Help my roommate and I find a fair and reasonable solution
May 6, 2014 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Her sister is coming to stay with us for (??) weeks, how do I protect my boundaries

I’ve been living with the roommate for about 5 months and I’m moving away in September. We’re trying to work out the details of her sister staying with us for long period of time. How should I go about finding a situation that is fair and where both of us are happy?

We got the place in December. For the last two weeks of that month, I was away at my family’s place for the holidays. At the same time, her mom and sister came and stayed at the apartment. She is from Africa and her mom only visits once or twice a year. Her teenage sister lives in Canada and goes to school in a city about 2 hours away where she also has family. It was totally fine with me that her family stays over during Christmas- I was away, and they don’t see each other often since the mom lives halfway across the world. I know they have other family members in the city where the sister goes to school, but as for immediate family there’s only the two of them on this continent.

Moving always makes me anxious, and once the holidays were over I was ready to get into a new routine at my new place- I just moved out of another place where I had been living with my (now-ex) boyfriend for a year. Unexpectedly, her teenage sister stayed with us another 3 weeks after the holidays were over- apparently her classes didn’t resume til then. I didn’t bring it up until the sister was gone, but I did make sure to let my roommate know that I need to be notified if someone is staying with us for weeks on end. The sister is 16, and doesn’t go out by herself. She spent mostly the whole 3 weeks sitting on the couch with headphones on. Which is fine, that’s probably what I was doing as a teenager.

Over the past few weeks we’ve been having conversations about how much is acceptable for either of us to have guests over. I told her that I would appreciate if her boyfriend doesn’t stay over more than 2 or 3 nights a week (he lives just down the street) and she seems ok with that. I hate listening to other people have sex so this is my way of maintaining peace of mind that at least some of the time there is no danger of that. My problem is that I’m introverted. When I get home it’s almost as if I don’t want to interact with any strangers any more.

But, it seems that her sister’s summer vacation is coming up and the plan all along was for the sister to stay at our apartment. I’m not sure how to navigate this situation. I didn’t appreciate what happened the first time- the least she could have done was to warn me about how long her sister was staying. But, I realize that she’s coming from a different background from me; her family is split up across the globe and I know her sister wants to stay with her. What happened the first time bothered me because I was given no heads up or any explanation whatsoever. But, maybe if we talk it out ahead of time we can come up with a solution we both agree on. I can adapt to someone else being there if I know about it ahead of time.

Tl;dr: The sister is going to come no matter what. Now that I know it ahead of time, how can I prepare, given that I am an introvert and need a lot of alone time? What are some ground rules we can set in place so that the situation is fair? How long is too long before she starts splitting the rent with us / her mom pays part of the rent? I don’t want to make a big deal out of this, I’m moving out in September. At the same time, I’ve had way too many bad roommates stepping all over my boundaries in the past that had really bad effects on my mental health. So, I understand where she’s coming from , I just want to protect myself as well.
posted by winterportage to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If she's going to be there for longer than, say, two weeks, you should definitely be paying less rent for that period.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:56 PM on May 6, 2014 [23 favorites]

You sound accommodating to a fault. It's good that you know African attitudes and customs around family are different, and you want to respect and support your roommate, but you still get to have a say in what happens in your home.

To me, if someone stays for more than a week or two, it's time to start talking about splitting the rent, utilities, and groceries. The sister should also be picking up after herself and participating in house chores.

If alone time is an issue for you, you might want to think about asking her to be out of the apartment for certain periods of time when you are typically there—for example, weekend days. At 16, she's old enough to spend her days in the public library listening to her headphones rather than camped out on your sofa.

You might also want to ask for a firm end date to her stay. You are totally within your rights to state a limit to how long you're willing to have her there. Even with all of the above, a month is generous.
posted by ottereroticist at 2:06 PM on May 6, 2014 [9 favorites]

You're moving in September. If you're unwilling to make a "big deal" then why not move earlier?

You'd be really well served to use this as practice for clarifying and enforcing your boundaries. As in, "Hey Roommate. We rented this place as a two person home and you appear to be making it a three person home without consulting me. That's not okay. I need the dates you'd like to have her stay with us and how you plan to handle rent/utilities for those months. Lets discuss this next week so we can make alternative plans if needed." Find a friend and PRACTICE the conversation several times before you approach your roommate.

Either you're willing to be a pushover or you're willing to speak regarding your interests.
posted by 26.2 at 2:10 PM on May 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

I would say if this is a pre-planned months-long event, she pays rent the entire duration. Where is she sleeping? If it's in the sister's room, then maybe the family pays 1/4 of rent + 1/3 utilities. If she's couch surfing for that long, I'd say a full third of everything.

I think you need to handle this as if you were taking on a new roommate and set boundaries accordingly. Is she allowed to eat your food? Where is her stuff going and who cleans what, etc. She's a roommate; she needs to take some (read: equal) responsibility for her presence.

Be upfront about your needs, and frankly I would also be upfront about how disappointed you are in just now learning of this. This was something that needed to be discussed and agreed to before signing a lease with this person.
posted by rawralphadawg at 2:10 PM on May 6, 2014 [7 favorites]

If you live with roommates, I think that one week is fine for a visitor to stay and that assumes that there aren't visitors coming frequently. Any more than that and either the guest should find another place to stay or rent contribution discussions need to be had. And, that's only if the other roommates agree.

If your roommate is planning to have her sister stay for sister's entire summer break, this is a clear rent + contribution to utilities situation and that's only if you choose to have an additional roommate and your landlord/lease doesn't disallow it. It is not reasonable at all to add another roommate with no discussion and proposed compensation. Discuss house rules and the new rent/utilities formula (I'd want the sister to pay at least 25-35% of the overall cost).
posted by quince at 2:11 PM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster:
You're moving in September. If you're unwilling to make a "big deal" then why not move earlier?

There's no way I'm moving before September, just to be clear.
posted by winterportage at 2:12 PM on May 6, 2014

In what ways was it bothersome to live with the younger sister , beyond merely the fact of her existence?

Because you seem to have a lot of contradictory impulses here --- you don't want the sister there, but say you accept the fact that she will be there. You want to set up boundaries but you don't want to cause trouble. This is kind of a difficult needle to thread, no? What's more important to you, establishing boundaries or avoiding conflict? There's no guarantee you can have both.

If what's bothersome to you is just having a third person in the apartment, you have to go to your roomate, find out how long she'll be in town and if that's too long for you ask the roomates to find another arrangement. If you are unwilling to do this, then you'll just have to suck it up and accept that you'll have two roomates until the sister's term starts again, probably around the time you're planning to move out anyway.

If there's something that the sister is doing that's the core problem, you could try setting up some rules to help your introverted self stay sane --- like asking for some kind of quiet hours past a certain time, or asking if they'd mind going out for a few hours in the evening one day a week so you could be guaranteed to have the house to yourself once a week or something. And maybe finding yourself an activity/place your find restful that you could take up that would get you out of the house one evening a week --- take a class or hang out at a coffee shop or see a movie.
posted by Diablevert at 2:12 PM on May 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

What does your lease say? Many rentals have restrictions on guests: How many, how long, etc. Some of your boundaries may already be set.
posted by sageleaf at 2:25 PM on May 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

So, it seems like you're resigned to having the sister spend the summer in your apartment. Here are some things that you can reasonably ask for:

* Roommate/roommate's family pays more rent for the period during which the sister is visiting. If they're sharing one bedroom, probably asking them to pay a full 2/3 of the rent is unreasonable. So maybe they could pay 3/5? That's not a big change from 50/50, so you'll have to decide if it's worth it to ask. If she's sleeping on the sofa/taking away your common space, then I think it's reasonable to ask for 2/3. (And then is the boyfriend spending 2 or 3 nights a week in the apartment too? Oy.) But seriously, if it's the whole summer she's not just visiting, she's living in your apartment.
* Roommate/roommate's sister won't spend all their time in the apartment. You need some quiet time; you can ask them to spend some time outside of the house.
* Roommate's sister obeys whatever house rules you two have set up.

The trouble is, your roommate could be unreasonable, or could have different ideas about what is reasonable. So the only thing you can really be sure of is stuff you can do for yourself.
* Do you feel OK about shutting yourself away in your room for the evening? Or is getting out of the house more restful?
* Can you take a vacation during this time or is there anyone/anyplace more restful you could visit on the weekends?
* Is there anything you could do to your bedroom to make it more of a restful place to hide out?
posted by mskyle at 2:33 PM on May 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

How long is too long before she starts splitting the rent with us / her mom pays part of the rent?

I would say a week.

Another thing to think about here, is look at your lease. Most leases have rules about this sort of thing because in a lot of areas someone can very quickly gain residence and need to be evicted if you want to kick them out after a week or two.

I'm not saying rat them out to the landlord or whatever, but i think that's kinda the threshhold between "crashing for a few days" and "seriously staying here". It's like the point at which you'd get one of those hotel rooms that have a kitchenette in one of those extended stay places most of the time.

What you didn't bring up, that in my experience is a bigger issue here is how was food handled? How was say, timing up with showering handled? you mentioned she always just sat on the couch and didn't go anywhere on her own, was the common area of the place just always occupied during that time?

I think this is a pretty big imposition on their part, and i don't think it would be out of the norm for these types of situations for them to make you feel awkward/bad about trying to set boundaries. And hell, you're already doing some of their work for them on that front!

I guess my point is though if it was preplanned for more than a week and ESPECIALLY if i couldn't get any clear end date or time frame out of them i'd go yea, it needs to be 1/3rd of the rent for that time period, don't care whose paying it to whom, i'm not.
posted by emptythought at 2:34 PM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a fellow introvert, I totally understand where you're coming from. People take up space and mental energy, especially people I don't know well. If someone is in *my* kitchen and I have to make accommodations for them, or I have to make sure I'm awake and polite to someone in *my* living room, that's a burden. You chose to live with 1 roommate, not 2. You wanted 1/2 of the living space, not 1/3.

So I would say anybody staying over 3 nights in a row is a real issue. Over 1 week is too long for a guest.

But you should also know what you want (realistically). Do you not want to have to deal with a guest an extended period of time? If so, are you willing to deal with an awkward roommate situation until Semptember? Or do you want them to give you a break on the rent, since you are now sharing all public spaces with 1 additional person, who doesn't work and will always be there? Do you want them to promise to be gone x days out of the week or month so you can have private and alone time? Do you want them to promise to give you priority rights over kitchen and TV usage? What do you actually want?

Coming from a landlord angle: You don't mention where you are, but in a lot of places, there actual restrictions about how long guests can stay. Guests use up more utilities (if your landlord pays for water/sewer/garbage, which is common). In addition, most places have laws that say if someone stays at a place for x days, then they are a resident, and there are all sorts of legal repercussions. These include not being able to kick the "guest" out without an eviction process, and other legal obligations to keep the space safe, etc. I would look up the lease that you signed with your landlord, to see if it says something like that, as a leverage if she pushes back very hard. Or just tell your roommate you're not comfortable with having an extended guest without getting the landlord's written approval and see what happens.
posted by ethidda at 2:43 PM on May 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Check your lease. Some landlords don't care at all and some landlords see the same person for two weeks and start pushing eviction for lease violations. Most landlords are in between and won't interfere unless said tenant not on the lease becomes a problem and then it's a big deal. But knowing the exact legal boundaries is important. Maybe it is possible to add her to the lease short term. Landlords and jurisdictions are all different. Consult a non profit/tenants organization if this stuff is confusing to you.
If she stays you should split the rent and utilities differently. And you should have a talk where these things can legally be a big deal in the US and it's not as simple as keeping her under the radar. Also she is a minor. Who has legal responsibility for her? Has your roommate even thought about that? If everything is great it's not a problem but if she's in a car accident does your roommate have the legal documentation to make decisions? It can get complicated real fast.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:46 PM on May 6, 2014

I would approach roommate and say, look, I didn't sign for a 3 roommate situation. If Sister is to stay, which I want you to know, I'm not thrilled about, I think we should start by splitting the utilities (water, gas, internet, etc.) three ways. Since sister is sleeping in your room, I think it would be fair for you and her to each pay x% of the rent.
Without knowing the food situation, that is hard to say, but if you share staples, one third. Chores, split by a third.

If there are behaviors you care about... Messiness, sitting on the couch all day, address them now.

You can also (i know it is a pain) offer to sublet your room to sister gtfo.
posted by k8t at 2:52 PM on May 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with showbiz_liz: maybe I'd go up to 3 weeks, but after that her sister should be paying rent for the months she's living there. I would suggest just splitting the rent in thirds between the 3 of you.
posted by Asparagus at 2:56 PM on May 6, 2014

I agree that you should try to figure out what you want to get out of the situation. House rules and chores? Rent/utilities? I definitely think that sister/mom should be throwing some cash at the situation, because the sister increases the occupancy of the house by 50% and that can have a major impact on your living situation.

Also k8t brings up a good point about the minor responsibility thing. I had a roommate in college whose troubled little 15-year-old sister came to stay with us. (I do believe that my roommate became her legal guardian.) Lo and behold, the sister ended up doing cocaine in the house, one time apparently when I was home but my roommate was not. Nothing happened (other than the sister being sent back to live with her dad) but I was really pissed at the prospect of being an adult in a house with a teenager doing something illegal). Just something to think about.
posted by radioamy at 3:24 PM on May 6, 2014

I don't agree with some of the comments. I don't think it's appropriate to ask for additional rent. She's not directly taking resources from you.

Why is this a problem? Is it that you are uncomfortable having another person in your home?

It doesn't sound like you are friends with this person. I would just stick it through the summer and find a new place ASAP or ask her to leave. Get your landlord involved if needed.
posted by pando11 at 5:23 PM on May 6, 2014

I don't agree with some of the comments. I don't think it's appropriate to ask for additional rent. She's not directly taking resources from you.

Living in a two-person house with two people is a vastly different experience than living in a two-person house with three people.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:26 PM on May 6, 2014 [12 favorites]

If she's sleeping in your roommate's room I would not necessarily ask to split the rent, just utilities.

If she's sleeping on the couch or taking up a shared room, I think shared rent is totally fair.

Ask your roommate if you can have a "living room schedule" so that she's not parked on your couch every night. Maybe you get the living room 4 nights a week since you're putting up with a long term guest. Those nights they need to be out of the house, or in your roommate's room.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:32 PM on May 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think its totally reasonable for her to pay rent if she's staying for more than a week, especially if she's already stayed for several weeks already this year. You're not paying for a bedroom you're paying for half an apartment.

I also think any discussion you have with your roommate has to include a discussion of her boyfriend you don't want the sister moving in and the boyfriend staying several nights a week on top of that.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 6:27 PM on May 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree with radioamy - what is it you hope for, given you aren't going to move and have accepted she'll be here? Personally, my aim would be to live peaceably and in as much comfort as possible for the next four months. I'm not sure a heavy renegotiation of the financials would accomplish that. I think there's less potential for conflict around discussion of use of utilities, but only if there'll be a big difference in terms of hot water or wifi use, or if the sister's home all day with the air con on.

Come to think of it, if you're seen as gracious about the money side of things (if you can afford to be, that is), and about the fact that a young person with no other family needs a place to stay (which is the emotional leverage your roommate's got), you might be able to get more of what you want in terms of actually sharing the space, with less overt conflict. You could say something along the lines of, you are happy to accommodate your roommate's sister, but would like to talk about how you will all share the space; her sister is a lovely young girl and of course you would like her to be comfortable, but you wonder whether she might not enjoy the city more if she were able to get involved in a few activities while she is here. Which will also, you admit, give you a chance to relax at home a bit in your way, because when it comes down to it, you're a quiet type who's not so used to sharing space with several people, which is why you originally were looking for just one roommate. And then ask her what she thinks would be a good way to approach this. Hopefully, she will say something reasonable. If that doesn't happen, just counter her response with what you think is fair (x days to use the living room, whatever, decide in advance what you think you'll need to be comfortable). Just be clear and kind, and emphasize that you have no problem with the girl or the boyfriend personally.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:52 PM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it is unreasonable to have the sister pay rent so that she can stay for an extended time. By doing so you are saying you are totally fine with having her stay. But you are not. Your roommate scammed you. She duped you into thinking you were going to have just one roommate, but now is manipulating you into having two (and 3 when boyfriend is over).
She is hurting you. The only fair thing is her not bringing in a 3rd roommate. She doesn't care if you're happy, because you can't be if there's a third.
posted by Sophont at 8:48 PM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm somewhat introverted, for what that's worth, and I'd tell her it's not acceptable for sis to be there for more than a week. (End of conversation, no negotiating, discussing, etc.) You didn't sign up for this. This is your roommate being damn rude.
posted by ambient2 at 12:09 AM on May 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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