Am I morally obligated to rent to someone after a huge breach of trust?
August 8, 2014 11:18 AM   Subscribe

The person who was supposed to watch our pets while we were away on a short trip didn’t follow through. Our animals are fine but this situation has set off a complicated chain of events and now I’m not sure what to do. Well, frankly, I am sure but I’d like to sort it through here because you all can be objective in ways I can’t right now.

My husband and I travel a few times a year. His sister and her partner take care of our pets in our absence, either by moving in for the duration or swinging by a couple times a day (they live nearby) to check on things, top off food/water, etc. This arrangement has always worked well for everyone involved.

We recently had the opportunity to take a short, impromptu trip and checked in with sister-in-law to see if she was available for petsitting. She said she’d be out of town but offered her partner to come by daily instead (partner agreed willingly). When we got back, it was clear partner had not come by as promised. Water and food bowls were empty, the cats had clawed into the food bag I’d left out, supplies left for my non-cat critters were untouched and they were out of water, etc as well.

After I cooled down, I contacted sister-in-law and mentioned what we had come home to. She checked with her partner who swore up and down she’d come by every day, the last visit being about 18 hours before we got back home. Given the size of the food/water bowls (extra-large) I put down before we left, it is simply not possible that they were filled daily and the animals consumed all their food and water in ~18 hours (based on more than a decade of owning these specific pets). Plus, that doesn’t account for the other untouched supplies, etc. Between that and couple of other clues, there is no doubt in my husband’s and my mind that partner never came by while we were gone.

Here’s where things get complicated.

Early next year, we planned to move out of the home we own and closer to my husband’s job about 30 miles away. Rather than sell, we were going to rent the house to sister-in-law and her partner, since they were going to be looking for a new place to rent right about the time we were moving. Now neither of us want anything to do with this plan based on the fact that we don’t want tenants that we can’t trust living in our home.

When we initially discussed moving, my husband and I considered renting the house via a property manager and quickly discarded the idea because we are very uncomfortable with the notion of leaving the house in the hands of someone who won’t take the most basic care of it: cleaning out the dryer filter after each use, checking the smoke detectors periodically, not running over the in-ground sprinkler heads with a lawn mower, etc. While we understand that, as landlords, maintenance and repair falls under our jurisdiction, we can’t deal with the stress of worrying that renters would cause or allow things to occur in our home because they don’t have the same level of concern that we do as the homeowners.

The only reason we considered renting to SIL and partner is because we thought both of them had a certain measure of responsibility that we would need to feel comfortable with such an arrangement. Now that we know that one of the future tenants (SIL’s partner) is capable of ignoring the health and welfare of animals and then lying about it, the idea of renting to them and expecting them to appropriately care for one of our most valued possessions is…well, I can’t even get my head around it.

One important item of note: The rental arrangement wasn’t scheduled to happen until early next year. They have a full six months to make other arrangements and their current living situation is not leased-based. Pulling the plug on this will not cause hardship for them in any fashion, except that they’ll be disappointed because they like the house and want to live in it.

We haven’t mentioned anything to them yet about taking the rental option off the table because we know it’s going to set of a firestorm of drama that will reach far and wide across my husband’s entire family (ugh). He and I are both 100% sure we don’t want to rent to them after what happened, but I want to make sure that, in my anger over the treatment of my pets and the subsequent lies that followed, I’m not completely lacking in perspective somehow.

TL;DR: Was supposed to rent my house in a few months to someone who blew off a promise to petsit for me and instead left my animals without food, water, etc. Is it okay to refuse to rent to them because of this breach of trust?
posted by _Mona_ to Human Relations (48 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think I would start with a conversation with the partner directly before you go all nuclear option. Start from assuming (and I know that this is quite the assumption) that Partner is telling the truth, and have a non-adversarial chat "because it went badly and you want to understand why". What did partner do when she stopped by? Did she understand what she was supposed to do (e.g., amount/frequency of feeding -- you say the bowl was big, but was Partner supposed to fill it up or did she just add half a cup to the bowl?. Also, did she understand what to do with the untouched not-cat supplies you mentioned)? If not, what went wrong there? If so, why didn't that happen?

After you have that conversation, you can be more informed about whether Partner a) just totally misunderstood the scope of what she was asked for, b) is incompetent at animal care, or c) is lying to you.
posted by brainmouse at 11:27 AM on August 8, 2014 [25 favorites]

Just tell your SIL and her partner that upon consideration you've decided to sell the house rather than rent it out. Then put it on the market.

No drama. Don't accuse or huff and puff or say anything about the pet-sitting. Just say, "We decided to take the profit in the house and look in our new area."

You are 100% correct in deciding not to rent to people who would do this to living beings. But this is family so no need to belabor the point, your SIL will catch on soon and it's possible that partner will evaporate shortly. Or not. But you for sure don't want a lying flake renting from you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:27 AM on August 8, 2014 [37 favorites]

So your sister-in-law and her partner have taken care of your cats several times, and this one time, they possibly flaked (I've had my cat, who never eats more than a mouthful of food a day, clean out her food and water dishes entirely in times of stress, but putting that aside for the moment) a single time?

I think you're overreacting. I think you're trying to punish them for lying to you, which is your prerogative, but it seems over the top to do so.
posted by xingcat at 11:27 AM on August 8, 2014 [9 favorites]

You can choose to not rent your house out for whatever reasons you like. If you can't trust strangers, and don't trust your relatives, are you selling it instead? Because that also makes a great story for why you won't rent to relatives if you don't want to tell them the truth.
posted by garlic at 11:29 AM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

The only reason we considered renting to SIL and partner is because we thought both of them had a certain measure of responsibility that we would need to feel comfortable with such an arrangement.

Pulling the plug on this will not cause hardship for them in any fashion,

Seems to me this is your answer. You're not obliged to make excuses for them, or do anything that you no longer want to do.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 11:32 AM on August 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Renting is a business relationship. You can choose who you do, or do not do, business with.

Entering into a business relationship when there is already lack of trust is, to put it mildly, foolish. Furthermore, entering into any they-pay-you business relationship with relatives is often ill-advised.
posted by epo at 11:33 AM on August 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

I like what brainmouse had to say. Start a conversation with Partner from the point of view that there were good intentions and some kind of misunderstanding. Ask what she did when she came by. Ask if there was anything you could do that would have made her tasks clearer, like posting a to-do list before you left.

A year or so ago, our very trusted neighbor didn't show up when she was supposed to to care for our pets. I checked in with her and it turned out that she had misunderstood the dates we needed her. Clearly that's not the case with Partner, but before you assume "lying flake," find out if there's a more benign answer.

That said, you can choose not to rent to them for any reason, and it would be understandable if this undermined your trust to that extent. In your shoes, I'd wait a bit before making up my mind, because I often have HUGE emotional reactions to things and need a few days to let my feelings settle and think things through. It sounds like you don't need to make a decision right away, so don't. You may decide that renting to them is still the best option for you and that it's cutting off your nose to spite your face to try to make other arrangements. Or you may decide to make other arrangements. In any case, you'll make a better decision when you're not in the middle of feeling scared at the thought of what might have happened to your pets, relieved that it didn't, and angry that Partner let you down and may be lying about it.

I'm so glad your pets are OK. This kind of thing is very scary.
posted by not that girl at 11:34 AM on August 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

First off, it's your house. You can do with it as you like. But I'd feel wrong holding your sister-in-law responsible for the awful behavior of her partner. Don't trust him anymore with the pets, that's fine. But of course she believes her partner. In her brain, you must just be mistaken. Why would he lie about that, she'd think?

Truth is, he likely just fucked up. She asked him and maybe he said okay without really thinking about it. He forgot because no one reminded him. Then all hell comes down on him and he balls up like an armadillo. We've all been there.

If this is a one-off thing, then I think you might need to keep your anger in perspective.
posted by inturnaround at 11:34 AM on August 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

It is entirely possible that your pets' behavior, especially feeding behavior, is different when you and your husband are away; pets, especially cats, are moody creatures who are affected by changes in their day to day life, just like humans are.

THAT SAID, no, you are not morally obligated to rent your home to people who you feel have violated your trust in such an unpleasant way. I would not trust people to treat my nonliving property well after they had been so negligent with living creatures I placed in their care.
posted by elizardbits at 11:36 AM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, I missed the other line about "untouched supplies for other non-cat pets". Yeah, unless they can give a clear explanation on how they missed that while still doing the other stuff, I would assume the claims of having done their job are just panicked CYA lies and would not be able to trust them enough to rent to them.
posted by elizardbits at 11:38 AM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Shoot. I tried to be as detailed as possible and still left things out. In the past, sister-in-law has been the one to care for the pets, not her partner because she usually wasn't around.

I left detailed instructions in writing about what to do and SIL also walked partner through the steps in our house, in person, before leaving town. Partner says she referred to the note I left when visiting but got some very notable and hard-to-forget details wrong about what directions it contained.

When asked, partner is very vague on what times the visits were (couldn't say what time they came by Sun when asked on Mon). According to SIL, partner responded, "Oh, I forgot" when SIL asked partner if they had come by on Sat and later said, "yeah, I went over there" (at a very unlikely hour).

As for just saying we're selling and leaving it at that, I'd love to. However, aforementioned family drama-llamas mean that we will be crucified for "getting their hopes up and pulling the rug out from under them" or otherwise causing SIL and partner to be disappointed. I'm unwilling to take the flack for us being mind-changing assholes, which is how it's likely to be viewed.

No more threadsitting, promise.
posted by _Mona_ at 11:40 AM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

You can sell, rent to them, or put up an ad on craigslist. Sometimes total strangers aren't so bad and will take care of your home while renting. Just make sure you interview them well to know the kind of people you'd want living in your home. Then it's up to you to decide what that means for the both of you, but either way it will work out or it won't. Just cross that bridge when you get to it.

Update after your comment: Who cares? Drama llamas or more, it's YOUR financial situation. They won't be homeless and will figure it out. I think you need a bit of perspective here on what's more important and what's at stake. Sometimes things don't pan out, that's life. This was a business arrangement, treat it as such. Why make a risky investment?
posted by lunastellasol at 11:42 AM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Like, either Partner is a huge moron who somehow didn't understand that the other living non-cat creatures in the home might also need food and water, or they are lying about having fed and watered the cats. Either way, no, do not give them the responsibility of caring for your home in your absence.
posted by elizardbits at 11:42 AM on August 8, 2014 [13 favorites]

I'm unwilling to take the flack for us being mind-changing assholes, which is how it's likely to be viewed.

You can't control this, though. You can't do anything about what people think or feel or say about you. You can only do what you feel like is the right thing to do, and in this case it seems pretty clear you don't want this person living in your home. So there's your decision. Make it, stick to it, don't give them any complicated excuses and definitely don't badmouth this woman to your family. Just do what you know you want to do and move on with your life.
posted by something something at 11:43 AM on August 8, 2014 [45 favorites]

You don't want to rent to them and you are 100% sure you're not going to. So, you're not. Can you keep this drama-free? Not really, because it's not under your control. But you can keep your portion drama-free. Like this:

"Hey I'm sorry that our plans have changed but we will not be able to rent the house to you."

...dramatic remarks, explanation requested, etc....

"I'm sorry but our plans have changed."


"I'm afraid it's just not possible."
posted by warriorqueen at 11:46 AM on August 8, 2014 [12 favorites]

Do you intend to keep the house and rent it to someone else, or to sell it?

If you intend to sell it, disassociate the two when you dicsuss it with them. Don't say "We trusted you with our pets and you fucked up, so now we won't be renting you the house", say -- in the future! not right now -- "We looked into the numbers a bit more and it doesn't make sense for us to keep the house and rent it out." Then refuse to discuss the financial reasons further, even if the numbers are number of stresses you have.

If you intend to rent it out, I'd just say that on further consideration you don't want to entangle money and family, it will keep your relationships better, you're sorry.
posted by jeather at 11:47 AM on August 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

If someone was entrusted with the care of my pets and I returned home to find evidence that they were not cared-for adequately, I would lose my shit. I'd be livid. It would absolutely colour my feelings toward the person who agreed to do it - for a long, long time.

That said, I also agree with inturnaround. Unless you've had other negative things happen with your intended pet sitter, pet-related or otherwise, chances are good that she just totally fucked up, flaked, and is now panicking. The same way small children will deny the hell out of things even in face of the evidence - because they can't figure out how to get out of that particular corner.

I'd weigh the balance of your sister vs her partner in terms of their ability to keep the house under control while you're there. You mentioned that her partner was often away - would that continue if they lived in your home? Who does most of the work/maintenance where they currently live? If the partner isn't around much, do you trust your sister to take care of things properly? etc.

If you weigh it out and it's just too much of a risk to have them live in your home, of course they'll take it badly and be upset (and possibly bring up the, "What? Is this because you think she didn't feed your CAT one night?!" discussion). Look 'em straight in the eye and use warriorqueen's script. You don't have to give anyone an explanation of anything and the more you can avoid getting dragged into a big ol' fighty argument, the better for your long-term relationship with each other.
posted by VioletU at 11:49 AM on August 8, 2014

However, aforementioned family drama-llamas mean that we will be crucified for "getting their hopes up and pulling the rug out from under them" or otherwise causing SIL and partner to be disappointed.

This is the essential manipulation deployed by ALL drama-llamas: they make you shoulder the responsibility for their feelings, especially when their own choices/actions/inactions result in consequences they don't like.

In other words: will they try to crucify you? Yeah, probably. Drama-llamas count on the threat of that unpleasantness to hold you hostage so that they get what they want. The moment you decide to take all this shit off your shoulders and place it right back in their laps is the moment you are free to make the decisions that are best for you.

You don't have to take the flack that may result. You can change the conversation or put down the phone or leave the house. You don't have to engage in an argument, you don't have to convince anyone you're right, you don't have to get family-wide agreement before you move forward. You make your decision, you own it, and you let them -- all of them -- own their own roles and responses. It's certainly not easy to do this, but it can be done.

You cannot stop other people from freaking out. But you can stop being held hostage by it.
posted by scody at 11:49 AM on August 8, 2014 [46 favorites]

I'm unwilling to take the flack for us being mind-changing assholes, which is how it's likely to be viewed.

Well, you're in a real pickle, then. At this point, it sounds like you either rent to them for the sake of family peace, and suck up your fears about what might happen to the house, or you revoke your offer to rent for them in order to preserve your peace of mind, but cause a family fury. You are not leaving yourself any options here. There is nothing any of us can do about that.

Outside that logical contradiction, as a practical matter I think you should sell the house. Honestly having (relatively) responsible family members living in your house is pretty much the best case scenario for preserving the property value. Absolutely EVERYONE else in the world will care less about the condition of your house than your immediate family members and their partners. Sorry, but that's just the reality of being a landlord. Most tenants do WAY more irresponsible things than forget to feed the pets for a couple days.

If you decide you absolutely MUST keep the house and rent it out (to whoever), it will really help if you can stop thinking if it as "our house" in the sense of "a home," and in your mind convert it to "our investment property." No tenant is EVER going to "take care" of "your" house for you in the way a house-sitter would; they are going to make it their home and it is going to be run differently than you would run a home, and you need to be OK with that.

If it makes you feel better, it is very unlikely that they are going to burn it down or do anything else that threatens the structure, and everything less than that (even, like, punching holes in the wall or ruining carpet) can be fixed for a few thousand bucks. Not to make light of a few thousand bucks, but as a worst case, that's not the end of the world for a homeowner. Again, if you can't stand that risk, sell it and move on.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 11:55 AM on August 8, 2014 [9 favorites]

If they are drama llamas they have done you a HUGE favor by taking poor care of your cats while you were gone. Because guess what, EVERY MOMENT AND INTERACTION of them caring for your house next year will be full of drama. 100% drama packed. Be firm, don't engage (the script warriorqueen gave above is great) and don't negotiate. In future years I wouldn't be surprised if you find yourself thinking THANK YOU BABY JESUS for that huge red flag, it saved so much angst and drama.
posted by kate blank at 11:57 AM on August 8, 2014 [17 favorites]

_Mona_: "I'm unwilling to take the flack for us being mind-changing assholes"

So what you're saying is
A) you don't want to rent to them because SIL's partner is irresponsible;
B) you don't want to sell because you'll be crucified;
C) presumably you don't want to rent to someone else for the same reason.

So…it sounds like you want your husband to be crucified in your place?

I'm not sure what outcome you might be imagining that reconciles these conflicting desires, but I'm not seeing one. If in fact there isn't one, you can choose to make someone else unhappy, or make yourself unhappy. I don't think AskMe can give you the magical unicorn makes-everyone-happy solution.
posted by adamrice at 11:58 AM on August 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

What will happen the first time your SIL tells you her partner absolutely, definitely mailed you that rent check you never got?
posted by griphus at 12:00 PM on August 8, 2014 [22 favorites]

Perhaps it's not a good idea to rent your home to a family member. But if you're okay with that as a general concept, I don't think this incident is a good reason to renege on the offer.

Have you seen the SIL's current home? Does it seem like they are maintaining it reasonably well? Presumably you were comfortable enough with SIL before the partner's pet neglect, right? I don't see why that should change. Even if the partner is truly a fuck-up, then that just means that SIL is already pulling the extra weight.

Regardless of living arrangements, would you and your husband plan to visit the SIL at somewhat regular intervals? If so, couldn't that continue while the SIL is renting your house? You or your husband would be able to keep an eye on the situation, or maybe even offer to "help" do the maintenance?

But I dunno. The consensus seems to be going the other way on this. But when I read the question I kinda felt bad for the SIL.
posted by mullacc at 12:00 PM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

From what I've read here, even from the respondents, not wanting to rent to them is more about punishing them than anything else. There really isn't any evidence that you have now that suggests they would treat your house badly. I think what your SIL's partner did was bad, but I think the drama here is coming from you. I don't think you'll figure a good way out of this unless you acknowledge the real reason you don't want to rent to them.
posted by OmieWise at 12:01 PM on August 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

God, I'm sorry. I know I promised but I need to clarify the "don't want to be crucified" comment.

Option A: "Sorry, we're no longer comfortable renting to you so let's just call it a day on that idea and move on." If SIL wants to complain about us at that point, like many of you said, there's nothing to be done for it but at least we won't look like assholes if anyone pries into the why.

Option B: "We've decided to sell instead. Sorry." I can pretty much hear other people in the family freaking out that we treated SIL so poorly because we flip-flopped on a commitment. Again, can't control what others say but this option leaves us looking like assholes.

Come to think of it, there are no good options. Yes, we're selling -- now we have some great tips/scripts on what to say. I knew you all were awesome. Thank you so much.
posted by _Mona_ at 12:05 PM on August 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Is renting going to be financially advantageous for you? Are you interested in being a landlord? If no to these, then don't rent it to anyone.

However, it seems your SIL has always been responsible. She'll be living there. As long as you are making some money on the deal, it'll be fine.

we can’t deal with the stress of worrying that renters would cause or allow things to occur in our home
You need to change your mindset once you start renting it out: it will no longer be your home, it will just be an investment like stocks. If your SIL maintains her current place well, you're just be petty and dramatic not to rent to them.

On another note, do you compensate your SIL for the many times she has come by your place to take care of your animals? If not, you should definitely overlook this.
posted by flimflam at 12:08 PM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

but this option leaves us looking like assholes.

No, it doesn't. It leaves you looking like people who changed their minds within a reasonable time frame, leaving other people to make other plans. Plans sometimes change in life, and adults cope with it. Try to stop internalizing other people's judgment of you (or at least what you assume their judgment of you will be) as your internal monologue.
posted by scody at 12:11 PM on August 8, 2014 [16 favorites]

As for just saying we're selling and leaving it at that, I'd love to. However, aforementioned family drama-llamas mean that we will be crucified for "getting their hopes up and pulling the rug out from under them" or otherwise causing SIL and partner to be disappointed. I'm unwilling to take the flack for us being mind-changing assholes, which is how it's likely to be viewed.

Personally, I'd let them think I was an asshole. If I re-evaluated my finances and discovered that selling was the only way I could be financially comfortable, I'd rather expect my family to take it at face value. Are you supposed to subsidize your SIL by renting her your house? What if they want to live there forever? That doesn't make any sense.

There are tons of houses to rent, and now they have plenty of time to find one. Yours is not the only house in the neighborhood.

Look at it this way, is it more important to look 'nice' to family members, who have no skin in the game, or is it more important to feel comfortable with your real estate investment? I don't know what your house is worth but I'll suspect that it's a large percentage of a million dollars. Unless my family members are going to be there writing checks for what goes wrong, they don't get a vote.

If your SIL kicks up a fuss about it, ask yourself, why would that be? It's just a house. Are you planning to rent it at far below market value? WHY? That's not logical or sound business.

Again, don't reference the issue with the animals. Just say, "We ran the numbers and this just isn't going to work for us, we HAVE to sell." If anyone gives you any shit about it, and you feel the need to defend the decision, just say, "Gosh, I'm disappointed too, but we just can't afford to do it."

Done and done.

But really, I'd rather look like an asshole and not worry about my investment, than be the nice guy and wonder if they've changed the furnace filter.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:18 PM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Look, you're upset that your SIL neglected your pets while you were away, and I would be really upset in that situation too. But I'm not sure that your SIL neglecting your pets necessarily indicates that she would neglect the maintenance of your house. People can be flaky on some things and not flaky on others. For instance, my dad doesn't particularly like pets, but is meticulous about the upkeep of his home. This just means that he shouldn't be a pet owner or a petsitter. He's a pretty awesome homeowner, and always pays all bills before they're due. Conversely, I know people who dote on their pets but live in filthy falling-apart homes and are always late with the rent. I really think there's far less automatic correlation here than you're assuming between competence at petsitting and competence at housesitting - some people just don't like pets, don't humanize them, and are thus not really good at remembering to take care of them to the standards of pet-lovers. It sounds to me like what you want to do is to punish your sister and her partner for neglecting your pets, by not letting them rent your house. Obviously, as the owner of said house, this is totally your right, but I think you should be honest with yourself about what you're doing rather than telling yourself and others that it is because you can't trust them to take care of your house.
posted by ClaireBear at 12:19 PM on August 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

my husband and I considered renting the house via a property manager
we can’t deal with the stress of worrying that renters would cause or allow things to occur in our home

Based on those two sentences, I wonder if you actually would be a good use case for property management. If you've moved, the place you're renting out is no longer your home. If worrying about smoke alarm batteries is going to stress you out, it might make more sense to off load any dealings with tenants and the property. With property management, your only worry is how long it takes to cash the rent check, you know?
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 12:30 PM on August 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

we can’t deal with the stress of worrying that renters would cause or allow things to occur in our home because they don’t have the same level of concern that we do as the homeowners.

Maybe you should think again about becoming landlords.
posted by John Borrowman at 12:30 PM on August 8, 2014 [13 favorites]

I think you might be surprised to find that, in standing up for yourself and setting boundaries, you might actually earn the respect you deserve. The fact that others might squawk and squeak at you initially doesn't mean you aren't correct in setting the boundary -- in fact, it's a clear sign that you were 100% correct in doing so. Ethical, mature, responsible adults don't guilt-trip others as a means of control. Lead by example -- show others how to treat you. They will eventually come around, or not; if the latter, their loss, not yours.

Advocate for yourself, your partner, and your best interests as a couple, and opt out of the rental arrangement, using whatever words and approach you and your partner feel is best. It will take you out of your uncomfortable comfort zone, but that is a good thing. Your current comfort zone has you thinking you need to act in a way that isn't aligned with your values -- honesty, trustworthiness, and the duty of care toward creatures in who depend on humans to do the right thing. The initial discomfort of doing right by yourself will end up creating more peace and comfort for you in the long haul.

Draw the line, and stick to it.
posted by nacho fries at 12:32 PM on August 8, 2014 [15 favorites]

So very many suggestions here to completely tiptoe around the real issue. Wow. I disagree. Bottom line: you don't trust your SIL's Partner. Pay very close attention to the gut feeling you are having, it will serve you extremely well. She (SIL's Partner) gave you a completely legitimate reason not to trust her when she neglected your pets and then lied to your face about it. You have every right to feel livid, disappointed, and violated. Period, end of story. Can't trust her. This part is quite simple actually, but we want to make it complicated because we fear "drama" or something? No.

The real question is - if you have such a problem with your SIL's partner's lying, then do you also want to engage in another version of lying in return? Because you're going to be lying by omission if you two offer your SIL any of the bullshit reasons suggested upthread for not renting to her.

This is family, be brave and confident enough to keep it real with them. Though it may suck, your SIL deserves true and caring feedback about the behavior of the woman with whom she is currently partnered. I know if my own grown-ass adult spouse pulled this type of shit on somebody in my family, I'd certainly want to know because it goes to their overall character.

Your hubby could say something like this to his sister: "Unfortunately, we found proof your Partner lied to us and neglected our pets, and now we realize we just can't trust her anymore to come into our space and our property unsupervised. So obviously it will be impossible for us to be your landlords next year, because we are not going to be able to rent our house to you given that Partner is part of the deal. This is awkward, and while it's not your fault, Sister, it is nevertheless a total deal breaker for us. Up to you if you'd like to discuss this with her or not, but we are really just done with this idea. We'll be cordial when we see her and we don't plan to mention this to anyone else in the family because we know how embarrassing it would be. Thanks for hearing me out."

Or on preview, what @nacho fries just so eloquently said about boundaries.
posted by hush at 12:52 PM on August 8, 2014 [12 favorites]

Even if you tell your sister-in-law and extended drama llama family that the neglect of the pets was what caused you to change your mind about renting the house to them, the drama llamas will still view you as an asshole. They'll say "but she swears she went over to feed them!" or "you're making too much of a one-time mistake!" They won't acknowledge that you have the moral high ground, because if they were the type to not freak out over a reasonable explanation they also wouldn't freak out about you guys changing your minds at six months out for whatever reason you want.

I think selling is 100% the right choice for you. Just don't expect it to not make you the family "bad guys" because you have a good reason for it.
posted by MsMolly at 1:56 PM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm with hush about this one: you had plenty of evidence proving that partner was a liar. Partner is the one you can't trust at this point. Have you actually said anything about the evidence to either of them?
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:03 PM on August 8, 2014

Honestly, let the family think you're assholes and sell. Depending on where you are, it could be so much easier to sell and would be a benefit. In my area, it's quite the sellers' market and most good houses in decent locations don't stay on the market for very long.

To delay and risk another downturn in the real estate market just to appease some dramatic family members would be silly.
posted by teleri025 at 2:31 PM on August 8, 2014

SIL has a much worse problem than you do.

In betraying you, her partner betrayed your SIL as well, and I'm sure you know as well as I do that a person who would deliberately leave innocent animals to potentially die of thirst should never be trusted with any vulnerable creature -- and if their relationship lasts at all, that category is virtually certain to include your SIL at some point, too.

Which means that by renting your house to them, you would be enabling a severely dysfunctional relationship and actually harming your SIL.

So the rental is now out of the question, but I don't think you're quite off the hook: sooner or later your SIL will realize what kind of person she's involved with; the sooner, the less pain for her and the rest of the family, and I believe it would be worth your while to sit down with your SIL and at least try to help her to understand just who she has in bed next to her at night.
posted by jamjam at 2:41 PM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Can you rent to your SIL but not the partner? I think it's fair to say that you have good reasons not to trust the partner, but there's no reason your SIL should be punished.

If they're married, though, letting only one be on the lease would probably be a problem. If not, offer it to SIL; if she refuses, let her be pissy about you not liking her partner, and remind her that you are totally justified in being pissy with someone who neglected your animals and then lied to you AND TO HER about it. Then there's no need for crucifixion -- you offered, she said no, so it's on the market or occupied by strangers who you'd trust more than the partner.
posted by mibo at 3:26 PM on August 8, 2014

Them: You are very bad! You told your sister/SIL she could live in your place, and now you blah blah blah...

You: It's true. I didn't think it through before I talked to them about renting our house. Now I can't rent to them and I've let them down.

They will eventually stop with the drama and accusations because you won't be participating or arguing. You'll be taking all the fun out of their indignant feelings. But since they have the drama habit, they won't be able to drop it right away -- so just keep saying to anyone who brings it up, "I feel bad about taking back the offer. I should have been more realistic in the first place." It's okay not to go into any more detail.

Some people just love commotion, and they get agitated way out of proportion to whatever has happened. It would be good if you could remind yourself that their disapproval is a lot less bad than that of the reasonable people you respect.
posted by wryly at 3:45 PM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Offer them the house at market value less realtor fees before you put it on the market. They get the house, you don't have to worry.
posted by michaelh at 4:04 PM on August 8, 2014

I'm not so sure that not renting or renting should be based on this incident. I think you have access to visit and see thier current place. You probably know everything you need to know about their household care taking abilities.

You did unexpectedly call on people to take care of multiple animals on very short notice which could arguably be uncaring on your part. They should not have agreed and when they did agree they should have done exactly what you asked. (Not your fault) but a professional in home pet caregiver would have been a better option.

Also how long were you gone? You said short so I'm assuming 48 to 72 hours. For people who don't care for tiny animals often is easy to think a full bowl of food and water can last that amount of time. Maybe they miscalculated and weren't being purposefully neglectful. Maybe they yes to placate your anxiety. I'm not saying they were right but there are reasons that may not be blatant neglect.

For your house do what's best. It sounds like your going to be uncomfortable renting. Then don't do it.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:09 PM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just to start, I agreed to pay my (very close relative) to watch my dogs over a 4th of July weekend and very specifically to keep them indoors after dark. My giant babies, a Rottie and a German Shepard, hate loud noises. My sitter passed out (before the fireworks started) and left my dogs outside and Jack, my Shepard, ate/chewed/clawed his way through a plywood garage door. My sitter never even called to tell me that he was missing. I found out two days later when she had her hand out for me to pay her. My heart is still broken over that horror of a fiasco. That said, I'm actually a former landlord too.

As a former landlord I can tell you that it's a tough business. Renting to family only makes it much more difficult to manage. It's hard enough to get an average renter to pay up for damage or even pay on time; when it's family, it can quickly become a money-pit/charity.

My first thought is that you should try to separate yourself and your SO from the idea that renting to family is a good idea. It isn't. My second thought is that if you can rent it for enough, hire a management company to do the dirty work for you.

Otherwise, treat it like a business. Do your research. Take the application process seriously. Verify employment and contact previous landlords etc. (You can probably google first time landlord + what do I do?)

My bottom line on this is that I would NOT rent to SIL. You don't owe her anything. I know that there are emotional/familial aspects to this. But extended family doesn't belong in this scenario. Go make some money, protect your asset and have fun.
posted by snsranch at 6:54 PM on August 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

To comment on the business on being a landlord: there are going to be unexpected costs. If you are not planning to rent to be able to coverage mortgage + insurance + taxes and enough money to create a hefty sized repair fund and ability to not go broke over an eviction or missed rent payments for your property you will not be a successful landlord. That means renting units under market rates and not investing in properties where you cannot get enough money to do this. The truth is that things happen to properties. High winds may damage a roof and cause a unnoticed leak. City sewage failure/backup could wreck a basement. Down the street kids could put a ball through a window. The bathtub could overflow and cause water damage to the dry wall. A tree could fall on the house or fence. Lightening could strike and mess with plugged in appliances. It's limitless.

If you can't imagine evicting a tenant don't rent. Ultimately you have to do what's best for you and the property. It's not about feelings or failures or owing people something. It is a business transaction.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:03 PM on August 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

People have spoken to the family piece but this kind of sentiment: we are very uncomfortable with the notion of leaving the house in the hands of someone who won’t take the most basic care of it: cleaning out the dryer filter after each use, checking the smoke detectors periodically, not running over the in-ground sprinkler heads with a lawn mower, etc.

Is frankly not really compatible with renting. Tenants will never look after a home they don't own like you would look after your own home, and it's unreasonable to expect someone to meet your standards like this. This doesn't mean you should expect the house to go to ruin, but, you gotta let go of worry about the freaking dryer filter, dude. I'm not sure if being a landlord would be a very good low stress outcome for you.
posted by smoke at 8:38 PM on August 8, 2014 [9 favorites]

Another option would be to ask them to pony up a large enough sum of money as a security deposit that you'd be comfortable would keep you covered in the event that they cause damage.

Secondly, have you considered what will happen if they break up? That might leave you with half the rent income and a real tough situation on your hands if the person who remains there is a family member. And the pet neglect would make me think a breakup would be more likely than damage to the house. But I don't know these people.

I think, after all is said and done, that if you're going to be the target of drama no matter what you do, you should choose the option that works best for you. You can't simultaneously set a boundary and take care of someone else's feelings, so own the boundary no matter how hard they try to pull at your heart-strings.
posted by alphanerd at 10:40 PM on August 8, 2014

Business arrangements with family members have built in issues. You've already had a preview. This is where family considerations and business concerns conflict. It's one thing to have a person look in on your pets--not to minimize the gravity of this--but it's another to enter into a contractual agreement that will cause quaking grounds down the road, if ever you have to deal with it in any way that doesn't have a huge "attaboy" quotient.

Being a landlord, to my mind, is a job, not an expedient. Your essay reveals your idea of how badly this could go. Even if you rent to someone other than the SIL and her SO, your situation will be defined by one issue after another, as you deal with the details of maintaining your rental. Unless you are extremely lucky, you won't get Mr. Miyagi to rent from you, so the place will undergo the typical degradation that befalls most rentals. I believe your relationship with the SIL will degrade accordingly. Some here have suggested that you sell your home. This seems like it would solve several on your concerns in one fell swoop.

However, it seems like you aren't satisfied with what happened with the pet-sitting deal...the behavior of your SIL's SO has caused you to reevaluate how you think of him. Fair enough, but I don't see a way to tidy up those particular loose ends. Should you not be able to come to an agreement (with the SIL) on this, your SIL may feel the need to take sides. In my opinion this is an unworthy hill to die on. In any case, whether or not you and the SIL ever get together on what happened, it's clear that renting to them is just putting together a situation that will bring you more drama down the road. You don't have to resolve the (pet-sitting) issue with them right now. You've already revised the SO's standing in your eyes, so just let it be. He may rehabilitate himself, or not, as time goes on. Your house doesn't have the be the fulcrum for that particular transition.
posted by mule98J at 9:24 AM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

If the partner had flaked on feeding the animals and then apologized once she was reminded of that fact, I'd agree with those suggesting you overlook it as an unfortunate, but forgivable, lapse. But once she's lied about it? Not a chance. She's proven she can't be trusted. Don't rent to her.
posted by Shmuel510 at 12:33 PM on August 9, 2014

I have worked both in and around property management. From what you have shared, let me assure you that it would be in your best interest not to rent out your home to ANYONE.

A good property management company does inspect monthly, etc. but face it, no one takes care of your home like YOU do (that goes for most of us, really) and I think you would be doing your sister in law no favors by renting to her even before that happened.

But before you totally decide to sell, talk to a realtor and let him or her do the math. My husband, who is one, has been telling some of his customers that right now is NOT a good time to put their home on the market (a lot depends on your local market, what you owe on the house, what you could conceivably get for it, etc.) Don't take a loss on your house just because somebody forgot to feed the cat.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:27 PM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

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