"I Want My Two (hundred) Dollars!"
November 11, 2012 3:39 PM   Subscribe

My roommate is sweet, but really, really flaky. I'm usually patient, but really, really nervous about missing bill payments. Help me figure out how far to escalate a frustrating situation, or whether I'm already pushing it.

"Regina" moved in a couple months ago, and she's very, very flaky -- but really really wants to do well. She offered to pay the security deposit in cash right away when I said she could be my roommate, two months before she even moved in (I told her to hold off, that'd be fine). She's always been on time with rent and utilities - up to this point. (Although it's only been a couple months.)

She had to leave town for work for a while - she left the middle of last month, and then will be back the first week of December. Initially we talked about me just having the place to myself and she'd pay me some money up front, but then she had a computer crap out and she got a subletter. However, she said she would pay me for the utilities before she left; then, she said she would have to wait and mail me a check from where she was working.

She CLAIMS to have done that. I waited a couple weeks and texted her that I never got it. I heard nothing. Sent her another text. Nothing. A week later I sent a third one and she finally responded, saying she'd send another check. Nothing. I waited another week, called and got her voicemail; texted her, emailed her. Nothing. I texted her offering to do this through Paypal. She only responded via text to say that where she is, the phone receptoin isn't good.

I texted her again to ask about what she thought about Paypal. She expressed surprise that I hadn't gotten either of the checks. I said no, I hadn't, can we do paypal? I would send her an invoice. She said okay.

I sent an invoice on Paypal on Wednesday. Nothing.

i texted her again today asking WTF, I was now down to only 20 bucks to live on for a week until I got paid. She said she would pay me today. Apologized. I re-sent the paypal invoice and texted her to let me know if she had any trouble. She said "ok."

No money yet, though. I have been floating her nearly two hundred dollars for the utilities for over a month now.

The reasons I haven't told her to fuck off already are:

* She really is just that spacey. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that she has been consistently just plain forgetting all this time.

* She may be having some monetary trouble that she's afraid to tell me about. Her job is in a creative field and money isn't always paid out on a timely basis. I would be understanding if she would just TELL me that; I'd get a loan for a week from a friend or something if that were the case.

* I can get a little over-wrought about money myself, and I'm never really sure whether something that I THINK is an emergency really IS an emergency. In the past, when someone's owed me money, I've sometimes turned into the paperboy from Better Off Dead about it.

But I'm stuck with a rent check about to bounce (I've told her that) and am not sure exactly what I should do here. What are the next steps to escalate this? If any?
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Human Relations (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, you gotta get firm here. Call her, and ask her outright if there's a financial emergency on her end that you need to know about. If she says there isn't one, say, "Okay, then I'm going to have to be honest with you. I'm going broke because I'm floating you money and being patient about the rent. I'm gonna wait on the phone while you transfer the rent and utilities to me right now. Please know that I want to be fair, but I can't continue to cover your share of the rent. If you are unable to keep paying your share, I'm going to have to ask you to move out so I can find another roommate who can. This is non-negotiable. I don't want to take you to small claims court, but as you're about to ruin my credit, I know you'll understand if that's what happens."

You've been good to her. She's not been good to you. Call her on it. You're in the right here.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 3:47 PM on November 11, 2012 [36 favorites]

She DID arrange for the rent by getting me a subletter, for the record...but you're right. I do know where she's staying and will call her at the hotel tomorrow night (so she can't duck me with the whole "the reception's not good where I am" thing; she is in the Catskills, and I've always had trouble there, so there is indeed some truth to that).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:49 PM on November 11, 2012

The flaky bit to me doesn't seem to be that she is just forgetting the fact that she's conveniently sending you checks that never arrive and now isn't responding to your paypal invoice - the flaky part sounds like she's got money problems you don't know about and is hoping the whole situation will just go away.

These Birds of a Feather is right, you have got to be direct with her and get an answer one way or another. Don't take any sob stories - a decent person who didn't have the money would have come clean with you when you said your rent check was going to bounce, and even a flaky person would have realized that was time to stop playing Manic Pixie Dream Girl and behave like an adult.

I'm so sorry about this - I get stressed about bills, too, and I don't think it's unreasonable to find this situation unacceptable.
posted by winna at 3:55 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know, I've had my share of flaky/spacey roommies over the years. Sometimes I had to nudge them a bit but they held it together enough to keep everyday life functioning. I'd be legitimately concerned, this isn't somebody you've known for years who has the occasional lapse, you've been living with her for a few months and she's already gone full-fledged AWOL and you're facing bouncing checks.

You should give her an ultimatum to fix this or come clean, or it's time to find somebody else. See if that wakes her up. In other words I think you're in the right to keep escalating this until you get a resolution.
posted by mannequito at 4:21 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

There being a strong chance that she doesn't actually have the money, I think you need a plan B for that about-to-bounce rent check.

Otherwise, I think you need to stop cutting her any slack at all. It doesn't sound like she's flaky so much as she's learned that lying about the check being in the mail can buy time when she's in a jam, with no negative consequences. That's got to change or she'll just keep doing it. That trick she's learned (lie to delay) has to stop working at all, ever. If you allow it to work without consequences even once in a while, you'll only reinforce it.
posted by jon1270 at 5:01 PM on November 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

she is in the Catskills, and I've always had trouble there, so there is indeed some truth to that).

Wait, what? I thought you were at least going to say she was in, like, rural Japan or wintering over in Antarctica or hiking in the former Eastern Bloc or some shit, which would explain the phone reception and the slow mail. She's shining you on because she doesn't have the money, unfortunately, so be prepared to not be able to get her on the phone even when you call the hotel or for her to have a convoluted story about where or when she can get the money to you. If I were you, I would flat-out tell her that she needs to borrow from someone or get an advance on her paycheck, but I'm pretty confrontational about money.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:04 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is Regina on the lease? If not, I'd have a "come to Jesus" talk with her about the necessity of paying her share of the rent and bills in order to remain your roommate. If she's "sweet," she probably has gotten by on that, and not just with you - because who wants to lean on a dear, sweet person too hard? Well, that doesn't pay the rent. And being confronted with the possibility of losing her living situation might be a wake-up call for her.

Get firm about the need for her to cough up the cash, immediately. Then make it clear that she can't continue to be your roommate if she keeps with her Manic Pixie Dream Girl ways.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:18 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's likely not just a matter of forgetting to send you the money, but of maybe not having the money because of other flakey decisions, and being afraid to admit this - because there are only so many free passes for being a flake, and rightly so. None of that should be your problem.

Whatever you do with her, I'd start looking for another way to get the cash you need. It really does sound like she doesn't have the money and doesn't want to tell you that, or is hoping she can hold you off until *she* gets some funds.

*If* she comes through you can always return the loan, but if she doesn't you are going to be in the difficult spot of needing the money yesterday and having to ask someone to hand over a loan with very little notice.

Take care of yourself first.
posted by bunderful at 5:20 PM on November 11, 2012

Did she pay the security deposit to you directly? Can you take utility money from that? Is there a reason the subletter isn't paying utilities?
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 5:21 PM on November 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

The subletter is going to pay utilities for THIS month. We're waiting on Regina to pay the utilities for LAST month.

Regina paid the security deposit to the roommate who moved out (it's just how I've set things up here; whichever new roommate comes in reimburses the security deposit of the roommate moving out).

Honestly, I do have savings enough to more than cover me, but I wasn't gonna tell Regina that part.....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:26 PM on November 11, 2012

You don't have to justify your position by saying that you're down to your last dollar. What she's doing is screwed up regardless of what your financial situation is.

Just modify the original nice script i.e.
"Okay, then I'm going to have to be honest with you. I'm floating you money and being patient about the rent. I'm gonna wait on the phone while you transfer the rent and utilities to me right now. Please know that I want to be fair, but I can't continue to cover your share of the rent. If you are unable to keep paying your share, I'm going to have to ask you to move out so I can find another roommate who can. This is non-negotiable. I don't want to take you to small claims court, so let's get this straightened out now and move on."

And then assuming she comes through with the money and you want to give her another chance, it seems to me you ought to get her name on the lease so that she is officially, name-on-the-dotted-line, on the hook for her rent and utilities - you really won't have much legal recourse if anything funny happens financially with her in the future otherwise. If you can't do this I think you need to find a new roommate who you can trust.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:54 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm actually on the phone with her now. She is in the process of paypalling me the money.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:08 PM on November 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Although the problems she"s having certainly underscore the "flaky" bit. And it sounds like the internet connection is s-l-o-w.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:15 PM on November 11, 2012

More like her willingness to part with her money is slow. Don't back down! Good luck.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:39 PM on November 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

In essence she is your business partner. Who wants this much grief from a business partner? You should either separate yourself from this person as fast as you can, or congratulate yourself for choosing to be business partners with a person who has no care in the world about screwing you over. This will happen again, frequently. Guaranteed. Come back to this letter in 9 months and see if this is not so.
posted by jcworth at 7:17 PM on November 11, 2012

Hmm. I've actually had a couple of crazy-slow letter issues lately. If she actually WAS telling the truth about two mailed checks not arriving, that might explain why she was slow about paypal, having done her part more than once.
posted by salvia at 10:05 PM on November 11, 2012

Are you sure she's not pulling some sort of scam here? This is amazing amounts of fishy going on and if you actually get any money today I may keel over on my couch.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:06 PM on November 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Just give her notice and get a new roommate; this kind of bullshit is going to be constant for you for the remainder of her tenancy.
posted by elizardbits at 7:11 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have to agree with elizardbits, I really don't believe Regina is well-intentioned. This level of "flakiness" can't possibly be real.

There is a type of person who just tee hee! Lol!!!1!!! I am so disorganized! It is super cute!!! - often, they're petite females; sometimes they appear in the guise of Man Who Seems Like An Alpha Male In Public But Reveals His Charmingly Vulnerable Side Just For You. These people become overtly grotesque after the age of 35 at the latest, but it never seems to stop them.

You will be doing Regina a favour if you tell her in no uncertain terms to cut the crap because this "flakiness" is not "sweet" in an adult woman.
posted by tel3path at 7:17 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is a type of person who just tee hee! Lol!!!1!!! I am so disorganized! It is super cute!!! - often, they're petite females; sometimes they appear in the guise of Man Who Seems Like An Alpha Male In Public But Reveals His Charmingly Vulnerable Side Just For You. These people become overtly grotesque after the age of 35 at the latest, but it never seems to stop them.

See, she's 26. So I'm inclined to think this is part of it. We did have a talk about how to mend fences, and I told her that honestly, the lack of communication was a bigger deal to me than the money. She also admitted that she hadn't gotten paid herself until just yesterday, and for a lot of this time was just hoping that "maybe tomorrow I'll get paid and then it won't be an issue any more" but it just dragged on, and I reiterated that, again, if she had TOLD me that rather than just ducking me I would have been a lot less nervous.

She has resolved to work on communication. And going forward, the next time she goes out of town, I am going to be requiring her to pay me any upcoming things she may owe me before she leaves.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:26 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

She's already lied to you three times about money, knowing full well that you had no other recourse but to wait for her to get her shit together! What are you going to do to actually "require" her to give you money before she leaves next time? Just because she is acting like your irresponsible teenage child doesn't mean you can actually dock her allowance or ground her. The only things you have the power to do are 01) let her continue to walk all over you or 02) kick her out.
posted by elizardbits at 7:38 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Because this actually IS an anomaly, elizardbits. It's a HELL of an anomaly, but it is an anomaly. When she's IN town, she is prompt and timely.

Mind you, if this happens again I'm gonna kick her out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:41 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

26 is waaay too old to be pulling this song and dance. As Tel3path points out, Manic Pixie Dream Girls and Guys are not so cute once they are past a certain age (and for me that age is 25 or so). Workplaces, SO's and roommates alike have little patience with aging MPDGs.

So it's very good that you are talking to her about this. I would also tell her that if she has money problems that might potentially impact her paying her share, she absolutely must tell you the truth ASAP. As a roommate, I'd rather hear the truth ("I might have some cash flow problems, so brace yourself. I will find the cash as soon as possible and promise that this will not be a regular occurrence") than hear a bunch of "The check is in the mail" excuses.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:27 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have nothing to say besides the fact that maybe she DID send you the check and maybe ole Sandy is still fucking with they mail, if you're in Brooklyn as your profile says. I'm in Philadelphia and some of my mail is all jacked that is routed through the NYC area.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 5:02 PM on November 12, 2012

I was also inclined to think that the storm was fucking around with the mail. I still am.

However, things are still fucked insofar as the paypal thing goes. She called me back with a song-and-dance on Sunday night about her bank not yet releasing the funds from when she got paid, so she said she'd pay me Monday. And then Monday night she texted me "just got back to the hotel - paying you tonight!" But I don't see anything in Paypal reflecting that she actually DID pay me last night

I am waiting one more day to see if her payment hits paypal. And then if I see nothing by tomorrow, I am faxing a note to the hotel (faxing so she can't say she never got the text) telling her that my rent check was overdrawn (it isn't) and that the bank has charged me $30 in overdraft funds (it hasn't) and that therefore I now expect a check for the orignal amount, plus the bank fee, to be FedExed to my business by Friday. I will refuse any further contact with her until she returns in the first week of December, saying that we need to discuss this in person.

I am loath to kick her out outright in December because that's a hell of a time to find a new roommate, what with Christmas and holiday plans throwing everything out of wack. But - I will point out to her - this gives her one month to SERIOUSLY shape up, or else in January I WILL be asking her to make arrangements to move out and start making my own arrangements to find another roommate.

During our talk she did make a play to my sympathy that she was working 18-hour days where she was. I held my tongue - but if she makes that play again, I will make it very clear that I was also working 18 hour days when I was her age and still managed to make all my bill payments, so she really needs to cut the crap.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:22 AM on November 13, 2012

Ugh. It sounds like Flaky, not Sandy, is to blame if Regina isn't PayPal-ing you the money and is coming up with one excuse after another.

Frankly, I think if she's working 18-hour days she ought to be able to afford rent unless she's working minimum wage and you are in a very expensive city. Still, a mature person learns to prioritize things like rent first of all. When I was broke as a joke, rent and utilities (and any pets) were my FIRST priority. (ETA: Just checked your location - you ARE in an expensive city. But that's how people in entry-level or day jobs pay the rent, by having roommates. My point stands that Regina ought not to be poor-mouthing, as she IS employed.)

I think you did the right thing - both by asking for PayPal and then by having a serious talk with Regina about how her late payments are not acceptable. She's on notice now and has no excuse not to whine about being kicked out if she continues with her Sweet But Flaky routine. (And she'll know that puppy eyes don't pay the rent or bills; maybe she'll start mending her ways.)

Can you arrange for any future rent from Regina or anyone else to be sent via PayPal? I have been in the position of being very busy to the point where if I had to pay all my bills by paper check and snail mail, some might have been overlooked. My last rental was in a large corporate complex where they offered the option of automatic payments during the last year of my stay (finally!) so I could arrange for the rent to be paid automatically on the first of the month. All my other bills are on auto-pay (except for my acupuncturist who only takes checks at this time...bah!). It would be so easy to have all roommates PayPal you the money from now on.

Meanwhile, you handled the situation really well! Good for you!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:33 AM on November 13, 2012

For the record - Regina's not flaking on rent, but on utilities. It's just that I have things budgeted so close to the bone that the 200 I've been floating her for utilities is making me 200 short on my own account.

My landlord hasn't even cashed the rent check, and I do have a way to cover it if he does in the next couple days, so I am in effect lying to her. But I am comfortable chalking it up to being a "stress and hassle" charge in my own head.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:54 AM on November 13, 2012

(Fortunately, this is about the time that the subletter should be ponying up for the utilities for this month, so I can also cover things partway that way too. He's been paying for things right away and in cash, so that's awesome.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:29 AM on November 13, 2012

Ugh, this sounds annoying. I'd be wary about fibbing about the overdraft. It sounds like there's already a bit of a parent-child element to your relationship and saying you overdrafted when you didn't isn't going to help. Maybe just say that it caused you to miss other financial obligations?

For the future, could you ask her for a utilities deposit? Make it equal to her share of one month's utilities and be clear that it's part of her security deposit and that she won't get it back until she moves out, ie so she can't just be "oh well I'll be late this month so just use the deposit teehee"

All that may be too much work, when the crux of the matter is, will you be able to trust that you'll get rent/utilities on time the next time she leaves town? If you can't, I think you'd be perfectly justified in asking her to leave by the end of January say.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 5:52 PM on November 13, 2012


Well, I did get overdrawn. I avoided the fee by making an emergency withdrawl from my credit card. And she called to say that whoops, sorry, she'd fallen asleep right when she got back to the hotel, but tonight she was going to -

And I told her that I'd been overdrawn and been charged a fee (I didn't, but would have been, and frankly I DON'T CARE if it's a white lie by this point) and she needed to fix this pronto. And when she started in with another apology I basically told her to stuff it, that wasn't going to help. And when she started in with a temper tantrum I just waited until she was done and then said "so you'll take care of that now? thaaaaaaanks."

Mind you, there then was an issue with paypal. BUT. This time she called to tell me that right away, AND then added "so here's what I propose instead." And she found a Western union where she was, and told me she was on her way there to get the money there THAT way. And - fifteen minutes later, there was a note from Western union that I had money waiting for me, along with a screenshot from her computer emailed to me proving she'd sent it.

At the heart of all of this - I see myself when I was younger. Whenever I screwed something up I was ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIED and tried to explain just how HORRIFIED and SORRY and EMBARRASSED I was, but it took me a long time to learn that people don't want to hear that unless they also see you at the same time actually taking action to FIX it. She's still in the process of learning that.

But she took some giant steps towards finally getting to "okay, fuck the apologies, let's figure out a workable solution". We're talking about having her pay me via bank transfers for everything from now on (that's her idea). But I got the money, I'm going to be giving her another bit of a come-to-jesus when she's back in town, and....I'm going to stay the course, but with caution, as I think there may have been a bit of a breakthrough there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:45 PM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Went to Western Union last night. Received money.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:14 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

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