How much should my housemate pay me back for breaking my laptop?
August 19, 2014 7:18 PM   Subscribe

Last Year my housemate (and good friend) spilt tea on my laptop and it broke. The laptop was about 2 years old and worth $1300.00. At the time he couldn't afford to pay me anything, and as I was low on cash myself I replaced it with cheaper tablet option, worth $450.00. A year has now passed and he is in a better position to pay me back- What do you think is a fair amount given the worth of the 2 year old laptop and the amount I spent replacing it?
posted by Valdigs to Human Relations (22 answers total)
Personally, I'd go on the resale value, which is highly dependent on brand. Perhaps use Craigslist or eBay to get a feel for the fair market value of the laptop and tablet, and make an ask based on that sum.
posted by Mr. Six at 7:22 PM on August 19, 2014

What did you agree on at the time? That's what he should pay you.

If you didn't agree on anything, I'd ask him what he thinks is fair. But unless he has offered to reimburse you at this delayed date, you should expect your bringing it up to put a damper on your friendship.
posted by summerstorm at 7:23 PM on August 19, 2014 [17 favorites]

Was he using your laptop when he spilled tea on it? Did you give him permission? Had you left your laptop open on the dining room table and walked away?
posted by k8t at 7:38 PM on August 19, 2014

How about he finds how much the used laptop costs and gives you that money and you give him the tablet?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:39 PM on August 19, 2014

Barring outrageously irresponsible tea drinking behavior, somewhere between zero dollars and half the cost of what you paid at the time for a replacement device ($225).
posted by ewok_academy at 7:42 PM on August 19, 2014

Was the laptop $1,300 when it was new, or is that the estimate of its value when it broke? Laptops lose value pretty fast.
posted by anadem at 7:43 PM on August 19, 2014 [14 favorites]

A case of beer and a laugh about the situation?

He might be in a better financial position but after a year, maybe you are too. I'd honestly say in the grand scheme of things, move on.
posted by Youremyworld at 7:43 PM on August 19, 2014 [17 favorites]

It depends on the circumstances of how it happened originally and how it played out. Did he say anything like, "Oh my god, I am so so sorry. There's no way I can pay you right now right now but I swear I will get the money to you when I have it"? And did you agree to those terms, or just any conversation that indicated he took personal responsibility and he wanted to pay you in the future? Were you like, "Let's figure out the amount down the road"? Or was it more like he said, "Oh my god, oops, man"? Or you were like, "OH MY GOD YOU BROKE MY EFFING COMPUTER" and he was like, "I DID NOT BREAK IT"? It just really really depends on how that conversation went.

Do you know he's in a better position to pay you back because he said, "By the way, I want to pay you back for the computer because I can afford to now" or are YOU wanting to say, "By the way, it seems like you have sorted out your financial situation so now would be a good time to reimburse me for the broken computer"? Those are pretty different circumstances to be dealing with.

Was it worth $1300 new or was that the value at the time he spilled stuff on it and it was two years old?
posted by mermily at 7:44 PM on August 19, 2014 [13 favorites]

Suggestion one: the current resale value of that laptop series

However, mitigated by fault. Based on "in your own room" as 100%, on large dining room table as 75%, on a cramped dining room table as 50%, and "in the kitchen sink" as 0% his fault (interpolate as necessary).
posted by flimflam at 7:50 PM on August 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

Did he walk over to your personal space and spill the tea or was your laptop in a common area? I think you may need to let it go. Ugh, now the song from Frozen is in my head again. Dammit.
posted by myselfasme at 8:00 PM on August 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

If he were to repay you, the amount should be whatever amount would purchase a similar laptop today in order to replace it. The reason is that the purpose of his payment is to bring the situation back to wherever it was before he broke the old one. "Similar laptop" does not mean a three-year-old laptop with wear and tear from Craigslist, by the way. It means one of similar price point and specifications. If a mid-range laptop was broken, then a mid-range laptop is what you are entitled to.

This isn't part of your question, but unless he has offered to purchase you a new laptop, I'd let this slide because you'll end up damaging up the friendship whether or not he does pay you. I am generally pro-creditor but there is something very obnoxious about stepping up to a friend and saying, "I see you got a raise a work. How about that money you owe me?"

When a friend or family member breaks your stuff, it's the same as lending them money. Don't ever expect to get paid. If they do pay you, consider it found money.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:08 PM on August 19, 2014 [10 favorites]

Insurance would usually pay "lower of cost or market value" -- ie whatever he could have sold the laptop for the moment before you spilt tea on it. Probably well under $1300, but more than $450.
posted by miyabo at 8:33 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ensure your two year old laptop was actually worth (as in, people were buying at that price) $1300 at the time. Not many two year old laptops, except the very very sweetest, are worth $1300 at two years of age.

If you can afford to, I would let it go. Acts of magnanimity can feel nice. If you can't, let your friend take the lead.
posted by smoke at 8:38 PM on August 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

Would your renter's insurance cover it? Would your roommate's?
posted by slateyness at 8:49 PM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

What was the make of the laptop?

If it was an Apple, then the resale value will be higher than most equivalent PCs. 2 years old is quite a lot though. Probably looking at taking at least a 3rd off the value. For a PC it depends, but maybe half.

Why not make a compromise. Instead of going through the pain of arguing over details and sucking the money off your friend, you could 'upgrade' your current tablet, and have your friend pay the difference. iPads have a really good resale value, as long as they have been looked after. Sell your oldish ipad on ebay, take that money and buy a new ipad with your friend paying the $200/$300 difference.

Everyone wins.
posted by 0bvious at 4:24 AM on August 20, 2014

You could figure straight line depreciation based on a three year lifetime, I.e after two years of use, it would have 1/3 of its value left. This a compromise to account for value falling rapidly at first on one hand, and the actual useable lifetime actually being longer than three years.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:29 AM on August 20, 2014

Was there no chance of repair? The repair costs seems like a variable that is unmentioned by anyone. I would not think they owe more than repair costs.
posted by smackfu at 7:08 AM on August 20, 2014

Here's a similar question where there was a lot more information. Even there, opinions were divided.

For me, the reason to ask friends for money when they break something would be if 1) it's clearly their fault and 2) it puts you in a jam you need money to get out of, and you don't have that money.
posted by BibiRose at 7:37 AM on August 20, 2014

current resale value if you are going to go the pay you back route.

Was he using the laptop or it was out and he knocked a glass of tea into it. If it is the latter, its an accident that shouldn't require pay back.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:59 AM on August 20, 2014

"…whatever he could have sold the laptop for the moment before you spilt tea on it…"

This is the only value that has any meaning. The fact that he didn't pay it back straight away is a separate issue that has no relevance to the amount. Your roommate became indebted to you as soon as you two agreed that he was liable at very least, if not as soon as he damaged it. Him not paying that debt at the time means, if anything, that he owes you more, rather than less because you've not had the use of the asset or the money for all this time.

You may well wish to discount that based on culpability &/or expectations arising from discussion(s) you had with him at the time or even the fact that he's a good friend, but it's value at the time of the accident should be the starting point.
posted by mewsic at 9:07 PM on August 20, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. The laptop was a Mac Air and was $1300 at time of purchase, so I'm guessing was probably only worth $400 ish at time of accident. For the record it was in a common area, my mate was very drunk and was going in for a group hug, I think, when accident occured, IE it could happen to anyone. it was not fixable under my apple care. The conversation at the time was like Him: I'm so sorry, I'll get it fixed/pay you back etc. Me: Oh shit. Him: What can I do? Me: pay something when you're ready, we'll figure out how much later.
The 'let it go' factor is one we've both employed over the last months, I've covered a couple of his other bills as well, but tax-return time is approaching and other investments we both have will be paying dividends soon. Hence, re-paying has come up again in dialogue. That, and I also need the extra money, but who doesn't?
posted by Valdigs at 2:11 AM on August 23, 2014

Response by poster: Full disclosure...he managed to go overseas (credit card purchase) in the interim, even though he really couldn't afford it- but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. Obviously the accident-factor of laptop breakage could just make it a write-off, but the other bills that i have covered + the fact that he took a holiday (I haven't been OS in ages because I couldn't afford it) have left me with a niggling feeling that it'd be nice to have some renumeration for the laptop.
That is all. Thanks for listening.
posted by Valdigs at 2:25 AM on August 23, 2014

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