you staying on and Mary G'ing TFO, or b) start prepping to find a new place, without a psycho.

And for god's sake, never enter sublease arrangements without the most compelling of reasons. They are ten kinds of dodgy.

Best of luck, these things suck.
posted by smoke at 4:53 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pay her any rent owing, keep the status quo (keep paying her) until you find another place - which you should be actively doing now.
posted by the noob at 5:23 PM on November 3, 2012

I don't understand why you pay your rent to Mary instead of directly to the landlord. It seems to me that if you paid your rent directly to the landlord, you wouldn't be having any of these problems with Mary. You owe rent to the landlord, not Mary. Simplify the situation.
posted by Decani at 5:52 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's an interesting story about what can happen when you pay your roommate and not the landlord - a college friend of mine moved into a house in LA that had 4 bedrooms. There was one girl on the lease and all utilities but three other renters in the house, including said friend. About 10 months in or so she found out when the lease was to be renewed (and the three non-lease signing girls asked to be added to the lease) that the three of them had been paying for all the utilities and the entire rent. Essentially the first girl (the lease holder) was living completely free. You don't want to be my friend in this situation - pay the landlord directly for anything owed the landlord.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:56 PM on November 3, 2012

These are helpful answers. I should add that Mary made the 5th-of-the month arrangement with the landlord for herself. I think her lease should therefore allow her to leave on January 5th, while i can just leave on December 31st. I don't see how I have to pay for her 5 days if she decides to leave on 12/31.
posted by Piscean at 9:04 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think her lease should blah blah

Her lease and what you think it should say have absolutely no bearing on the situation. What does your lease say? It sounds like you have a lease that started on the 5th of September. Previous to signing the lease, you had an agreement to pay rent on the 1st of September. So from 1st through 5th September, you didn't pay anyone rent. Correct?
posted by jacalata at 1:05 AM on November 4, 2012

Regardless of whether five days of living were free here, the only person who ever gets money for that is the landlord, not Mary. Pay him, only him, and never Mary. Tell her that you'll not be giving her checks from here on out.

Cut the drama from your life and move out, as everyone else as said: the sanity to be preserved is your own.
posted by ellF at 5:15 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Jacalata: I had no lease upon move-in in August (it's all explained in the original post).
posted by Piscean at 6:25 AM on November 4, 2012

You have a lease until January. If it specifies how the rent will be paid, that's what you should do. If not, pay directly, telling Roomie that you have every respect for her, but feel that it's easiest and least complicated to pay directly.

If Roomie dies, runs away, or whatever, the deposit likely covers her share of rent while things are sorted out. (IANALawyer, but I used to be a Landlord) The deposit is an asset that would belong to her estate, but rent would still be due because her estate would be using the space until notice was given, and the space was cleaned out.

It's reasonable for her to ask for 1/2 the deposit, but not with interest, and you should give it to the landlord, and get a receipt, with the clear understanding that you will get it back from them if you leave and follow the rules when you do so.

Tell her if she wants rent for Aug. 1 - 5(540/31 = 17.42 * 5 = 87.10), you will require an agreement that you will receive a corresponding rebate for Dec. 1 - 5. This is pretty foolish, but it's 87 bucks at risk.

If my tenants were pulling this crap (and they did, in various ways), I'd tell them in no uncertain terms to get their act together. Rent is due, in full, on time. Tenants are expected to behave like civilized adults. You have till January to find more congenial living arrangements. Until then, be friendly, calm, polite, and don't put up with any crap. Being cheerful while you calmly show someone that you won't tolerate abuse is one of life's little pleasures/learning moments.
posted by theora55 at 8:01 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You never said what happened to your original check. Did Mary cash it or give it to the landlord or is it still unaccounted for? If it is still in Mary's possession, you need to take care of that situation first. If you have online banking, find out the status of that check ASAP; put a stop payment on the check right away if it hasn't been cashed. If this isn't possible, call the bank first thing Monday morning and have them put a stop payment on the check. After that, pay your landlord whatever you owe, secure your belongings, and start looking for a new place to live. Do not engage with Mary outside of paying her your half of the utilities. Move out at the earliest opportunity, and make sure you leave your room and the common areas spotless. Have the landlord do a walkthru and take pictures or video of everything the day you move out so that you have proof that things were in order before you left and can get your portion of the security deposit back. Good luck.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 9:23 AM on November 4, 2012

It sounds like the confusion about the 5 days is arising because you've got a lease for 3 months less 5 days (5 Sep to 31 Dec), but you've actually been in the property 3 months (ignoring the original sublease). Hence you need to pay 3 months less 5 days to the landlord and 5 days to Mary. Your rent due in advance to the landlord for December will amount to $450, and you will owe Mary $90.

Any way you look at this, you owe Mary $90.

And try not to get yourself in messes like this again, even if you are desperate! Best of luck with that..har har har.
posted by howfar at 3:21 PM on November 4, 2012

But shouldn't it be 4 days, actually? If your lease started on the 5th? Whatever, give her some money and ignore her. The lease is too short to worry about too much. Just fulfil your contractual obligations and leave.
posted by howfar at 3:31 PM on November 4, 2012

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