Help me find a *better* landlord/roommate
January 11, 2020 9:36 PM   Subscribe

I've been under A LOT of stress for the past few months and during this time I've moved to a new city for a career opportunity, but... I've ended up with a roommate/landlord situation that isn't working out. I have until the end of February to find a new place, which is a relief. How do I do a better job of finding a more compatible landlord/roommate? And how do I present this situation to a potential landlord?

I was so stressed with EVERYTHING going on when I got the job, that I did a really poor job of finding a place to live. I followed up on ONE advertisement, chatted with the landlord, she seemed decent enough, and moved in. I just wasn't able to go to my new city and meet people, get showings, etc. while my mom was sick and I was still living my old city. I went with someone who I thought was ok, and she's really a good person... but yeah, this isn't working out and I don't like living with her.

Really, this is my fault. I came in to this place as a complete ball of neurotic stress. I don't think that I've been the most pleasant roommate. I can think of a few times I've been rude, when it wasn't called for... like I was short with her when she didn't remember which Canada Post mail box belonged to the house, so I couldn't get mail. The back door kept sticking and I always had a hard time getting into the house, which made me kind of pissy a few times. My previous landlord/roommate and I would always vent about stupid things to each other (we weren't friends, but we got along ok)... and I should have waited to get to know my roommate more before venting to her. She's a nurse at a cancer clinic and said to me after venting "well, you should come to work with me one day!!" so I could understand that people have it worse. Like, so... I haven't been great to live with. However, in the larger scheme of things, I just don't think our personalities connect on any level.

Furthermore, I thought I would be OK living with a dog because my previous landlord/roommate had a dog... but I think I forgot how important the BREED is when it came to dogs. I'm not a dog person, but I had no complaints living with my old roommate's labradoodle. She was high energy now and then, but generally ignored my existence until she wanted me to let her out into the yard. My new roommate's dog is a "northern mix" breed type of dog, and was a rescue dog until recently. I've learned that they're stubborn/talkative dogs, but I'm really not comfortable living with a dog who growls at me when I'm trying to relax. Despite the fact that my roommate insists that the dog is safe... deep down, I don't trust her dog? She's never been aggressive, despite the growling, but I find it really uncomfortable. I never had a worry about the labradoodle becoming aggressive, but yeah, I'm not comfortable with her dog. Anyway, so that's also caused tension.

I just thought she would be a good fit when I was under all that stress, and ugh, it hasn't worked out. Now I'm stressed again because I need to find a place before March and I don't want to deal with this shit again. The city I'm living in is a bit more transient than my previous city, so month-to-month leases are common which makes me uncomfortable, especially because this situation is the result of a month-to-month lease. ANYWAY, so my question is... despite feeling desperate to find a new place to live before March 1, HOW do I do a better job of finding a more compatible landlord/roommate? I'm so tempted to go with the NEXT first person who will rent to me, but I'm afraid of making the same mistake. What questions do I need to ask THEM? I've learned to filter future places with "no pets," as a result, but personality-wise... how can I know better? Even though I'm still stressed, I'm starting to settle in at work, the situation with my mom is... well.. it's something we're working on, etc. So now I feel like I am more able to mentally find a roommate. I just don't know what questions I should be asking, or what I should be noticing.

Also, how do I explain why I'm moving out after basically 2 months to a new potential landlord? My current roommate said that she'll give me a reference, but I feel like now I'm a complete red flag. Is it OKAY to tell a future landlord that this situation just didn't work out personality-wise and I wasn't comfortable with her dog? Should I just pretend I was staying with a friend or something, getting used to the city/job, and never mention this roommate?

Truthfully, I am afraid that I won't be able to find a better place in the next month and I don't want that to cloud my judgement. I don't want that stress to convince me to take the first option I get, I want to find a decent place to stay until the end of my contract and NOT move again!
posted by VirginiaPlain to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don’t really have a lot to offer in response to your question, but as a nurse who works in a Level I trauma center and sees people having the very worst day of their lives every single time I go to work, I have to say that this:

She's a nurse at a cancer clinic and said to me after venting "well, you should come to work with me one day!!" so I could understand that people have it worse

is a completely unacceptable form of emotional rank-pulling that is never OK. Suffering is not a contest, and you don’t have to experience a certain amount of it to deserve to feel your feelings.
posted by jesourie at 10:30 PM on January 11, 2020 [19 favorites]

I don't know anything about apartment-hunting where you are but if it's at all possible don't share your home with your landlord. That's a whole other level of stress that you don't need.
posted by bendy at 12:17 AM on January 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Can you find a single occupancy place?
posted by freethefeet at 12:22 AM on January 12, 2020

I think there's a couple of things to do here.

Firstly, make sure your reference is good. Apologise to your current roommate for being short with her, try to keep new venting/complaining to a minimum, and ask if there's anything you can do to make the time until you move out more pleasant for both of you. Hopefully that'll reestablish a feeling that you're both good people who just don't suit each other as roommates.

Secondly - there's no surefire way of guaranteeing you'll be good housemates with someone you get on with at a first meeting. If month-to-month contracts are the norm where you live, that can be a benefit to you as well - you don't want to be tied in for six months if you end up hating your roommate/landlord. Plus, you're new to the city! It's likely that in time you'll make real friends who want roommates, who you can then move in with. Don't panic and take the first place, but also don't treat this like you're interviewing for a new best friend. It doesn't have to be perfect. I definitely think telling a future landlord that you weren't comfortable with the dog is fine, and if you're getting along with them it's not a problem to say you just didn't have much in common with your last roommate and would prefer to live with someone you could be friends with. (Side note: my understanding is that dogs often pick up on their owner's emotions, so if your current roommate was feeling unsure about you get dog might be treating you as suspicious as a result. It's not necessarily to do with the breed. But if you're not a dog person, it probably makes sense to avoid houses with them!)

I'd also suggest looking for ads where the current occupant(s) say a little more about themselves that "we're tidy and quiet and like hanging out". That's basically meaningless. When I was looking for a roommate in a spare room in my houseshare, my most positive experience came from my existing roommate and I writing an ad that said we were big Harry Potter fans, were former history/archaeology students, and listed a few hobbies. And the person we ended up picking did the same for her overlapping interests, and as soon as we got her email we had sort of already decided we liked her better than all the polite but pretty bland quiet and tidy people who didn't have much in common with us. Over a decade later, she's still one of my best friends (and I've basically lost touch with my original roommate!)
posted by jglitter at 1:36 AM on January 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think you need to give yourself a break. You talk about how you were anxious and stressed when you moved and you think that caused you to make a bad choice. But you made the best choice you could with the information you had on hand and with the time and bandwidth you had. It’s not like you were thoughtless when you made the choice. It’s that things that you couldn’t have anticipated happened, and things you thought would be fine based on your previous experiences, turned out not to be fine.

So you didn’t have the best experience and you hope the next one will be better. Stop blaming yourself for not having the best experience possible. It is stressing you out and you risk looking back at this time and blaming yourself again if things don’t work out.

I think you could do some work to accept that not everybody is going to be easy for you to live with, and that’s ok. You sound like a deeply accommodating and thoughtful person. That means it may be hard for you to know who is and isn’t going to be a good roommate right off of the bat because you can get along with a lot of people. If a place seems great but the person seems iffy, you’ll bargain with yourself and say “well if I could control my emotions better when I’m stressed it will be fine...”

So remember that your ability to be accommodating is a good thing if you NEED to do it, and after you meet someone as a potential roommate, immediately write down your first impression. Go ahead and be critical! It’s ok. Just write it down so you don’t talk yourself out of your first impression later. If the “worst” happens and you wind up choosing a roommate that had a trait you were concerned about, you can do that eyes open, and be less likely to blame yourself in the future.
posted by pazazygeek at 4:12 AM on January 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

This is really not your fault, it’s just how renting house shares is. I’ve moved into shared flats on the basis I really warmed to one of the flatmates and she moved out a month later leaving me with the guy I could (by then) barely tolerate, and other similar tales. I’m not sure there’s a great deal you can do to avoid it - I always say trying to find someone to share with is worse than blind dating, because you only get 10 minutes with them and you’re deciding instantly whether you want to live with them, not just go for another drink with them. So yay! It’s not your fault. But boo - it’s hard to prevent.

To improve the odds: Look at as many places as you can, put the word out among everyone you know.

Don’t sweat about explaining the two month thing - I think you might be confusing this with a job interview. “The dog growls at me when I try to relax, it’s just not the right place for me” is reason enough - if they even ask. Though tbh you can probably just say you found somewhere short term when you moved to the city and now you’re looking for somewhere to stay longer. Good luck - and you have my sympathy, renting in house shares is hard work. I moved on average every 9 months for 5 years for a myriad of reasons while I was doing it and I’m so glad that part of my life is over. Don’t blame yourself.
posted by penguin pie at 4:41 AM on January 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Landlords will completely understand if you started by moving into a barely viable place when you arrived. It was cheaper than staying in a hotel while you learned the community and got yourself situated. I think if you push, "And now I am looking for a long term place to live..." they will assume that where you are now is closer to camping on a friend's floor than a full rental.

The thing about complaining and getting upset is that you always have to gauge how much it will distress the people around you. There are occasions where one person can drop half a dozen curse words and kick a chair out of the way and two minutes later they are sunny and calm... and the other person in the room is tense and anxious until next Tuesday. So having an emotional intensity that matches your room mate is critical, the same way as having the same tidiness habits is critical, and the same ability to tolerate ambient noise. It's not at all that you were wrong to express your frustration in a way that your room mate could not miss, it's that your room mate wasn't the kind of person to either grin, or to smile sympathetically and fix you a cup of tea. And that doesn't mean that it's wrong of her to be disturbed by your venting unless she is a venter herself.

The dog is a deal breaker. If you don't feel safe it doesn't matter in the least if you are wrong or right. It means that you can't relax. Since you don't have a new apartment yet, I would take some time to interact with the dog to establish a greater level of friendliness and affection between the pair of you, and to establish your dominance. Also worth noting is any patterns behind the growling. If the dog growls at you when it has a rawhide bone and thinks you might be about to steal it, then the dog should not get rawhide bones in the same area where you relax. It could be as simple as every time the dog growls in that situation she takes the rawhide bone or other object that dog is guarding away from the dog and tosses it into the centre of the kitchen. Training the dog not to growl is on her and is very important, but as a member of a community of three it's also on you to help her with the training but figuring out where the aggression issue is coming from and finding ways to work with her. If her dog doesn't want to see you in the kitchen, then a routine of having her crate the dog when it is time for you to fix meals is a way to address the situation rather than to just have the three of you ill at ease and alarmed.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:54 AM on January 12, 2020

Thanks, jesourie, for the term emotional rank-pulling.

A dog growling at you is not okay. You're doing fine, coping as well as you can. Landlord/ roomie is a poor match.

I have had very successful roommates, some became good friends. I mostly asked about cleaning and noise habits because I need my home to be reasonably clean and not noisy after 11p or before 7 or 8a, and I really don't want to have to argue about these issues at my home.

Ask who their employer is. One tenant said she worked at Big Company, didn't mention she was a temp, and she was weird, didn't get many jobs, had trouble paying the rent and utilities. Ask what system is in place for paying utilities and buying toilet paper. Finding out that a roommate didn't pay the electric bill when they move out and the lights go out is a drag. Post an envelope on the fridge; utility bills go there.

Then ask some leading questions. What do you do for fun? Do you have any hobbies? Do you play an instrument? I really don't care if my housemate is cool, or if they like music I don't, but the guy who played electric guitar badly didn't enhance my life. Try to get a feel for if they have politics opposite yours; it would be hard for me to live with a Trump voter or someone intolerant of equal rights.

Meet any dog in person and if the dog is not well-trained, reconsider. A well-trained dog comes when called, doesn't jump on people, certainly doesn't growl at someone after being introduced.
posted by theora55 at 7:54 AM on January 12, 2020

Response by poster: Thank you all for the advice so far! I'm really feeling a sense of relief that this isn't a "good fit," so I can get out. I've had a really odd feeling about this place from day three or four.
Don’t sweat about explaining the two month thing - I think you might be confusing this with a job interview. “The dog growls at me when I try to relax, it’s just not the right place for me” is reason enough - if they even ask. Though tbh you can probably just say you found somewhere short term when you moved to the city and now you’re looking for somewhere to stay longer.
You're totally right that I probably AM confusing this with a job interview, penguin pie! I guess it usually looks strange to apply for a job after a month or two, so I thought that might also apply to landlords. I suppose, I'm just worried that I'll sound suspicious to the new landlord? My esthetician (we chatted about this as she was waxing my eyebrows!), of all people, was the one who suggested not even mentioning my current roommate/landlord to a new one, but I feel like... not having a reference from her is weird? I haven't moved around a lot, so I am finding that part of this situation stressful.

If I say that I was staying in a less-formal arrangement (with a friend of a friend or something), they wouldn't expect THAT person as a reference would they? I think I am confusing this with job searching. I have a good reference from my previous landlord (I'm actually seeing her to pick up some stuff I forgot in December! Oof! So I can explain the situation to her so she knows).
Since you don't have a new apartment yet, I would take some time to interact with the dog to establish a greater level of friendliness and affection between the pair of you, and to establish your dominance. Also worth noting is any patterns behind the growling.
Jane the Brown, I really find dealing with a dog that I have to help train/take care of to be really exhausting. From what I've gathered, the dog growls when it wants me to do something... like take it on a walk (hard pass), play with her, or retrieve a toy from under the couch. It's not totally aggressive, but I feel uncomfortable ignoring the requests from the dog, because it just... sits there and stares at me. Then growls again! My roommate just tells me the dog is "talking" to me and that I should just command her to sit in the dog bed or in her bedroom. Writing this paragraph makes me realize that I really should have found a new place to live sooner, the dog really makes me uncomfortable!!! Whenever the dog growls she just baby talks to it and says things like "are you being a jerk?!?!? hehe" and assures me that she would NEVER hurt me, which makes me wonder "how would YOU know, you've only owned her since September!?!?!" I never thought I would miss my old roommate's labradoodle!

There's been a few other things that have been bothering me about this situation: late night guests (after 9pm) with no head's up, not knowing where her community mailbox is (wtf? how am I supposed to pick up my mail), leaky bathtub drain so I can't take a bath, vacuuming after the "quiet hours" in the lease, she also spent 4 days "hungover" after New Year's... which was very uncomfortable for me.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 8:09 AM on January 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think also with all the stress you have been experiencing it might be hard to gauge what's a legitimate concern/annoyance because you might be wondering if you are just "stress-flooded".

Sounds like this place is not a good fit, but hey you needed somewhere to live fairly quickly. Look for a new place, and if they knock you back, eh, it wasn't to be. Keep looking.

Good luck!
posted by freethefeet at 3:34 PM on January 12, 2020

Is there any way you can swing a studio or living alone? It seems like things that are somewhat expected in a roommate living situation are just too much for you right now. It’s likely more expensive, but so is moving repeatedly because roommates aren’t a good fit or living with strangers is just too much extra stress heaped on.
posted by quince at 6:48 PM on January 12, 2020

Response by poster: It's really not financially feasible for me to rent a single unit in this place. I don't make enough and certainly don't want to waste my money on furnishing an apartment I'll be living in for 1-year.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 7:07 PM on January 12, 2020

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