My difficult roommate wants to stay...hooray
June 21, 2014 9:03 AM   Subscribe

I have a difficult housemate who makes me stressed out and angry, has alienated my friends such that they don't want to come over to my house, and who my housemates and I asked to leave when the lease ends and the new lease begins. She refuses to leave. What happens now?

Though my roommate is no longer spending her time yelling at me and others, slamming doors, or glaring at my guests (mostly because I stopped having guests), I cannot feel at ease living with her. It is difficult to know whether saying hi to her will result in a death glare and a grunt, or a friendly response. We have had some polite conversations, but I am generally uncomfortable because it seems like if we have a pleasant exchange at one point, she acts out against me within a week. She has also alienated my roommates to various degrees and has also made it hard to find new roommates to replace our one (other, very nice) roommate who is moving out: no one in the communities we're part of wants to live with her, because she has repeatedly been rude and/or angry at them when they are visiting.

I value the following at home: calm, open discussion, the ability to have myself and friends feel welcome. These are shared values of the house as they were expressed to me when I moved in, but apparently not of this roommate (who moved in a few weeks after I did, last August). I've thought about moving out, have cried and felt very upset at points, and have developed a dislike of her that is stronger than any personal dislike I've ever experienced, that takes up much more energy and mental space than I anticipated. I freely admit that she sets me off more than most other people because of how I grew up (I really need to feel that the people around me are reliable and not unpredictably angry), but this is absolutely not a problem exclusively between us. She has been gentler in the past few months, though I've also been avoiding her so I can't tell if she's truly gentler or if I'm just not being the target. I don't think she's a bad person--for example, she is very kind and responsible to our dog, does her chores, and has outside friends--but I do think she's a bad roommate for this house.

Because of the yelling, tension, and frustration we've had living with her, we asked her to move out as of August, when the new lease begins. Today, we received a quite civil and polite email stating the following:
-This has not been an ideal living situation
-She has no intention of leaving as we requested. She intends to sign the new (year!!!) lease in August
-She doesn't know when/whether her work contract will be extended, but will know at the end of September. She is European. If her contract is not extended she will return to Europe; if it is extended then she will seek other housing in our area at some point (she gave a timeline that suggested that we would be living together for another 4 months)
-Roommates in our area cannot evict other roommates, and landlords can only evict with specific cause. She cited the local law to this effect. This appears to be correct (we live in Berkeley, CA).

I'm not sure what to do; it would frankly never occur to me to continue to live somewhere I was not wanted. I feel very uncomfortable with the idea of signing a new year lease with her, because I'm already baffled by her wanting to stay and don't know if she'll actually leave or will just stay forever. That is, if she signs the year lease I'm concerned that she'll stay for another year rather than leaving a few months in as she stated.

This is all complicated by the fact that I LOVE the other roommates, love the space, love the house and what it has meant to the community in the past, love our dog, love the location, love what it could be and what I hoped it would be as of August. And that Berkeley is a tight and expensive rental market and I'm a broke grad student and moving is challenging, to say the least. Were it not for this mysterious and challenging roommate, this would be a really ideal house for me. Additionally, my roommates really want me to stay and I don't want to abandon this community to feel weird and off like it has all year because someone is squatting (not literally, of course) and making things uncomfortable.

I feel both mystified and frustratingly impotent in the face of this woman invoking the law. I recognize that we are wired in very different ways, and I understand her basic point about not wanting to move on this timeline, but I just can't seem to predict what she'll actually do if she signs the lease. Sorry for all the processing in this question, I'm just kinda... I'm set off by her.

My questions are:
1) What am I supposed to do? Is there any credible and reasonably anticipatable way this works out where I get to stay in the house and she leaves? Do I just have to either move or accept that my house is going to be uncomfortable for the rest of my stay here? Though it's not my preference, I understand her point about not wanting to find a place for two months; it's just the upcoming new year lease and her implacable reliance on the law instead of social agreements that is making me think those two months might be more like twelve.
2) Is there any recourse for us as a house to get her to leave? Again, we're in Berkeley, CA. We don't really have documentation of her past yelling (some emails, etc., from last year, nothing recent), and I think being an uncomfortable rooommate is (understandably in general, though frustratingly in this case) not evictable. Our lease runs out at the end of July and the new lease begins August 1st. Are we obligated to let her sign the new lease?

I have asked questions about this roommate before, and appreciate all the answers I got, which informed a lot of my thoughts about what to do and how to behave. I have basically stopped engaging with her beyond the level of "hello" (again, only when it doesn't look like she's going to be upset that I said hello) and occasional conversations about the dog. We have stopped having house meetings and hosting many community events because those things upset her. I know many respondents to my first question were not big fans of how my house was operating in terms of having meetings, talking about feelings, etc., but we're just co-opy hippies (even difficult roommate, kind of) and it's the style of communication and home that we have chosen.

I appreciate any thoughts you have. I'm not used to disliking people this much, especially those I live with, so I'm struggling to see this clearly.
posted by c'mon sea legs to Human Relations (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What are the consequences if she signs the lease for a year and then fucks off to Europe I September? Maybe this is something the landlord needs to know about her plans.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:13 AM on June 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

Are we obligated to let her sign the new lease?

The question you need to ask is, is your landlord obligated to let her sign the new lease and if not will they keep her off the lease to help you guys out. Talk to your landlord and/or a tenant's right group to find out about this.
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:14 AM on June 21, 2014 [27 favorites]

As nooneyouknow points out, this is the landlord's issue. Contact him or her ASAP, especially as there will be time limits involved (the landlord cannot just get to August and say "ha, not renewing your lease" without prior communication).
posted by thomas j wise at 9:19 AM on June 21, 2014

Seconding nooneyouknow - there's a big difference between evicting someone and choosing not to sign a lease with them. Your landlord is not legally obligated to sign a new lease with someone just because they've signed with them in the past, is she?
posted by kythuen at 9:20 AM on June 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

You really need legal advice. Legal advice that is specific to Berkeley and CA.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:22 AM on June 21, 2014 [9 favorites]

Do you each sign separate leases (like per bedroom?) Or are all of you co-signing one lease?

You say the landlord can't evict without cause, but evicting and not extending a lease renewal are different things. The rest of your housemates have to address the landlord about this, and I think, unfortunately, you have to tell him you are not willing to re-sign a lease with her and will move if it comes to that.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:23 AM on June 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

How about the rest of you moving to a new place together, while also making sure none of your names are on any new lease at your current place --- not ideal, I know, as it would mean several of you move as opposed to just her, but at least this way you wouldn't have to stay stuck with her. Whatever you do, do not sign a new lease with her!

Either way, get this resolved this week, before July 1st when any possible 30-day minimum to the beginning of August would kick in.
posted by easily confused at 9:28 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

We are all cosigning one lease together. We have a good relationship with our landlord--though I'm not his contact person (my nice roommate who is leaving is), my impression is that we as a house have been renting for a number of years and he would like to keep us. I will start looking into legal advice--I think as a student I may have access to campus resources.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 9:30 AM on June 21, 2014

Can you call her bluff? Tell her that since she will not leave, the rest of you will, which would then make her responsible for getting roommates or paying all the rent? If her rep is what you say it is, this could prove very difficult for her.

Or at the least, let the landlord know that if he allows her to sign the lease, you and the other roommates have no choice but to leave. He could insist that she sign a yearly lease with no sub-letting allowed -which if I am reading what you wrote correctly, she will be unable to do.
posted by NoraCharles at 9:35 AM on June 21, 2014 [21 favorites]

OK, basically all the advice in this thread is totally useless unless it's legal advice from a lawyer, which they wouldn't give here anyway. IIRC the rental laws in Berkeley are very tenant-friendly, which means that just not signing a lease won't mean that your landlord can necessarily evict her. These kinds of disputes in tenant-friendly areas can go on for years. Legal advice is the key here. You need to know what you can and cannot do.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:43 AM on June 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I feel both mystified and frustratingly impotent in the face of this woman invoking the law.

Well, that's kind of what the law is for: when social contracts fail. And she's on the stronger ground - if I was being hassled to move out of my house for someone else's benefit I might see it fit to seek legal advice too. An alternative might be to see if mediation services are offered by your university (although that may only apply where all parties are students or otherwise affiliated to the school).

A long shot option (pending legal advice) might be to negotiate the contract with her directly. If she's stated that she only intends to stay for another four months you and your other housemates could offer to sign the new contract yourselves and sub-lease to her for a maximum of four months (get this agreement in writing). Then everyone is working to fixed timeframe, you can line up a new room mate with a move date and just extend the year's sub to a new person when she moves out.
posted by freya_lamb at 9:52 AM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

The amount of energy you have spent dealing with this person is something you can never get back. And consider the amount of energy you will have to expend in exploring the legalities, dealing with the next couple of months until she finds out if she's staying -- all of that, it's just enormous. Band up with the Good Roomates and move out at the end of the lease. Yes, the market is challenging. Put your energy into that good challenge, not the horrible challenge of dealing with this insane person.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:07 AM on June 21, 2014 [22 favorites]

Write to the landlord, co-signed by all the other housemates and cc:ed to the difficult housemate, saying that you don't want to live with this person, and requesting them to give her official notice and not put her name on the new lease.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:13 AM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also, if you can't force her to leave (and again, legal advice) you can always bribe her to leave. For example, you could figure out how much it would cost you (collectively) to move and offer her half of it if she moves, payable upon her being gone for the number of weeks it would take to make her no longer legally entitled to live there (again, legal advice).
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:29 AM on June 21, 2014

Honestly, you can find another place to live. Don't make yourself miserable just to prove a point.
posted by empath at 10:29 AM on June 21, 2014 [14 favorites]

There are a lot of online resources about Berkeley rental law. Pay attention to what kind of properties are exempt and the appropriate causes for eviction. That said, it is a big pain. I doubt your landlord will want to go through this process just because she is unpleasant. Plus, it can take a long time (like four months kind of long).

If I were you I'd start looking for a place pronto while demand is still in its summer lull. Unless you believe you will completely strike out (e.g., a few of you have terrible credit or something), put in your 30 days notice with your other roommates and leave her hanging, quietly letting the landlord know that if she doesn't renew the place that you'll come back. To find something good, you'll be at an advantage if you're willing to pay for part of July, because competition will increase as summer ends.
posted by salvia at 10:40 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know CA law on this well enough. Your ONLY move is to collectively give notice and move out.

Yep. You can not make up for all of this drama.

Call her bluff, and follow through.

She is legally telling you she's not leaving. In writing. Hon, she's not leaving. The shit about her contract is a useless carrot. Don't fall for it.

You and your roommates are going to have to move. I'm sorry.

Please move out. Something better always pops up.

Leave this nasty woman to the mess she's created. Now, she is the only one renewing. As she wants it.

She isn't winning. In the end, you'll be somewhere else awesome, but she'll still be living with herself.

Move out.
posted by jbenben at 11:03 AM on June 21, 2014 [31 favorites]

Having all roommate sign the lease benefits the landlord; if the rent doesn't get paid, he can go after any or all of you for the money. It's really up to the landlord how many signatures need to go on the document. But it really doesn't matter; you can't kick her out if the law says you can't.

Check on Berkeley tenant law yourself to see if there's some section that she hasn't mentioned. There's probably someone you can call or see in person to find out the ins and outs of roommate situations.

In San Francisco, where I live, an accepted way of getting someone to leave is to pay them to go.

Here, you'd have no legal problem at all if three of you decided to move out, leaving her to her own devices.
posted by wryly at 11:33 AM on June 21, 2014

In light of jbenben's insight, I would find another place mostly as a "plan B". There is always a chance that you'll find something better that would make the move worthwhile regardless of what the troublesome roommate does. But, I wouldn't lay down an ultimatum to the roommate without being able to follow through.

By having a backup place that you can go to, you can tell the roommate, "Either you're leaving, or we are." And you can actually back that threat up. Odds are good that she'll actually move out but, if not, just move and be done with it.
posted by VTX at 11:52 AM on June 21, 2014

For more Berkeley-specific advice, you can talk to the counselors at the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, who definitely know the law. They're helpful. But I have to agree with those above who said your best option is probably to leave, because if she really wants to stay, there's little you can do about it.
posted by three_red_balloons at 12:14 PM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Please don't play chicken with this roommate!

I don't think it is even legal if you all move out, and then a few days or weeks later everyone but her signs a new lease and moves back in. She might have the right to sue the landlord, and possibly you guys.

She's just shown you she is not f&cking around. Believe her.

Let her have the house and the responsibility of paying for it and finding roommates. Go ahead.

She's vile. The only way she "wins" this is if you try to stay.

Blow her off entirely and move on.

This is a lesson I wish I had learned years ago:))
posted by jbenben at 12:35 PM on June 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yeah, it sucks giving up rent control but it sucks more to suffer insane stress, fears of safety and all that. Talk to the landlord to see if they have another property to rent or recommend to you and your friendly roommate, but really this kind of hostile room mate is not safe to be around. Get you to a Berkeley specific tenant rights law source to see all your options.
posted by jadepearl at 1:28 PM on June 21, 2014

I had a problematic roommate (in a different state, CA may be different so check with a lawyer). I went to the landlord ahead of the renewal time and did a document that officially closed the possibility of a renewal of the current lease and created a new one with just my name on the lease with the clause that I did not have to vacate between the end of the current lease and the start of the new one. Work with your landlord and a lawyer to see if something similar is possible.
posted by Candleman at 1:31 PM on June 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd call her bluff and you all can go find another place together.

Give your notice to the landlord (who may have another property for you to move into,) and start packing.

Can I come over and see the look on her face? Because that would be PRICELESS!

And yes, I am this much of a passive-aggressive, cut-my-nose-off-to-spite-my-face asshole. I would RELISH doing this.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:27 PM on June 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

I don't think it is even legal if you all move out, and then a few days or weeks later everyone but her signs a new lease and moves back in. She might have the right to sue the landlord, and possibly you guys.

No, no, no. I'm saying, find a likely place. If it's better than where you are now, just move. If it's not, be prepared to move there if, and only if, she calls your bluff. But don't actually commit to the new place unless she won't move out, even if the rest of you do.
posted by VTX at 3:19 PM on June 21, 2014

Not committing to desirable available rentals is not how renting works.

If you give notice, it is. "for keeps." You can't change your mind under CA law, as far as I know, anyway.

Drop this hot potato and move out. Leave her to her misery.
posted by jbenben at 4:06 PM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Let me be clear - as long as you retain hope of keeping this rental, she has power over you and will keep f@cking with you.

Give notice and move out. Then she ceases to have power over you.

Three AskMe's is enough to trigger leaving this entire mess behind.
posted by jbenben at 5:06 PM on June 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm not sure if UC Berkeley offers legal consultation for roommate situations, but from what I recall of being signed up with ARAG through my UC for a while, literally the ONLY THING they would not cover, explicitly stated, was roommate situations. So that may or may not be an option for you.

I would talk to your landlord. If there is one bad apple in the house that means that all the good tenants would rather LEAVE than stay with her, that really doesn't sound like a good situation for the landlord. He'd have to replace a lot more than one person in the house, and that person is someone who nobody can stand to live with already. You may be screwed on the legalities in Berkeley and god knows that finding housing in a college town is uh, fun, but I think if the rest of y'all are at least willing to move, that's your one piece of leverage here. I don't see why he has to renew her on the lease with everyone else unless the law explicitly states he has to.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:42 PM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

It would be nice if you could evict her, and if you can you should, but I think the truth is you have two choices. You can live with a jerk, or you can move. It's sub-optimal, but that's how it is. Moving the whole pack of roommates out in a fit of pique has a teen-movie appeal to it, but might be needlessly complex. Probably you should just decide whether you can handle her or not. Don't torture yourself with the "if only" counterfactuals about what a nice house it would be if she weren't there. Just decide whether you want to live in Nice House With Jerk or Somewhere Else Already, and then do that.

Sorry your roommate is a creep.
posted by sockanalia at 12:35 AM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I feel both mystified and frustratingly impotent in the face of this woman invoking the law.

She's full of shit. Your lease should be very clear on how a landlord can terminate a renter, and the occasion of a new lease usually makes it easy. You do have a copy of the lease handy right now, right? Check what it says about notice and termination. There's no need for you to feel "mystified" or "impotent" here. Check your lease, then talk to the landlord with the other roommates on board.

All you have to do is contact the landlord in writing and describe the uncertain four-months-after-August-at-most situation, and ask that the landlord provide the proper notice so that you and your other roommates can sign a new lease without the problem renter. Spending a buck or two to send it via certified mail will demonstrate the seriousness of the situation.

I seriously doubt that she'll be able to sue if you all sign a new lease without her, so long as you and the landlord follow the lease in giving her notice that, given her uncertain situation, she needs to find another place. You should talk to a professional, too. Here's the page for the Rent Stabilization Board, and Tenants Together may be able to point you to some good resources.
posted by mediareport at 10:46 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, you should act immediately. If the new lease starts at the beginning of August, and the required notice before termination is 30 days, she'll need to get it by June 30th.
posted by mediareport at 10:47 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Please contact someone who can help with these issues in an official capacity, such as a lawyer. There's a lot of speculation going on in this thread, but ultimately the person who would be impacted if you do the wrong thing legally would be you, not people speculating on the internet.
posted by winna at 11:47 AM on June 22, 2014

mediareport does not take into account the level of protection that tenants have in Berkeley. IAAL, IANYL, TINLA. The vast majority of landlords, when presented with feuding roommates, will refuse to get involved.

You have to decide whether the hassles of moving out and all that entails is better or worse than continuing to live with this roommate for an undefined period of time. Only you can really answer that question. Expecting the landlord to fix this for you is magical thinking.
posted by ambrosia at 11:55 AM on June 22, 2014

I'll reiterate that the poster should talk to a professional ASAP.
posted by mediareport at 11:58 AM on June 22, 2014

Thanks, all! I've contacted several legal resources (Berkeley student legal services, tenants' union, something else I forgot) and left voicemails, I'm looking for other housing, and one of my current roommates who I adore was actually looking to buy a house anyway so I might just move in with her if (big if, but some things are working in her favor) that works out.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 10:46 PM on June 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

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