How to best deal with an irresponsible/dramatic housemate?
July 21, 2017 10:47 AM   Subscribe

My housemate had some serious health problems this year and then her long term boyfriend broke up with her. She's going off the rails, causing drama, being manipulative and clinging to a burdensome victim narrative without taking any responsibility for her own actions. How do I deal with this? Snowflakes below.

In the beginning of this year our housemate had serious health problems that required two emergency surgeries. It was a rough and scary time for her and we rallied around to take care of her. Once she started to heal and could function again, her long term boyfriend broke up with her.

Understandably, she was incredibly hurt and feeling intense rejection. At the start we were sympathetic and supportive but over time it seems like she began clinging to a victim narrative and seeking vengeance against her ex, saying things like "I am going to turn all of his friends against him." I get that sometimes we say things in the heat of the moment but her behavior has been increasingly self-centered and manipulative. A few examples:

*As part of her grieving she went on an online shopping spree. Packages were constantly arriving at the house for her and she was ordering lingerie, gadgets and other unnecessary things. This is all fine but she later posted a GoFundMe page begging for money and saying she spent it all on her health care. I live with her and know this is not true.

*She took leave from work and has decided she wants to live on disability checks. She was supposed to go back to work sometime in early May but instead told her job she was still healing. In reality she went on a trip to Vegas, local street festivals and doing drugs at parties. (Including one that her ex attended that resulted in some very worrying early morning drug-fueled texts to her friends and causing a bit of panic.) She says she cannot commute 30 minutes to work because of her back but just came back from a trip to Europe (which she may have done to stalk her ex) and is about to go on a trip to Nepal.

*When she left for her recent 2 month Europe trip, we had to find another housemate. She changed her phone number, Facebook account and even email address while she was gone without telling us so we haven't been able to reach her or check in. She also brought a subletter into the house to cover her rent but failed to inform us of the actual dates this person would sublet. We only found out last night when we briefly saw her that she decided to go to Nepal because "she needs to take care of herself."

On top of all of this we were cleaning up after her around the house, dealing with the drama of her breakup, having to remind her to pay rent every month and handling the adult responsibilities. She's been completely checked-out and self-absorbed. As I've dealt with several friends dying very suddenly this year and struggling through my own grief, I'm having a very hard time being sympathetic to her plight at this point.

I tried to express my frustrations to her last night by framing it as "your behaviors are becoming a burden to others, please come back to earth" but she became immediately defensive and crying about her health problems and need for self-care. It seems that anyone who tries to confront her about her behavior is labeled an enemy instead of a concerned person. I certainly didn't help matters by becoming frustrated with her and telling her what I thought she should do (go back to work, stop doing drugs, see a therapist). Now I am an enemy trying to control her life.

I want to try and be compassionate but my bucket is running dry at this point. Since it seems that she isn't going to get her shit together, what are some strategies for handling a housemate in this mental state?
posted by JaneTheGood to Human Relations (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think you need to have her not be your housemate as quickly as possible. Why would you continue to live with this nonsense?
posted by stevedawg at 10:53 AM on July 21, 2017 [38 favorites]


*When she left for her recent 2 month Europe trip, we had to find another housemate. She changed her phone number, Facebook account and even email address while she was gone without telling us so we haven't been able to reach her or check in. She also brought a subletter into the house to cover her rent but failed to inform us of the actual dates this person would sublet. We only found out last night when we briefly saw her that she decided to go to Nepal because "she needs to take care of herself."

What??!

Start googling to figure out how to legally and efficiently get her out of your house. That is how you handle this. Your compassion is admirable, but she's abusing it and you.
posted by rtha at 10:57 AM on July 21, 2017 [29 favorites]


I would start by targeting what is within your domain as a housemate to care about. Paying rent on time, cleaning up after herself, subletting her room - these are definitely worth your attention.

Whether or not she's buying "unnecessary" things or being dishonest with her employers are really not your business.

It's clear you disapprove of her choices lately (and that's certainly a valid response) but expressing your judgement about it is not going to help matters in terms of making your house a livable place. If your tone with her in person is anything like the tone of your post - yeah, she's going to be defensive.

Pick your battles here - get with the other housemates (I assume it's not just you) and decide what your limits are. Is she on the lease? What are the terms of the lease as far as non-payment of rent? Can you make rent without her? Etc.

You are frustrated and that's totally fair, but I think dealing with this as dispassionately as possible, setting aside your own feelings of disappointment, compassion, and anger, will be the best way to go.
posted by pantarei70 at 10:58 AM on July 21, 2017 [28 favorites]


I'm not your lawyer, nor your landlord, but this is absolute nonsense.
As SteveDawg said above, you need to take immediate and forceful action toward this person not being your roommate any more.
Check with your state and local laws about renters, squatting and such.
You gotta make sure this follows the spirit and the letter of the law, because this person also sounds like the type that could be vindictive and drag you and yours through the court system to fight the eviction.
Yikes.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 11:00 AM on July 21, 2017 [7 favorites]


Oh wow, I was in a really similar situation earlier this year - actually I posted a thread about it that you should be able to find!

It is sad about her break up. But it is not for you to bear the brunt of the fallout of her issues, however much you may empathise with them. Depending on your situation, I would be taking steps to leave/have her leave. You don't know how long it will take for her to resolve her problems and you shouldn't be having to 'cope'. You don't need to drown with her, look after your mental/emotional health.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 11:01 AM on July 21, 2017


My partner and I plan to move out later this year so right now is figuring out how to handle her in the short term. We're all co-tenants on the lease so I don't think we have legal grounds to remove her from the lease. There is the option of informing our landlord and asking them to remove her but this could result in housing problems for us as well. Since we don't plan on being here long term it seems to be more trouble than it's worth. I've contemplated this but can't find an easy way to remove her from the house. If it continues to escalate it could be worth telling her we're tired of living with her but we can't force her out, as far as I know.
posted by JaneTheGood at 11:03 AM on July 21, 2017


It's clear you disapprove of her choices lately (and that's certainly a valid response) but expressing your judgement about it is not going to help matters in terms of making your house a livable place. If your tone with her in person is anything like the tone of your post - yeah, she's going to be defensive.

I think this is a really fair response from pantarei70 and I may be getting too amped up and judgemental on these little things. Setting aside the emotional component and distancing myself will probably be more beneficial.
posted by JaneTheGood at 11:12 AM on July 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Given your update, the best way to deal with this is just write her off and focus on what you can do for yourselves (but including setting and enforcing boundaries like requiring she pay her rent, and taking action if she tries further subletting arrangements without working with you - go find out your rights so you can exercise them if you need to).

She's suffering a very unpleasant post-traumatic meltdown, and you can't talk someone out of that. She either needs to recognize for herself that she needs to get help and do that, or she can continue on her way until it winds down or she hits bottom. Stop inserting yourself in her drama and dwelling on the badness of her behavior, just write it off. She's going through a thing, it's her thing to go through, nothing you can do but protect yourself.

Generally if a person goes through one of these things and later gets their shit together, they walk away from all the bridges they set on fire so they can start fresh - which is probably for the best for everyone involved - so there's no point in making this harder on yourself in the service of maintaining some kind of relationship.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:15 AM on July 21, 2017 [19 favorites]


Find a really excellent subletter (if permitted by landlord/lease) and move out while she's in Nepal.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:15 AM on July 21, 2017 [8 favorites]


There are some parts of this that scream "she needs therapy" like the compulsive purchases and her reaction to the breakup. If you were closer, like a partner or family member, you might be able to keep a closer eye on her or have some obligation, but as roommates the best thing you can do is clearly outline her obligations as a roommate, and determine what you can do if she fails to meet those obligations. Get the financial and legal obligations in writing -- her amount of rent due, any concerns about misuse of the common area, and anything that is disrupting your living space.

The latter aren't legally viable, but her agreement to her part of the rent and her ability to abide by the rental agreement are. As for the personal parts, until she crawls out of this hole, she's not your friend, she's a roommate. Maybe a not-great one, but as long as she pays the rent and doesn't screw anything else up, that's your stake in it.
posted by mikeh at 11:18 AM on July 21, 2017


If I were in your shoes I would be incredibly frustrated too, and much earlier than this. In my book you have been very patient and understanding.

At this point this feels like a "put on your own oxygen mask" situation. Without giving the landlord too many details, you might inquire as to whether you can get out of the lease early. If you can, let housemate know that it's happening - don't ask; tell.
posted by vignettist at 11:27 AM on July 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


You are her housemate, not her therapist or even close friend. Remember that. It is easy to get caught up in things that are ultimately not your responsibility. You need to focus on getting rent paid and living in an ordered environment. Not your monkey not your circus. Keep remembering this.
posted by kariebookish at 11:37 AM on July 21, 2017 [7 favorites]


"As a member of this household, you are expected to pay rent in full and on time, every month, as well as clean up after yourself. Can you commit to doing this?"
posted by Automocar at 11:41 AM on July 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


Thanks everyone for your helpful responses, these are good perspectives to keep in mind. While detaching completely is going to be a bit difficult (we have many, many friends in common and I get texted about her behavior by concerned mutual friends) I think the advice to focus on holding her to some bare minimum housemate standards is solid. If she attempts to talk to me about any of her drama or problems I will repeat the mantra "Not my circus, not my monkeys" and walk away.
posted by JaneTheGood at 12:46 PM on July 21, 2017 [7 favorites]


Yeah, just be sure to know the ins and outs of your lease and local tenant law if applicable, so that you can tell if an issue comes up that you do need to be involved in.

(And her maintaining some way to get in touch with her in case of emergency is a valid thing for you, or your landlord, to request.)
posted by trig at 12:56 PM on July 21, 2017


You can use the same tactics with mutual friends, too. "She's an adult, this is her life to live." Don't gossip or even make it feel like you're open to talking about her, unless it's something urgent someone needs to pass on to you, like she's threatening to hurt herself or is committing crimes or similar.

She's going to bridge-burn herself out of those social circles anyway in all likelihood, so it may be helpful - in the sense that everybody will stop participating in her drama so much - to lead by example there.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:57 PM on July 21, 2017 [14 favorites]


Spending months in Europe and Nepal to take care of herself, you can certainly expect not to have to deal with her drama and rental BS once she returns. You can use the opportunity of her return to not put up with any of the stuff you mention here. Just start over until you can move.
posted by rhizome at 1:37 PM on July 21, 2017


Is she leaving post-dated rent checks to cover her rent while she's gone?

My biggest concern would be that when the first of the month came around, she would be incommunicado thousands of miles away (and who knows if she would even have her share of the rent money, or have already spent it on travel expenses or items).
posted by blueberry at 2:04 PM on July 22, 2017


I am a landlord but I am not your landlord and I have a potentially stupid question: does your lease/rental agreement allow the subletting she did? If not, then that gives you some leverage either for dealing with her and trying to enforce behavioral norms like "pay the rent on time." If she's unpleasantly defensive when dealing with you, this framing might provide an angle for interacting with her - the landlord becomes the oppressing force and you're not, which might let her deal with you less defensively.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:31 AM on July 23, 2017


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