How to solve problems with roommate's cat--and roommate himself?
July 24, 2013 9:38 PM   Subscribe

My roommate has a problem cat. The cat pees where she shouldn't pee, has created $400 in vet bills in one of my cats, and continues to fight with aforementioned cats. The problem: my roommate won't actually do anything about any of this. Now what?

I made the mistake of not asking somebody's age before I chose a roommate from Craigslist and let a 21-year-old guy move in with me (I'm in my late 20s). He seemed nice enough. He had a cat, I have two cats. He said his cat would get along with other cats. I'm dumb at selecting roommates, lesson learned.

Basically, this guy is terrifically irresponsible. It goes beyond the cat, but the cat is the main issue because she's draining me financially. Ruby's beautiful, funny, a diva, and difficult. When he first moved in, he didn't bring a litterbox or food for her, then he disappeared to his boyfriend's for three days without saying anything. I provided these collars to help the cats get along, I provided her with food, and my cats' litterboxes were available. Because she was still adjusting she didn't initially want to use their litterboxes and peed everywhere. Though I'd asked him multiple times prior to do so it took him two weeks to finally get her a litterbox and litter of her own. The impetus was me coming back from a trip and finding she'd peed all over my room. After she had her own box the peeing issues stopped. In the meantime, on top of the litter, food, and calming collars, I also spent a bunch of money on cat-urine cleaning products.

Things have been OK for a while, but two weekends ago I came back from another trip and my male cat, Anatoli, had an infected eye. I took him to the vet and he'd been scratched. I am 99.5% positive it was his cat. My cats' claws were freshly trimmed. My foster cat's claws were freshly trimmed. Ruby was not trimmed, as she wouldn't let me touch her paws (roommate, of course, has never tried to trim her claws). Also, Anatoli and Ruby suddenly hate each other, when prior even from Day 1 they'd got along better than Ruby and any of the other cats. Ruby has also started to pee in my room again. My theory is this is some kind of territorial thing to get back at Anatoli, as my room is generally the favored cat hangout spot.

The vet bills are pushing $400 and likely to go higher. I have to spend more money on cat urine cleaning products. I can't leave my door open because Ruby will pee in here. I requested my roommate trim her claws and he's made a halfhearted attempt and given up. I asked for help paying the vet bills and he initially claimed his cat didn't do anything. He finally agreed to help pay when he gets paid next week, but his promise was not convincing. Tonight I found Anatoli and Ruby fighting again, and I'm worried about her clawing his face a second time--his eye hasn't even fully healed yet. I'm not sure if I should just pay for a groomer to trim the claws myself or what. Paying a groomer will also involve a time investment and paying for transportation, as I don't have a car. If I do this, it's not like I can force him to pay me back. But I also don't want to incur more vet bills that he will potentially not repay to me.

Right now I do the bulk of the cat work and apartment care. Up until now I have taken the "If you want something done, do it yourself" stance, but I can't keep throwing money at issues caused by his cat and feel I need to draw a line. However, I am having a lot of trouble constructively engaging him and end up feeling like a nagging mother. Our discussions involve a lot of passive-aggressive "Um-hmms" from him while he plays games on his phone instead of looking at me.

I guess I am looking for strategies here. I need help on how to talk to my roommate, how to get the cats to stop fighting, and how to get his cat to stop peeing in my room.

Things that are not options:
- moving to a new apartment
- kicking him out (presumably, we're each on separate leases)
- sequestering the cats until the lease ends in 10 months
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total)
No offense, but I only read the first paragraph of your question; this is a no-brainer. You need to find out what's on your lease exactly. No presuming here. Kick him out if at all possible.
posted by Specklet at 9:45 PM on July 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

Who holds the leases?

I would send a letter to both the landlord and roommate detailing the expenses and provide receipts. Also in this letter, spell out for your ignorant roommate EXACTLY what type of pet care is required - food, litter box schedule, grooming, etc..

His cat might also be peeing on your rug because her box is dirty. Check on that.

Put your roommate on notice you have 10 more months together and his bullshit is unacceptable and changes today.

Say it nicely, but say it in writing.
posted by jbenben at 9:49 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree it's definitely worth looking into whether you can kick him out. This is going to be the tip of the iceberg, from the sounds of things.

I think you should go to your landlord. Most landlords have very strong feelings about cat urine, because it has such a strong odor that it can mess up a carpet in a serious way. Your landlord has leverage on your roommate (unlike you), and can hopefully get him to take his pet ownership seriously. If you're feeling charitable, warn your roommate: "This peeing on the rug thing is a real problem. I'm going to have to talk to the landlord about it unless you can make it stop by the end of this week." But personally I think you've given him a chance, and if he gets annoyed at you for going over his head, your response is that he should have listened when you were talking to him about it.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:50 PM on July 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

how to get the cats to stop fighting

This may frankly be impossible.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:51 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with the above. Find out what exactly the terms of your lease are and see if you can kick your roommate out. It would help if you've kept a written record of these events (including receipts for the vet and the cleaning products) so you can give a detailed account of what's been going on. Go to your landlord with an explanation similar to what you've given us.

If you can't kick your roommate out, you definitely need to let him know that all of this has been unacceptable and explain why. He seems like he's pretty much unaware of what keeping a cat entails, so you'll have to explain all of the extra work you've had to do because of his laziness and ignorance.

If you can't kick him out, remind him that you have 10 months left in the same apartment, and tell him that you'd prefer keep things pleasant than bitter and confrontational because of the problems this cat has been causing.
posted by jdgreen at 9:57 PM on July 24, 2013

"You're not mature enough to own a cat. Let me help you rehome Ruby so both she, and we, are much happier."
posted by fatbird at 9:58 PM on July 24, 2013 [9 favorites]

Nah, fuck talking to him at this point. You've done that. Go directly to the landlord. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

You'll probably never recover those bills, and its better to just look at it as a lesson than go through the stress of trying to take him to small claims or something. These kinds of debts are almost never worth the hassle and turbo-drama.

Focus on kicking him out. This all sounds like baby's first apartment bullshit. I've lived with multiple useless guys like this and it will only get worse. I've toughed it out much longer than you have and it becomes a year of hell/trail of destruction type situation.

You will not be able to make this person change. And it shouldn't be your job anyways, but even if you wanted to you just can't. Get him out before your cat is dead or seriously injured either because of some petty shit or some dumb revenge plot, or a bunch of your stuff is stolen or destroyed. This is the signpost at the beginning of a dark road, which will involve a lot of you playing mommy and dealing with shit you shouldn't even have to think about.
posted by emptythought at 10:00 PM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Tell him to get the hell out. Now. Him leaving is an option.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:02 PM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Lock the cat in his room. Be nice enough to bring the litter box in there and some food and water, then close the door and walk away.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:06 PM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Will his boyfriend take the cat?
posted by Diablevert at 10:07 PM on July 24, 2013

"When I agreed to let you be my roommate, I did so because you led me to believe you were mature enough to be one. You aren't. You have Xhrs to find a new place to live before I have the landlord forcibly evict you for allowing your cat to damage the property and before I call the local animal abuse hotline because you can't take care of your cat in general. This is nonnegotiable. Get moving."
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:08 PM on July 24, 2013 [9 favorites]

This is a very temporary solution, but what about Softpaws? (for Ruby). If a cat's not used to having their paws handled it's still tough, but it's easier to put on the Softpaws than to trim nails.

Softpaws is kind of a rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic solution here, but all the same just throwing it out there as something that might help keep your kitty from getting hurt.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:11 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If someone had sat me down and forced me to rehome the cat I couldn't really take care of in my early twenties, a lot of things would have gone better both for me and my poor cat. How is this guy as a roommate apart from the cat? If you're lumping everything on the cat because it's an easy thing to focus on, that's one thing. But if he's otherwise good to live with, and just can't handle pet ownership right now, that's maybe another. You have to decide whether it's worth the emotional investment that sort of thing would cost, though, compared to the financial cost of finding a new roomie, or continuing to pay for cat bills.
posted by Mizu at 10:25 PM on July 24, 2013

how to get the cats to stop fighting

Feliway works for a lot of cats, mine included. Sorry, it's not cheap. I've found that buying it online, on sale, in bulk, can save me about $5-$10 per refill compared to buying it in a store. Might help with the peeing too.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:00 PM on July 24, 2013

+1 to finding out the terms of the lease and trying to kick him out if possible. I have been in a very similar situation - my roommate's cat had serious hairball and worm issues and she wouldn't take care of him - and I ended up kicking her out. With an immature person who cares more about video games and texting than a living creature, discussing things just goes in one ear and out the other.

Good luck!
posted by sarahgrace at 11:00 PM on July 24, 2013

The word "squalor" applies here, with the urine problem, and you might be able to convince him that he's a disgusting dirtbag on his way to being on "Hoarders" and the time is now to give a shit about changing course, and that you may need to report him to animal control or the police for neglect, you may need to contact the landlord to clarify whether the claws should be trimmed as part of the lease especially in light of the liability of this cat to be injurious to others and property, and whether constant urine spraying is the least bit tolerable for either your living situation or his property. You may need to talk to all of his friends (at least the ones you might run into and chat with or just politely nod towards before going to your room) about how dire the situation really is. It is squalor, which is hopefully a word that you can make resonate with your roommate and anyone else who needs to hear it. It's like a hostile work environment except you live there.

The infected eye thing is another major red "squalor" flag and reminds me of an early twenties living situation of my own, where one roommate was kind of neglecting his cat and finally had her put to sleep after much responsible-23-year-old pressure from myself for him to take her to a vet. I didn't insist on her being put down or anything specifically, but she was oozing pus and extremely old and needed medical attention and we both knew that would be the likely outcome. And he was the good roommate.

Sequestering the pets might end up being necessary if you have to get the landlord involved and need to prove that your cats aren't part of the problem. But having to put up with cat urine at all on a regular basis is grounds for serious action. Can't think of a way to keep them fighting; your cat might run away from home forever as my first one did after he was scratched near the eye by a foreign invader (otherwise friendly abandoned stray we were fostering) at the first opportunity a few days later.

That was prior to the bachelor situation and I haven't experienced exactly what you're experiencing but I have been the more grown-up twenty-something of the household and have a keen sense of how bad this has to be.
posted by lordaych at 11:48 PM on July 24, 2013

In other words this is like a rock bottom of being a roommate, and dealing with it will be uncomfortable and full of fear of retaliation and it totally sucks, and you may be able to verbally convince him by having a clear plan that you intend to follow through but are willing to discuss beforehand.
posted by lordaych at 11:51 PM on July 24, 2013

If the cat is peeing outside of it's litterbox you need to involve the landlord. Full stop.

You do NOT want the damages taken out of YOUR SECURITY DEPOSIT.

Put it in writing. Email is legal under the law (at least in the US.)
posted by jbenben at 11:58 PM on July 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

Who do you think the landlord will kick out here? The nearly 30 year old, responsible and clean person? Or the flaky irresponsible college student who can't be arsed to get his indoor cat a litterbox!!!! Forreals. I would really be surprised if the landlord didn't want this guy gone too after hearing the situation.
posted by cairdeas at 12:20 AM on July 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would either make him rehome the cat, have him take him to his boyfriend's house whenever he goes there, & keep kitty sequestered in his room when he isn't home. Also speak with the landlord, but be careful. I don't know what kind of person they are, but they could say that all the cats have to go or start charging extra for excessive feline-ness.
posted by MayNicholas at 3:50 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would buy a nice cage that requires a key to unlock and put the cat in it. Tell him he can have the key when he both pays you back for your expenses so far and gets everything set up as required. If he doesn't do so in X time, take the cat to a shelter. (where X is, say, his next pay check). Obviously you have to care for the cat while he's in your cage. I have no idea about the legality of this.
posted by jacalata at 4:31 AM on July 25, 2013

Response by poster: Eviction is not a possibility. I live in a city where landlords have trouble evicting people without leases, much less people whose only crime is a poor grasp of adult responsibilities. I can guarantee that the landlord does not want to deal with the roommate drama and would probably prefer seeing all animals gone first. Roommate drama was an issue with prior tenants and she hates playing babysitter.

The cat can't go to the boyfriend's, Roommate used to live with his boyfriend and only moved in here because the boyfriend is allergic to cats.

This dude has owned his cat for four years and adores her, hence my initial assumption he knew how cats worked. It's not like he ignores the cat and her hair is matted and covered in fleas. The adoration just doesn't seem to extend to understanding how adults take care of pets. It's a very teenager-like approach. As a roommate he pays his bills and does not create greater-than-normal messes (aside from heinous smells emanating from his room on hot days).

I feel this is an immaturity issue more than anything else, as he has other habits that go along with being in your early 20s. He lives entirely on ice cream, apples, and peanut butter, and I'm not joking. He sleeps on a bare mattress on the floor with nothing but a sleeping bag--and I'm the only reason he has the mattress since a friend of mine had an extra one. That kind of thing.

I wanted to attempt a "Come to Jesus" moment with him, and need help with constructive phrasing and use of tone. Has anyone successfully managed to have conversations with roommates who are essentially behaving like sullen teenagers?
posted by Anonymous at 5:45 AM on July 25, 2013

Waaay too much thought about solving the cat problem on your part. As an owner of two cats, let me tell you... even if the cats mostly get along, there will always be fights that happen for no reason and rebellious kitties who decide to pee on things at random. One of our cats, Faust, an otherwise loveable albeit needy creature, decided on a whim that my velvet-lined guitar case would make a fine litter-box. His box wasn't dirty at the time, he hadn't been crying or otherwise upset, and he had never peed on anything before. He just spontaneously ruined a $500 guitar case... for no good goddamn reason.

As much as we love them, cats are stupid creatures. Don't delude yourself into thinking you can play cat therapist and talk some sense into them. They will fight and break stuff for no reason other than they are cats.

But if your cat causes damage to somebody else's things (or cats), you need to pay for the damages and apologize. Your roommate is being a jerk by not doing that.
Right now I do the bulk of the cat work and apartment care. Up until now I have taken the "If you want something done, do it yourself" stance, but I can't keep throwing money at issues caused by his cat and feel I need to draw a line. However, I am having a lot of trouble constructively engaging him and end up feeling like a nagging mother. Our discussions involve a lot of passive-aggressive "Um-hmms" from him while he plays games on his phone instead of looking at me.
It sounds like you're just afraid of confrontation here. Your roommate is absolutely responsible for the damage to the apartment caused by his cat, and should at least chip in part of the money for the vet bills. It seems unlikely he's going to step up and take responsibility, so you need to tell him what you want from him. E.g.:

"Hey, Roommate. Your cat peed on our things, and I had to buy her her own litter-box. She also clawed my cat and I had to bring her to the vet. I want you to pay $X for the damage caused and for the vet's bill. Here, I have an itemized list of the expenses to show you I'm not stiffing you."

...or whatever. The point is, you're going to have to be very specific about your demands. Right now, you're trying to act like it's not a big deal because you don't want to nag him. But you have to nag him, because he is being an irresponsible twit. Just be upfront and honest about the expense and why he should be paying a portion of it. Once you get that settled, then you can think about how to deal with this situation moving forward. (I recommend getting him evicted, if you can – people like this are a nightmare to live with.)
posted by deathpanels at 5:58 AM on July 25, 2013

Based on your update, it sounds like you really have no leverage here. Honestly, I wouldn't waste a huge amount of time preparing a "come to Jesus" speech because there's nothing you can do to make him abide by anything you request. He's already shown how little he respects you with his "passive aggressive "Um-hmmms"" while you try to discuss the issue; unfortunately I just don't see how you could change that if you and he both know you can't charge him for anything or get the landlord to kick him out.* I guess go ahead and give it one more go if it'll make you feel better, ideally using very specific language about your expectations as deathpanels suggested - but again, I really wouldn't waste a lot of time on this because there probably isn't any magic word that'll suddenly transform your irresponsible ass of a roommate into an adult.

Given that, the only option I think you have is to ALWAYS shut Ruby up in your roommate's room when he's not there (or even when he is, if she pees/fights regardless of his presence). Your responsibility should be keeping your cat safe, which you can't do if you're not restricting Ruby's access to him. Moreover, I guess it's possible that if she's peeing all over your roommate's stuff he'll be more motivated to do something about the problem ... not sure I'd hold my breath on that, though.

(*I would still at least try talking to the landlord and, as noted above, be very certain to document everything in preparation for the inevitable time when the landlord wants YOUR security deposit too for all of the cat urine. If I were a landlord I'd definitely want to know if my unit were getting ruined with cat urine.)
posted by DingoMutt at 6:10 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Confine his cat to his room.24/7. End of story. The pee thing alone merits that rule.
posted by Neekee at 6:48 AM on July 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't advocate punishing the cat by locking her in a room 24/7.

Sit down with him and explain how his lack of care has impacted your life. He is very likely obliovious to all the trouble he has caused. Tell him about the expenses and the annoyance.
posted by Tarumba at 7:40 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

He is not oblivious or stupid. He just doesn't care. He has no interest in making your apartment a "home" for himself. He'd rather be living with his boyfriend than living with you. He's not going to care if you suddenly stop cleaning up. He's not going to care if his cat makes life hell for you and your cats and drains you of cash. He has no problem living in squalor. It's very hard to reason with someone who truly does not care about the situation he's living in and how it impacts those around him.

I think he expects you to be a pushover and a doormat, which is why he treats you so rudely by "Um-hmm"ing your attempts to discuss things with him while he plays with his phone. He expects you to discuss things with him and then take care of whatever the problem is yourself. He doesn't respect you and doesn't take you seriously. He must think he has a pretty sweet deal, with you taking care of everything and cleaning up all his cat's messes. He has nothing to gain by treating you any better than he does.

So all you can do is draw a hard line and stick to it, or accept that his cat is going to keep ruining your things, attacking your cats, and risking your loss of the security deposit. Maybe you can convince him to pay for some Feliway and see if that helps. If his cat keeps peeing in your room, the cat should be closed in his room with its food and a litter box of its own. Don't think of this as a punishment to the cat, because the cat certainly won't understand it as one.
posted by wondermouse at 8:44 AM on July 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

Roommate needs to pay for his cat's peeing. The eye infection is a drag, but hard to prove, though you migt as well ask. Roommate needs to clean up after cat. Start documenting all your expenses - small claims court is an option. Have a talk with Roomie - Roomie, your cat is peeing everywhere, especially in my room. This is disgusting and miserable. You need a better plan to care for your cat, or we will have to find better options. What do you think we can do about this? (Listen, Discuss) The options I see are your cat will have to depart.

Landlord will likely back you up due to the cat pee. Asking Roomie to deal with the problem is step 1, going to the landlord is definitely an option. It may be difficult to get tenants out - it's not impossible.

Roomie seems to ;love the cat, but love involves responsibility. I would tell Roomie that the cats are all unhappy, and it's not okay for his cat to be so disruptive. Living with cat pee is just nasty and not acceptable. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 8:47 AM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

From your landlord's position, I don't think a cat peeing all over the apartment qualifies as "roommate drama". It's damage to the property that the landlord owns.

Your roommate used to live with his boyfriend, spends all his time there, and basically got this apartment so he had a place for the cat where it wouldn't aggravate the boyfriend's allergies?

I think you need a nuclear option. If kicking him out, moving out yourself, or separating the cats isn't an option--why would he even bother listening to you when you tell him this is a serious problem? All that ignoring the problem so far has gotten him is that you have been taking care of his cat and cleaning up its piss.

I would talk to the landlord about eviction proceedings and damage to the apartment. Even if you know it's going to be a long drawn out thing, when you sit down and have the "come to jesus" conversation you want to have with your roommate, tell him that you have discussed eviction proceedings with the landlord as the last resort if he cannot take care of his cat and prevent it from destroying the apartment (and your sanity).
posted by inertia at 11:21 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have been a landlord, and I'll tell you, I'd rather go kicking out a tenant than put up with a year's worth of cat urine on the floor. Cat urine can totally ruin floors - the smell is nigh-imposible to get out. Your roommate allowing his cat to pee on the floor, causing damage to carpets, padding, and flooring, is almost *CERTAINLY* a violation of his lease worthy of eviction. It will be cheaper for her to evict him than to refloor the whole unit in 10 months time.
posted by Ardea alba at 12:26 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you know someone who would provide a good home to the cat? If the cat accidentally got out one day and disappeared forever (never mind it was to the country via your car where she can pee all over the yard) that would be unfortunate but solve some problems. Is this illegal? Is this dickish? Absolutely. But letting this kid abuse a cat and soak your home in piss seems the greater evil.
posted by munchingzombie at 4:06 PM on July 25, 2013

Take him to small claims court. You know where he lives and where he works(?) so it may be possible to collect damages. there is some risk he might try to retaliate, but i kind of doubt it. but, you'd be a better judge. from what i know about people like that, he'd rather move out and be un-findable than have to deal with what to him must be impossibly complex process of small claims court.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:23 PM on July 25, 2013

I really don't think you're going to get this guy to change, no matter how you phrase your speech.

I'd try getting the landlord to start evicting, and even though eviction takes an incredibly long time, just the notice could scare him off.

If that doesn't work, you could propose this: "Move back in with your boyfriend. It's what you actually want to do, and not being with him is holding you back in life. Do it this weekend. I'll find a great new home for your cat and can foster her here while I do."

That's probably what's best for the cat.

Alternately, you can tell him that if his boyfriend could take some loratadine and just live with the cat and would eventually adjust. (Incidentally, I have cat allergies, and we have two cats now. We got the first cat four years ago. I no longer need any medication and have no symptoms.)
posted by ignignokt at 8:34 PM on July 25, 2013

Response by poster: Fighting: no resolution found, though animosities have died down far enough that my cat is not constantly growling at Ruby.

Peeing: No resolution found, will next try dumping a bottle of Nature's Miracle on her favorite spots and keeping her out of my room for a week to see if that breaks her of the habit.

Claws: I spent 40 minutes wrestling Ruby into a towel to trim her front claws. Good times.

Money: I received an email from Roommate stating we should all be responsible for our own pets, and as such he is not responsible for my cat's vet bills. I replied with extensive details as to the ways I have been taking of his cat. He gave me the money a day or two later. Success!

Thank God small claims court was not a necessity. If the peeing keeps up after my latest tactic though I will discuss it with the landlady. Right now I don't want to twist any more knives.
posted by Anonymous at 12:45 PM on August 12, 2013

I feel like you should at least discuss it with your landlord now to establish a history of this, and not make it seem defensive or retaliatory if you try and explain that upon moving out.

Because seriously, watch him either ghost or blame the entire thing on you and your cat. And then it's his word against yours with no prior history or evidence besides like, this post.

I'd also be pretty mad if I was the landlord and this all just got to marinate for the rest of your lease without telling me. Good luck getting your half of the deposit back from him for causing it all to be(rightfully) withheld. And depending on where you live, possibly additional charges for damages beyond the deposit if that's legal in your area. They could easily have to replace the carpet, padding, and possibly treat or seal the floorboards if as much pissing as you've described has happened...

I really just think if you let this drop at the victory of winning this one small battle the issues are just going to come back with a vengeance later. And this is speaking from mucho crappy roommate experience.
posted by emptythought at 1:32 PM on August 12, 2013

Response by poster: I don't plan on dropping it. I'm waiting until things cool down before bringing it up with her. He's gone into Deep Sulk Mode and goes to hilarious lengths to avoid me if we're both in the apartment, and I'm not interested in seeing how the passive-aggressive behavior might escalate if I address the issue immediately.
posted by Anonymous at 3:50 PM on August 12, 2013

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