Asking a housemate to leave and they just do it
February 14, 2022 6:51 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend- My friend (Tom) is currently renting out a room in a house that he owns in Brooklyn to a woman (Betsy). Betsy has lived there since early last spring and initially was pleasant and chatty, maybe a bit excessively chatty, but still easy for Tom to get along with. They would share tasks like walking each others dogs, driving to the market or airport, do an occasional favor, etc. It was a pleasant house sharing situation. Until...

Betsy went back to visit family in the fall and since her return has been getting more and more standoff-ish to Tom and is now to the point of being almost aggressive. Initially upon her return instead of being chatty, she would just say a quick hello and go into another room, then it became a grunt, then it escalated into her not responding and actively avoiding eye contact and ignoring Tom if they walked by each other. Betsy then started texting Tom about very minor issues within the apt. Two of the examples he told me were about a dirty sponge left in the sink that she texted him about repeatedly over the course of a couple of days, and also about there being a few crumbs on the floor (Though the lease states that they share cleaning responsibilities, Betsy has never actually cleaned the house, Tom does this weekly. Betsy will only clean up after herself if she uses the kitchen or dining room, for example, Tom has been fine with this as he's a particularly neat person and it's easy for him to clean the house and considered it not worth it to cause any friction). Tom has assured me that he's done nothing to provoke Betsy, and was mystified with her behavior change.

Betsy refuses to speak directly to Tom and he's tried repeatedly to get her to sit down and have a discussion about what the issue is, he's also tried to find out the issue via email/text but Betsy either refuses to respond or responds aggressively (In one of his communications, he wrote to her that she didn't seem to be happy in the house anymore, and could they discuss it to try to resolve the issue and she wrote back all caps SHE'S HAPPY HOW DARE HE SAY SHES NOT HAPPY SHE'S A VERY HAPPY PERSON etc. etc.)

The latest occurrence happened when he emailed her about going into her bathroom to fix a minor issue. Because of her recent behavior, he wanted to make sure that he did everything 100% legally so he gave her written 24 hours notice that he needed to enter her bathroom and inspect for repairs. She became unhinged and started text ranting at him that he has no right to enter her private areas and made a very big issue about him trying to fix a small issue that she'd complained to him about.

The lease states that either party can end the lease with 30 days notice, and he intends to give her notice to vacate near the end of the month, but is afraid that this would set her off to the level where she might damage his belongings or harm his dog

Tom has tried to find resources to let him know what his options are, but everything he's found are geared toward landlords renting apartments to tenants, and not live in roommate situations. He'd like to have her vacate the house with as little stress as possible, but believes that there will be pushback from Betsy. He understands that he may have to go through eviction proceedings, which with the backlog NYC has would be a months long endeavor at best, so would like to avoid that.

He believes that there might be some mental health issue here, and in addition to looking for advice on getting her to leave the house is wondering about the legality of contacting her parents if he can locate them (she has blocked him on social media, and he has only met them once when she moved in (If it matters she is much younger than him at 26, he's in his 40s.).

Any advice on how best to handle this situation or resources he can use that can give him proper legal advice would be appreciated.
posted by newpotato to Law & Government (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: As very general advice: document everything. Write down every incident, as soon afterwards as practical to not give memory-blurriness time to work, and to be able to place weird-to-outright-concerning text exchanges and such right in the sequence of what-when-why. Photograph the state of the property--so that if things start going "missing" or damaged there's before-and-after evidence that's not just hearsay.

Probably wouldn't be too amiss to bite the bullet and retain a lawyer who can advise directly on tenant law matters and such.
posted by Drastic at 7:24 AM on February 14, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: This info on "roommate holdovers", including how to give the termination notice, might be helpful.
posted by pinochiette at 7:25 AM on February 14, 2022 [3 favorites]

He'd like to have her vacate the house with as little stress as possible

Kind of a fantasy at this point, and people with this mindset will often make anticipatory "concessions" that they think will make things easier, but that means not doing things by the legal book and often fucking themselves over in various ways. So he might as well drop this hope or expectation and proceed as if this is going to be ugly so he is prepared to respond to whatever things actually go wrong and not just be shocked.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:04 AM on February 14, 2022 [45 favorites]

I'm not familiar with NYC landlord/tenant laws so you may want to check that this is allowed, but one common tactic in other areas is for landlords to offer tenants a financial incentive to move out more quickly than required by law (or to move out of a rent controlled apartment). Tom could offer Betsy some amount of $$ if she moves out by a certain date - maybe a month's rent or so, if that's doable for him? It would be a lot less expensive than eviction!

Tom might also want to think about making up a white lie about the reason - maybe a family member wants to come stay with him indefinitely so he needs Betsy to move out in 30 days, but if she is able to move out in two weeks he will give her $xxx.
posted by maleficent at 9:08 AM on February 14, 2022 [15 favorites]

wondering about the legality of contacting her parents if he can locate them

IANAL but I can't imagine how this would be illegal - who her parents are is likely public information, anyone is allowed to access it.

I would try this first, since based on what you've described, this doesn't sound right - people who are functioning well don't berate their landlord over wanting to fix their bathroom. If she is in crisis, the parents may be able to help move her out. Because yeah, it's hard to force someone out without it getting ugly.
posted by coffeecat at 9:20 AM on February 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Friends recently took the kind and easygoing tactic when needing tenants to move out (so they could do essential, extensive repairs to the foundation) and it has backfired with a mushrooming of what has to be either severe mental illness or extreme malice on the tenants' part, leading to a protracted legal battle. Obviously don't be needlessly mean but seconding the idea of not making anticipatory concessions with the assumption that it will make things easier.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:36 AM on February 14, 2022 [6 favorites]

I would not contact the parents. Escalating weird behavior after seeing them is a big red flag that something isn’t right there, and bringing them into the mix may escalate things very quickly indeed.
posted by Bottlecap at 9:39 AM on February 14, 2022 [21 favorites]

Was there a lease? what does it say?
posted by nickggully at 9:44 AM on February 14, 2022

My gut says it is possible that this might escalate into a discrimination or harassment allegation so I would advise for that to be as protected as possible.

I suggest this because I had a manager who showed some of these behaviours - with erratic and sudden hostility. He was a large older man and couldn’t reasonably have said I sexually assaulted him, so instead he viciously accused me of planning to fake sexual harassment allegations against him, even though I had done nothing of the sort and we had never even been alone in the same room together! He was pretty clearly reaching for any accusation he could make to position himself as the victim and me as an aggressor.

In retrospect I wish I had recorded the conversation. Certainly I should have immediately transcribed it or voice-recorded myself recounting it. But I was so stunned, scared, and exhausted and horrified that I could barely even think about it. Encourage your friend to take all protective and documenting measures.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:50 AM on February 14, 2022 [6 favorites]

I would not contact the parents. No upside. WHat if they tell your friend she has a mental disability. That might make it harder to evict her. Cannot discriminate against a disability. Your friend needs to ask themselves if living with this person is worse than the likely probability that the lease termination process will get contentious. They both suck. Which is worse?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:04 AM on February 14, 2022

Best answer: If only for his peace of mind, your friend should consider boarding the dog just before implementing any kind of plan to get this tenant out. Likewise, it wouldn't be a bad idea to store some of his more important belongings with a friend or in a storage unit. He should also speak with a lawyer, too. Even if he needs to pay for the meeting, that is almost certainly an investment worth making under these circumstances. With the caveat that he should prioritize whatever advice the lawyer gives him, from a communication standpoint I think he should resist the urge to put the focus on, "You don't seem happy," or, "I'm confused by your behavior," or even, "I want to resolve this conflict." Eventually, he may need to say something along the lines of, "I am invoking the clause in your lease that allows either of us to end it with 30 days notice." But in the mean time, trying to get answers seems to just provoke her further. He may want to have someone come stay with him in addition to conducting all communication in writing, both to have a witness and also because it's hard not to feel crazy when someone is accusing you of violating their privacy, etc. (And all that said, this will definitely not be a low-drama process.)

Alternatively, if his consultation with a lawyer and/or other research and his own insight about this tenant leads him to conclude his best bet is to wait out the rest of the lease, he might consider how to respond to her angry texts. Maybe this would provoke her further, but if my housemate texted me about a sponge in the sink or crumbs on the floor, I'd be tempted to respond, "Hmm. I'm comfortable leaving the sponge in the sink, but it sounds like you're not. Let's have a conversation about cleaning preferences one evening this week. I'm free Mon/Wed/Thurs. What about you?" That's not ignoring the text, but it's also not buying into the premise that she gets to be the arbiter of cleanliness in the house.
posted by theotherdurassister at 11:02 AM on February 14, 2022 [11 favorites]

It is mid- February and she moved in early spring. I assume since most do a 1-year lease, she did as well. Since it isn't that far off, I would deal for now and not let her renew the lease. She may very well have a mental health issue going on, and really just prefer to be left alone and ignored. She will not appreciate having her parents contacted as a 26-year-old woman, so I would only do that if you truly think she is a danger to herself or others (and it sounds like she is not unless possibly confronted at this point). (FWIW, I have a 25-year-old daughter with mental health problems living with me and can see some similarities)
posted by maxg94 at 12:00 PM on February 14, 2022 [7 favorites]

A similar situation occurred to a friend of mine, also in Brooklyn, though different in that my friend was the main tenant of an apartment and a new tenant she knew only slightly through a vague social media connection became a roommate. Both were on the lease, though my friend had lived there for 2 years with another roommate and this new person was brought in when the first roommate left.

The woman was a terrible roommate, though it started out cordially enough. Within a couple of months my friend felt distinctly threatened by a woman who was angry and prone to accusatory outbursts. "You moved my coat! How dare you!" when her coat had been untouched. This kind of thing. My friend began staying at work as late as she dared before returning home to avoid her. Eventually they didn't speak at all and as things gradually got even more hostile my friend began to feel really unsafe, that this woman was having mental health problems and was too angry and unpredictable.

Guess who ended up moving out? She appealed to the landlord, who was sympathetic to my friend, but he could somehow not evict this woman because she was paying her rent. My friend moved out to escape, owing 4 months rent (which she could not afford), but she ended up paying because the landlord could not find someone to cohabit with the remaining tenant. The landlord was unable to evict the tenant, for reasons I can't really fathom, and last my friend heard the landlord was somehow forced to offer the remaining tenant a lease so she would not retaliate by becoming a squatter. I, not in New York City, was aghast at how this could happen. Real estate laws in New York City are extremely tenant-friendly. It sounds crazy but that's the way it is - no place for an amateur landlord.

In such a climate I would urge your friend to consult a good real estate attorney before things deteriorate further.
posted by citygirl at 12:07 PM on February 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

I think the parents and visit home are a possible red herring. It could be unrelated to that, or that visit in particular. I'd let that go.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:11 PM on February 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

He's in the situation and it can go badly. I recommend treating her like a sane person who's a good roommate, just to limit anger. We don't seem to be getting on well as roommates, and I am ending the lease. I'll provide whatever help I can so you can find a new place. He can put a camera in his room in case she violates his space. Check the legality of any other security. Take pictures of the apartment, email them to yourself at another email address or to a friend for a tiumestamp. He can look at her incoming mail, make sure he has contact info in case of trouble later. It isn't going to get better, so evict asap.
posted by theora55 at 3:32 PM on February 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is definitely lawyer territory. Speaking from NYC based experience any sort of eviction or roommate termination decision can drag on. After my grandmother died. It took months to get the roommate to leave so we could sell the apartment she owned. Months that this person essentially lived rent free.

If Tom wants to avoid lawyering up for as long as possible I would suggest trying to engage a mediator, which will be a less confrontational way to start proceedings.
posted by brookeb at 4:42 PM on February 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would get a consultation with a lawyer before doing anything, if only to learn some of the tips and gotchas and what-NOT-to-says. It's easy to let an aggressive person trip you up and get you to say something unplanned, and then have a silly discrimination or harassment case headache.

I also like the advice to say the bare minimum necessary: we don't seem to be getting along well, so I'm exercising my right to terminate as written in the lease. NOT anything about "I'll help xyz" that could be taken as a promise, and NOT any reasons or examples that can be then overcome with excuses, promises, or denial.

But I'm not a lawyer and that might be dumb advice, legally. Get real advice.
posted by ctmf at 9:44 PM on February 14, 2022 [5 favorites]

maxg94 has the best idea.

Giving a NYC tenant 30 days to find an apartment right now is a hellish ordeal; for someone going through a mental health crisis, it's even worse. Wait until the 1-year lease renewal date.

"we don't seem to be getting along well" - do NOT say this. This frames it as a conflict, and is subject to pushback. To de-escalate, I would recommend saying something like:

"I'm thinking of having a family friend move into the house in the future, after the lease is up. This means that I unfortunately won't be renewing the lease on X date. Sorry."

This says nothing about her, and can't be disputed.
posted by many more sunsets at 12:29 PM on February 15, 2022 [5 favorites]

My take on this is that it's possible that her family "opened her eyes" to her living situation and how it could be misconstrued as a relationship to outsiders. I think she may be trying to assert boundaries on her private space, and to treat the roommate situation more "business-like", but is having a problem dealing with her own emotions about that. Perhaps she would like to find a relationship that will lead to something more significant, but has been told or already believes that her roommate is inappropriate for this purpose, due to the age difference. Perhaps she is worried about leaning on him too much and developing a content and happy roommate relationship is not something that she understands how to do without developing more romantic feelings... so she is trying to cut him off (in a poor way) because she may already have had some of those feelings. If that is the case, your friend Tom needs to be mindful of the changed understanding of the relationship and accept the boundaries she is trying to create - lest he respond like the 'boyfriend' who has been snubbed. We know he is not, but I think it's possible that she just needs space from him to figure out her own feelings, and hopefully come to realize that it's more than okay to be a decent human being to a friend and roommate, even if she isn't in a serious relationship with him. It could also do with her sense of needing to feel in control of her own life, and not feel like she's trying to please someone else.
I hope this helps. At least in the understanding part, if not in the 'what to do' part.
posted by itsflyable at 1:41 PM on February 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

Your friend needs to get the dog out right now. Today. Use a cheap excuse about boarding training or doggy spa vacation. If she is having a mental health issue, like parents convinced her to stop taking meds, or she has a personality disorder, or she's just a rotten angry person that dog is an easy target. Get the dog out of there.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:26 AM on February 16, 2022

I recently rented from someone who had poor boundaries, and when I tried to pull back by shutting my bedroom door at night accused me of being passive aggressive. I mentioned that I felt our anxieties weren't working well together and gave a 30 day notice to move out (there was no lease), and she lost her shit and called the cops on me because when Instacart showed up with my groceries I opened the front door and she said it endangered her dog. And then said I was destroying her house when I was trying to put groceries away while she screamed at me, and I was quite frankly, traumatized. The cops came in with hands on their guns screaming "We know you can hear us." So forgive me if "Tom's" hysterical wondering about his dog being damaged with no evidence of that happening doesn't sound more batshit than grunting a few responses rather than being "overly chatty."

A young woman who flips out because man goes into her private living area/bathroom while she's not there tells me that Tom may have done/be doing something that comes off as predatory. Given how I'm still friends with dudes who assaulted me and claim not to understand that they did that, I am not inclined to give "Tom" the benefit of the doubt.

I also had older roommates when I was young and female, and there are a handful of things that can make the power dynamic feel way off: gender, age, the other party owns the house, the other party has lived there longer and/or is the only official person on the lease. And those last few have strong potential to be problematic no matter what the ages.

"You seem unhappy" is a dumbass thing for an older dude to say to a younger woman. Try "Hey, have I done something to upset you?" Although I agree, not now. Whatever the root cause, whether it involved "Tom" or not, it's too late for that tack.

I hate seeing questions like this get dogpiled with people obviously just supporting the person in power. Jumping to baording a dog? Mental illness? What the actual fuck.

When I move into a place, I try very hard to make myself likeable. Sometimes in the process, I discover the other person isn't likeable to *me* and I pull back, while trying to still keep open lines of communication about housekeeping duties. It could be as something like someone saying that my ass looks good every time I bend over to look in the oven (an old housemate, who incidentally posted to an online forum about whether he should fuck me). It could be discovering someone's politics are radically different, or they tell a story about a woman who got raped, but what should she have expected since she was in a hottub with two men. The person who said that was someone I really liked and respected. Did I confront him? No. Fuck no. Was he probably baffled by the sudden chill? Oh definitely. Would I have reamed anyone who suggested I was mentally ill? Fuck yes.

The fact is no one knows what's going on but nothing you've said about her sounds like an issue, aside from not cleaning. On the other hand "Tom" sounds like a dick: too chatty, not chatty enough, not happy, mentally ill, her family put her up to it, it maybe I should call her mommy and daddy. A TWENTY-FIVE year old. When in fact she may have had a traumatic familial visit and is retreating (as introverts do) to handle it.

Sure, sure, your friend would never do anything bad and pretend (or really be) oblivious. That's what everyone I know says. But she isn't exhibiting signs of hysteria and mania, just introversion, discomfort and some anger, the latter two directed as far as you know, only at "Tom." That's a big fucking red sign that Tom did something(s), whether he knows it or not.

The script someone suggested above, saying that he knows someone who wants to move in when her lease is up is best.

I cannot even begin to tell you what I went through as a woman with housemates. The one who went into my room when I was at work, and I started noticing things were being moved around in my bedroom, so I confronted and asked him not to go into it. He said he wouldn't stop, so I said fine I'll get a lock and lock the bedroom door from the outside, and he said he'd report me to the landlord. It escalated and I ended up contacting the landlord and taking a day off work and moving out while he was at work one day.

I have dozens of stories like that. It doesn't matter how nice, well-groomed, how nice they are to their pets, what their politics are, or what financial bracket they're in, so many dudes just can't be trusted.

I am super suspicious of roommate questions where one person is painted to be bad, crazy, or evil on the thinnest of evidence.

It's entirely possible Tom hasn't actually done anything and she's just going through a tough time, but when she tries to make space for herself to deal with whatever, she's picking up on his confusion/irritation/frustration and pressure. Because he is pressuring her. She's not the happy fun easy roommate he was expecting and if she's not an idiot she can tell that's a problem and that WILL make things worse.

Don't renew the lease. That's it. Nothing more needs to be done. All this weird tattling shit and wildly speculating that she will hurt the dog or belongings are catastrophizing. Is it possible that someone you live with could suddenly go completely insane? Sure, but it's unlikely, and there's no certain hedge against that.

This is why this last time I said fuck it, I'll be homeless before I live with a roommate again. And as traumatic as being homeless is, it's WAY LESS stressful than this shit. I can't imagine how she's feel if she knew her roommate had posted this waurstion by proxy because she's not being talkative, didn't want him in her bathroom when she was out, and complained (even if it was unfair) about his housekeeping.
posted by liminal_shadows at 4:05 PM on February 16, 2022 [4 favorites]

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