Housesitter Calamities
July 14, 2014 2:41 PM   Subscribe

My house/catsitter broke things while I was gone for ten days.

A woman who has cat and house-sat for me over the past couple of years when I travel broke items while I was gone for ten days.

She is paid to do the house, plants, cat, etc.

She left me a note about one item and offered to help cover cost. A plate. No biggie.

BUT, she also accidentally ran my $55.00 dollar espresso tamper through the garbage disposal (ugh) and just placed it back into its holder without saying anything to me about it. It's ruined.

How to deal with this?

Say nothing?

Say something but offer: "No big deal." (That would be lying).

Ask if she'll cover the cost of the tamper, or to SHARE the cost of replacing?

(I know, First World Problem).

posted by zenpop to Human Relations (42 answers total)
If she's anything like me, she had no idea dishwashers weren't okay for such a use. If that's the case, I'd chalk it up to an accident and try to let it be.
posted by gilsonal at 2:46 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

God I've been so there - I feel your pain. I'd say nothing and never ask this person again. Don't add social agony to ruined things, it's not worth the worry.
posted by Namlit at 2:47 PM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Garbage disposal, not dishwasher.

OP, I would just replace it if I could afford to do so and find another catsitter for the future. In a perfect world you would say "hey, you broke this" and they would say "gosh i'm sorry let me replace it or give you the money!" and there would be no resentments and the relationship could continue without problems.

This is not a perfect world.
posted by elizardbits at 2:48 PM on July 14, 2014 [10 favorites]

She put it in the garbage disposal, not the dishwasher. Big difference!

I would ask her about it. See if she fesses up.
posted by Joh at 2:48 PM on July 14, 2014

I am a business owner. I do not hold my employees financially responsible for innocent mistakes. I also treat domestic employees the same way.
posted by elf27 at 2:49 PM on July 14, 2014 [71 favorites]

Oh, I missed the bit about the plate! Yes, I would say something like "i'm more concerned about the breakage of this expensive item than I am about the single plate, I hope your offer still stands".
posted by elizardbits at 2:49 PM on July 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is she good to your cat? Has she been issue-free in the past? Because I would not throw out a years-long relationship with a reliable cat sitter over a $55 object.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:52 PM on July 14, 2014 [73 favorites]

I'm going to guess unless it's totally mangled that she has no idea how much the tamper cost, and so probably she isn't not-mentioning it out of malice -- she probably thinks the plate is a much bigger deal.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:54 PM on July 14, 2014 [30 favorites]

Is it possible that your cat might have knocked the device into the sink and she turned on the disposal without realizing it was in there? She may be less at fault than you realize. Personally I have never used this sort of device and would have no idea how to tell if it was broken.

I wouldn't ask an employee to pay for something broken out of their salary, but I would take it into account when I decide what tasks they get in the future. If you hired this person through a service you could see what guarantees the business offers about how your property is treated.

On the whole if I trusted someone to safeguard all the contents of my house, keep an eye out for emergency maintenance issues, keep the place occupied to help prevent crime, and take care of my pets, I wouldn't be too worried about a $55 item that is fairly easy to replace.
posted by yohko at 2:56 PM on July 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Seconding fiercecupcake: There's no way I would have thought an espresso tamper is more than ten bucks, and unlike a plate, it's not part of a set, so I can see why it wouldn't have been top of mind for her.
posted by sageleaf at 2:58 PM on July 14, 2014 [11 favorites]

I'd chalk it up to shit happens. And, if I felt like the amount of damage was excessive for the time period she was there, I'd hire someone else next time. These both sound like innocent mistakes/accidents and not inappropriate or negligent abuse of your house and belongings. I'd be mad, too, though.
posted by quince at 3:00 PM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

What's your relationship with her like otherwise? Do you respect her, trust her, believe her? Do you want to find and train someone new to care for your cat and home in the future, or maintain an existing relationship?

I feel some sympathy for the catsitter, and am wondering how such an object was knocked into a garbage disposal and destroyed. Certainly this didn't happen with malice, and probably not even carelessness. It could well have been the cat's fault (per yohko)!

And, at any rate, I imagine her reaction was similar to if you drop a whisk or a spatula down the sink: "oh, hm, this got a little banged up." aka: not such a big deal.

If she had destroyed your television, or a piece of furniture, or tampered with your personal files? Or had a big party and left a mess of beer cans? Those are all big deals. Not this.
posted by magdalemon at 3:04 PM on July 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd let it go. Maybe she forgot or something.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:05 PM on July 14, 2014

Really excellent feedback y'all. Very helpful.

I'm gonna mention it to her, just so she knows, but not expect or ask her to pay for it. I think, as noted above, she doesn't realize the cost. And yes, she's always done a great job when housesitting before.

And no, the cat couldn't have knocked it into the sink. The thing weighs more than she does.

Thanks again!

posted by zenpop at 3:05 PM on July 14, 2014

What sort of satisfaction do you expect to get from telling her? Is it worth what it will likely do to the relationship? You're going to embarrass her, and yourself some.

This sounds like a you problem, honestly. When I have the dogsitters come, we usually do a sweep of the house and move or put away stuff that we value so much that it would be sad or bad if they got hurt, and also things that might be an inconvenience to deal with. Just to make everyone's lives easier. I would never expect them to be responsible for my special-maintenance stuff, and if I'm having them live in the house I'm going to assume that they are maybe slightly more likely to be clumsy with my unfamiliar items, especially in the kitchen.

I cannot think of anything off the top of my head that I would make them replace unless they were clearly trespassing in my stuff that was put away.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:13 PM on July 14, 2014 [27 favorites]

Let it go. When people come into your house, things can get broken. That's life. There's only one way to make sure things aren't going to get broken in a case like this, and that's never to go on vacation. Why would you want to confront someone over this?

The most important thing for me would be, Is this person honest and dependable? It's not that easy to find someone who you can trust with your keys and your cat. Better the accidental destruction of small, relatively inexpensive items than making off with your valuables and letting the cat die from starvation.

Also, the replacement cost of the tamper is not the actual value. So you can't honestly ask her to shell out $55 for a new one when she destroyed a used one.

Be mindful that in situations like this, there may be a power/class dynamic at work. Would $55 be a lot more money for her than it is for you? It seems a bit cruel to stick someone with a bill that amounts to say, five hours' worth of work for committing an honest accident.
posted by Leatherstocking at 3:15 PM on July 14, 2014 [8 favorites]

I am a business owner. I do not hold my employees financially responsible for innocent mistakes. I also treat domestic employees the same way.


But my understanding of employment law is that in general employers cannot hold employees financially liable by, say, deducting money from a paycheck. They would need to sue the employee and demonstrate that the damage was willfully caused or caused by gross negligence. In other words, it's expected that mistakes will happen and employers will treat this kind of loss as a cost of doing business. Recovering the money by "soft" means (i.e. asking for it, and expecting the employee to pony up because they have a conscience) is pretty crummy.
posted by pullayup at 3:20 PM on July 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

[Couple comments removed; asker, you don't need to agree with answerers but please don't snark at them.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:23 PM on July 14, 2014

I think there are three ways you can think of this. What would be your expectation if the person who accidentally ruined some kitchen items were:

#1. A family member
#2. A roommate
#3. An employee

My own thoughts:

#1. Things get broken occasionally. We just plan to replace things periodically; that's part of the job of owning things. We work on forgiving each other and (especially) ourselves when things do get broken, rather than turning the situations into unending drama and blame. These are mere possessions, after all.

#2. Here I'd be thinking about offering to split the cost or (if I broke the item) offering to pay the replacement cost just because that is generally the way you do things when sharing household items & costs with roommates.

#3. Here you're talking about someone you employed to have responsibility for many tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars of worth of your possessions and the (presumably) beloved family pet for extended periods of time and whom you've (presumably) paid somewhere between many hundreds to some thousands of dollars for her services.

Thinking of it in that light, I would be weighing total damages vs total value of items cared for and your total cost to hire this employee to do this work over the past couple of years.

And in that light, I'm guessing that ~$100 in accidentally damaged items over a couple of years is pretty insignificant.

It would be different if the person were *purposefully* damaging items. It would be different if the person were so clumsy/inept that accidentally damaged items made up 25%, 50% or some other large percentage of your total cost of employing this person over the long run. It would be different if it weren't the completely common and ordinary occurrences of breaking a plate and accidentally letting something get into the garbage disposal.

I'd be inclined to forgive and forget--and if you have items you just can't bear the thought of having lost, ruined, or broken, pack them safely away before leaving the household under the care of another person for an extended period in the future.
posted by flug at 3:24 PM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

My feeling is that aside from 5-year-olds and maybe spiteful exes, no one ever puts any non-food item into the garbage disposal intentionally. If you don't happen to see that non-food item in there, you're going to turn on the switch and hear that horrible sound, then turn the switch off again as soon as you can get to it.

She made a mistake. She might not have even known what to call the damn thing (I own 98% of kitchen gadgets known to mankind, but I'm not sure I'd be able to spot or name an espresso tamper), so it's quite-to-very-likely that she didn't realize she had irreparably damaged it.

Like DarlingBri said above, if this is a person who takes good care of your cat, I think you should forgive a totally unintentional accident involving an espresso tamper and a garbage disposal. If there had been an accident involving either the espresso tamper or the garbage disposal and the cat, that would be a different story.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:29 PM on July 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Kitchens are inherently hazardous places for kitchen utensils, especially ones that are small enough to fall into garbage disposals unseen. You bought a really expensive (for the function it serves--we're talking a weighted disc with a handle here) espresso tamper and left it where it would see general utilitarian use in the kitchen and an accident occurred. My experience with small utensils run through garbage disposals is that they get dinged and scratched up, so it's not readily apparent to me how the tamper would have been ruined for future use; perhaps it was not apparent to her, either.

Your housesitter likely already knows that running espresso tampers through the garbage disposal is a thing to avoid and bringing it up with her would only serve to put her on the spot and embarrass her. I think the classy thing to do would be to just let it go.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:44 PM on July 14, 2014 [8 favorites]

I once had a cat sitter not show up (at all!) while I was out of town for several days. Cats survived, but I am still steamed years later. So, my low bar for "acceptable pet sitter" has been adjusted markedly downward.

You've used this person for years, you say. Otherwise trustworthy? (Shows up when scheduled, feeds/waters animals, takes in mail, doesn't drink up your booze?) Easy to arrange for service when you are travelling? Doesn't try to convert you to her religion?

If above answers are "yes", this person is a valuable resource. It is hard to find someone you trust with your home/pets when you're not there. I wouldn't even bring it up. Mark this off as a "regrettable accident" unless there are other issues the next time.
posted by maryrussell at 3:50 PM on July 14, 2014 [9 favorites]

I'd let it go and buy one of those plastic strainer things that fits into your disposal to keep things from falling into it if you use her again. Hers was an honest mistake and it sounds like you liked her otherwise. I had a woman who stayed at my place to keep a cat company once and she drank every bit of alcohol in the house.
posted by BoscosMom at 3:51 PM on July 14, 2014

I had no clue what an espresso tamper even was and had to go look it up. Based on the photos, I would've never guessed that such a device was a) used for anything (no, looks like a giant gameboard piece to me) or b) costs more than a plate. I think it's definitely possible she just doesn't know what the item is and/or that it's valuable (moreso than a plate).

IF you do confront her about the espresso tamper, I would make sure to emphasize that you understand its condition was an accident and that you're not asking for her to replace it, but that you were worried she might not know what it is or its value - and therefore you wanted to let her know so that it (or its replacement) will be given more gentle handling in the future.
posted by stubbehtail at 3:56 PM on July 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would tell her how much it was worth and that it's me, it doesn't seem like such a big deal. And at least where I live, there are countless people who are interested in catsitting for *free* in order to have some time away from roommates, etc. I have trouble believing that it's so difficult to find another catsitter, if it came to that, but I also don't see why she would be offended. If she was a guest or friend and broke something, I would say let it go, but she's getting paid. Seems like everyone else disagrees, but that's my take on it.
posted by three_red_balloons at 4:09 PM on July 14, 2014

If you must bring it up, I second stubbehtail and say, "hey catsitter, I noticed something happened to my espresso tamper. I'm sure it was an accident, but it's pretty important. So I'll remember to store it someplace safe while I'm away next time and you won't have to worry about it."

She probably had an 'oh sh**' moment and already feels bad and embarrassed about it. caution in proceeding as to whether this item or the relationship is more valuable to you. I'm sorry about it by the way, but haven't you been in her shoes before?
posted by lunastellasol at 4:10 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was wondering what an espresso tamper was as well and looked it up.

The bestselling tamper on Amazon costs $6.34. There are some that are considerably more expensive, and if I was to encounter one in a holder near a garbage disposal I might well think it was specifically for pushing things into the disposal what with the nice handle and the flat end and all.

It seems unlikely that even if your housesitter is familiar enough with espresso tampers to know what one is for that they would know your tamper cost $55. Surely even if they were to realize it was damaged they would have no idea it would cost that much for a replacement.

If you have found this person to be trustworthy and want them to housesit for you in the future, I think this is one of those things you just need to let go of. Put the espresso stuff away next time they are housesitting, or if they like espresso and want to use those things buy one of the $6.34 tampers and put away the nice one when you are away.
posted by yohko at 4:15 PM on July 14, 2014 [18 favorites]

For me this depends on one element no one else has mentioned: how much were you paying her? If it was free or a very low rate (what I'll call the "you can enjoy my house, I'll buy the munchies" rate, which varies depending on the area of the country) then you should eat it and probably not mention it. If you were paying them the premium fancy cat rate, often characterized by professional references, diplomas and certifications and possibly insurance, then they should pay for both.

Up to you to determine where your compensation falls on this scale.
posted by arnicae at 4:16 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

> I might well think it was specifically for pushing things into the disposal what with the nice handle and the flat end and al

The one tamper I've owned looked a hell of a lot like this garbage disposal plunger. I'm thinking honest mistake, not negligence.

(Someone took my tamper and I was very annoyed about it, even though I didn't use it as a tamper -- it was my kid's chew toy. So I'm not dismissive of tamper temper.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:11 PM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Count me among those who had never heard of espresso tampers before this question. If I'd seen one near a sink with a garbage disposal, and not attached to an espresso machine or something, I'd probably think, "Oh, neat! This guy owns a thing that you can use to push stuff into the disposal without shredding your fingers. That's really useful."

I would perhaps say something like "hey, no big, but I noticed my espresso tamper had some scratches on it," half-expecting an embarrassed "oh shit that's an espresso thing?" reaction. If she offers to replace it, politely decline; if she insists on reimbursing you, quote her like $10.

(If I broke a small solid metal thing at someone's house and they told me it was a $55 espresso tamper and wanted payment in full, I'd wonder if they were trying to scam me.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:11 PM on July 14, 2014 [10 favorites]

I disagree with you that your cat could not have been the culprit here. When I leave for a couple of days, I don't get a sitter for my cats and they do the most "amazing" pulling all the air vents out of the floor, opening cabinets and pulling out linens, figuring out how to get the silver drawer open, pushing my coffee pot off the counter which I attribute to trying to get to something behind the pot, and pushing everything off the island counter to the floor no matter how big and the list goes on.....which leads me to my point: ask your sitter if she dropped the "thing" in the disposal or the cat did so that you can take proper precautions for the cat...if she did, she should tell you. If the cat did, watch out, that cat is out to make you pay for leaving. Either way, put the damn thing where no one can get to it if it makes you crazy.
posted by OhSusannah at 7:09 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you must bring it up, I second stubbehtail and say, "hey catsitter, I noticed something happened to my espresso tamper. I'm sure it was an accident, but it's pretty important. So I'll remember to store it someplace safe while I'm away next time and you won't have to worry about it."

Or, you could just store it away next time and not lecture them about it. This sounds like the kind of thing I would say to my five-year-old nephew, not a grown person. You are not going to get your money back, so I don't understand what the point would be of coming across in such a condescending way.

Be nice to the people who serve you, if for no other reason that situations have a way of turning, and you may need to draw upon their kindness and forgiveness one day. Earlier this year out of the blue, my cat attacked the catsitter for no apparent reason. Obviously, we were concerned about the catsitter and wondered why the cat would have done something like that. But after a bit of time passed, it occurred to me that, if the catsitter had had her face scratched, or gotten a deep scratch that had become infected, or had been less than completely honest and wanted to make a few easy bucks, she could have sued the hell out of me. You can be held liable for all kinds of stuff when you let people into your home.

So, if only for practical reasons, do your best to be on the best of terms with people who come into your home and serve you. You may need their kindness and forgiveness one day down the road.
posted by Leatherstocking at 7:10 PM on July 14, 2014 [6 favorites]

Just to present the sitter's POV: I worked as a fulltime house- and pet-sitter every summer (and often during winter breaks) for more than 12 years. I don' t know what an espresso tamper is, but if I'd broken it and knew that I'd done it I'd tell the homeowners but not expect to be charged for it. Accidents happen. (And yes: high ticket items should either be stashed away, or the reason you have homeowner's insurance).

If a homeowner raised a big fuss with me about a $55 appliance that I'd broken accidentally I probably would have declined to work for them again. I was a highly responsible and in-demand sitter and didn't have to choose jobs with fussy people.
posted by TwoStride at 9:39 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

[Just as an update: according to OP the housesitter works as a barista, for those wondering if she knew what the tamper was.]
posted by taz (staff) at 11:37 PM on July 14, 2014

[Just as an update: according to OP the housesitter works as a barista, for those wondering if she knew what the tamper was.]

OP, it doesn't matter. This is an unimportant detail because the gracious and classy thing for you to do in this situation is to keep quiet and let it go.

You're coming off a bit like you always need to be right and have the last word with this person. If you absolutely need to talk to her to get this off your chest then don't expect her to work with you in the future.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:14 AM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

In similar situations with housekeepers, I've mentioned the damage, accepted the apology, and that was it. The person usually offers to pay to fix/replace the item, but I've declined because the things were more expensive than the housekeeper can afford, or they weren't replaceable.

That doesn't mean it's okay with me! Sometimes I'm appalled and angry about the carelessness. Once I let a housekeeper go because she accidentally gouged the dining room table -- I couldn't trust her to be careful in the future.

I also have an apartment for guests to use. Things get broken and misused all the time. Garbage disposal accidents and broken plates and glasses are at the top of the list. Glass coffee pot that someone tried to heat on the stove, hair dye on the shower curtain, chewing gum in the rug, window latch snapped off, someone put metal in the microwave. WTF?

I don't know any way to keep these things from happening. I've had to accept that they're inevitable.
posted by wryly at 9:41 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

No, I'm not someone who always has to be right, but I am someone who likes to do what is most truthful -- and in this case (after having posted here for help in establishing objectivity) I wanted to acknowledge my dismay, as well as maintain the integrity of the relationship.

It helps to hear how other folks would handle something like this. I wasn't looking for verification of my disappointment, but how to approach the situation with skill and diplomacy without being fake.

The feedback here helped me do that. It's why I appreciate this forum and hive mind.

As a final note of clarification:

A 55.00 dollar tamper might seem ridiculous to someone who is not a coffee aficionado, I can understand that; but given the money I have invested in the espresso machine that I own and the equipment that is used to make what would be considered 'quality' coffee -- the tamper and its design is worth its cost. Its weight and ergonomic design serves a distinct function and it's not a nonsensical 'vanity' item.

And truly a final note: NO, the cat could not have knocked this into the sink, it was in a container that would not allow for that.
posted by zenpop at 12:01 PM on July 15, 2014

If she works as a barista and didn't mention the tamper, she must not know about it. It may have happened during the raucous party she threw Saturday night, or maybe Sunday morning by her newly-minted sleep-over lover(s) while she was in the shower - they thought the tamper was a disposal stopper.
posted by at at 1:27 PM on July 15, 2014

I'm sort of stumped by how you know it went into the garbage disposal if you found it back in it's correct location. A solid piece of metal of that weight would destroy the disposal. Before you run off and accuse her, it's important to know that you're making some odd assumptions about what happened when you really have no way of knowing. Since you're confident she knew what it was are you thinking she maliciously destroyed your tamper? Did she break the plate and leave a note to throw you off the scent?

Personally, I'd leave it be and consider its damage a mystery that I decided to not solve. Guests and workers in your home occasionally break things. A tamper is replaceable item that's only 50 bucks. Grand scheme of things - trivial.

If you feel you must confront her, another way to handle this is to ASK her, "Do you know what happened to item?" That doesn't load it up with your assumptions and accusations.
posted by 26.2 at 2:08 PM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Things get broken. If you came home to a generally cared for house and cat, then incidental breakages, even ones much bigger than that, are to be expected.

I wouldn't even mention it to her- what would be the point? So that she feels bad for what was obviously an accident? "Honesty" is not a license to bring misery to someone just to make yourself feel better.

Put your precious things away when you go (personally, I'd include the whole espresso machine, since it's clearly a finely tuned machine) and just expect broken plates.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:45 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I understand why you're annoyed and think people are being too hard on you. I work in people's homes and it's important for them to feel like they can trust you so that they don't feel, for lack of a better word, unsettled by your presence in their home.

Good luck, OP.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:00 PM on July 15, 2014

So honestly, if you want to talk to her, and give her a chance to come clean about the damage (which is what I get from your post and follow ups), then I think the way to go is to ask her: "Hey, I noticed my espresso tamper looks really beat up. Do you know what happened to it?" And then see what she says. You say it was in the garbage disposal, but I'm guessing that is just what it looked like to you, so asking what happened is an easy way to see if she a) knew that it was damaged and b) would be willing to pay for it, without having to directly accuse her of it or ask for money. Granted, she's going to know you are accusing her of it and fishing for money, but if you don't care about that (and I agree with the above posters that you really shouldn't because of her history with you), you can pass if off as just wondering what happened, or wanting to make sure she knew it was for the espresso machine and not for tamping down the garbage disposal or anything.
posted by katers890 at 6:04 PM on July 15, 2014

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