How to deal with good person who is a bad roommate
February 21, 2008 9:55 AM   Subscribe

I bought a house a few months ago, shortly thereafter asked a friend and former housemate to move in with me, and am now feeling almost constantly enraged by behaviors that didn't bother me so much when I didn't own the house we shared. In fairness to myself, I think some of the behaviors are genuinely unfortunate--but I need some advice on what are reasonable limitations and how to stop my own complete transformation into a raging, miserable Nazi.

My roommate leaves unwashed dishes around, and seldom lifts a broom or takes out the trash or recycling. She leaves a space heater on almost constantly so she can wear tank tops inside in the winter, and the utilities--which I made the mistake of including in her monthly rent--have doubled. She brought home a new boyfriend a week after she'd moved in, and he was over 3-4 nights a week until she dumped him two weeks later and the next day brought home a new one. I didn't much like the first boyfriend, and certainly wasn't happy with sharing a roof with him so frequently. When I bought a house, I wasn't planning on sharing it with random 20-something guys I'd never met, who my roommate has no qualms about leaving in the house when she goes off to work (the boyfriends have been unemployed). I know a renter needs to be comfortable having guests and it's none of my business whom she dates, but I feel uncomfortable in my own house. Buying it was of course a major investment and no small emotional and financial feat, and in exchange for all that I feel I should at least be able to enjoy some sense of sanctuary and control.

On the plus side, my roommate loves and tolerates my dogs (now three of them) and my boyfriend (who is over 3-5 nights a week) and is almost unfailingly relaxed and friendly. I never had a talk with her about my expectations and comforts before she moved in; when we lived in a group house before she wasn't a serial dater and seemed to keep things clean. Also, now that the house is my own I feel more protective of it and my own expectations have risen.

From looking at my finances I think I can also afford not to have a roommate; my boyfriend also plans to move in this fall at which point I'd like to have the house to ourselves. My problem is that since my roommate is a friend and I really like her as a person--she is 10 years younger than me but in many ways I really enjoy her personality and who she is--I can't bring myself to raise any difficult issues with her. Since she never says anything awkward or uncomfortable to me, I can't seem to ask her to use the space heater less, do her dishes, or take out the trash. Not to mention say anything about the ever-changing flux of arrogant young guys.

I know I am within my rights as the property owner to say all these things, and to have her move out whenever I choose as long as I give her ample notice--I am simply wondering what is the decent way to do it. Are my concerns at all reasonable? What's a good way to raise them with a decent, kind, if very lazy, friend and roommate? Should I tell her as soon as possible that I'll want her to move out by the fall, so she doesn't get used to the idea of staying there for years? Should I take the passive aggressive way out and make it so uncomfortable for her to be there that she leaves on her own volition? Yikes!
posted by vegsister to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I bought a house with the idea that I would rent a room out. It really didn't work very well, for many similar issues you have brought up. The reason many people buy a house is so that they have total control over their living arrangements. I would tell your roommate that your boyfriend is moving in in the fall, and that you'd like to have the summer to yourself to get prepared for that. Give her a date that she needs to be out and work with her to be flexible between now and then. Tell her if she finds a place earlier, you are fine with that too.
posted by sulaine at 10:06 AM on February 21, 2008

I never had a talk with her about my expectations and comforts before she moved in

Honestly, I'd say that this would be the big mistake. I've had enough roommates over the years, and I've learned that even with people you've known for years, you need to sit down and discuss your expectations.

What I would recommend is to NOT take the passive aggressive route. I would sit down with her over a (insert beverage of choice) and discuss what you are or are not comfortable with. Then I would also mention that you are self-sufficient enough that you feel that by the fall you plan on living alone. Explain that as soon as possible.

I think your concerns are valid. My current roommate and I had a talk before we moved in together discussing these things, especially the "girlfriend issue", and it's best to know where you both stand on this.
It could be that she feels it's fine to have her boyfriend around because you have yours around, and she may not understand the difference.
posted by smitt at 10:17 AM on February 21, 2008

Should I tell her as soon as possible that I'll want her to move out by the fall, so she doesn't get used to the idea of staying there for years?

This seems like the only reasonable solution. As you said, you didn't lay out rules like "do your dishes" or "don't bring your boyfriends over so much" before she moved in, and while I can understand why you didn't, you can't expect someone to read your mind (even if you feel like your wants are reasonable).

In the meantime, though, it's pretty unlikely that she's going to suddenly reform into the roommate you want her to be, so you either have to take a deep breath and have a semi-uncomfortable conversation with her about the behaviors you want her to change, or you have to decide to live with it for a few months more.
posted by korres at 10:19 AM on February 21, 2008

Your concerns are certainly valid. I think you just need to sit down and be honest with her. It's very likely that she hasn't realized that her actions are negatively effecting you, and if she doesn't know anything's wrong there's no reason for her to change her actions.

When it comes to having boyfriend's over, I would allow her to have guests who stay at night, but ask her to not have them over when she's not there. Just tell her that it makes you uncomfortable to have her guests in the house when she's not there. That's perfectly reasonable.

Maybe bring up chores in a casual fashion and ask if she thinks it would be helpful to do some sort of chore schedule or chart so that they're done more evenly? This would help with taking out the trash and recycling, but not so much with the dishes, which you probably just need to talk to her about.

Open communication is they key in any roommate situation. You need to talk to her about what's going, because a negative living situation can negatively effect your friendship, and you don't want that to happen.
posted by plaingurl at 10:19 AM on February 21, 2008

I had this exact same problem - I didn't realize the difference in mindset between being the owner of the house and all the responsibilities that it entails; and being a peer in a jointly-rented house. I was lucky enough to have only a roommate for a fixed period of time, and no financial need to have a roommate.

But in your situation, it seems the problem is a lack of communication between you and your roommate. Since you own the house and have the ability to kick her out (and are already considering it), you need to draw up some basic rules that must be obeyed for you to continue having a roommate. Rules in hand, you have to meet with your roommate and come to some kind of agreement. If these rules cannot be met, then both sides have some idea for the separation.

Right now, it sounds like you are going towards the "landlord who all of a sudden goes crazy and kicks out the roommate" situation, which is bad for your friendship. The sooner you raise your concerns, the sooner that they can or can not be addressed and you can decide what to do next. Right now, your roommate is blissfully unaware that you have these concerns and assumes that nothing is wrong. You two are not peers; you are the landlord and need to take control of the situation.

Since you haven't stated your roommate has any kind of renter's agreement, I would assume no such thing exists and they are living in your house solely of your goodwill. There may be an implied month-to-month contract. However, if you both separate peacefully, then these things become less of an issue.
posted by meowzilla at 10:21 AM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

sulaine is exactly right.

And I think she's free to be messy (ie not sweeping) within reason (do the dishes within a week, or whatever's needed so they don't grow mold).

I think you could mention that the "utilities included" doesn't mean "as much utilities use as you want" it means "normal utilities use", so you're going to ask that she stop using the space heater so much or else switch over to paying for the electric if she wants a luxury level of heat. Otherwise she's just (maybe unintentionally) screwing you out of money, which isn't a thing a friend would like to do. She may not realize how expensive it is, if she hasn't lived on her own very much.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:22 AM on February 21, 2008

You sit down and have a calm conversation with her. Don't be mean or hostile or passive aggressive, the latter is horribly obnoxious and juvenile. Just state that utilities have been significantly higher than anticipated and you'd appreciate her doing her part to turn off heaters/lights/TV/whatever when she is not actually using them. And tell her you expect her to do dishes and cleanup after herself in a timely fashion. No need to make a production.

I did the same thing regarding utilities recently, though via email since it's rare that all four of us are in the house at the same time. Since the email I've at least not found a space heater left on unattended, nor a bathroom window left cracked open in a Boston winter.

Obviously in your house you've got the "right" to state who should and shouldn't be there. But you don't have much of a leg to stand on with her boyfriends when your bf spends at least as many nights as hers. She'll see any addressing of that issue as hypocritical. But you can say that it makes you uncomfortable having them around when she is at not at the house. That is reasonable.

If you ask her to move out now I suspect it will jeopardize the friendship, and making her miserable to the point where she leaves is a shitty thing to do. But addressing the issue of your bf moving in in the fall and wanting to live by yourselves at that point is sensible. Give her some sort of time frame with reasonable and realistic dates. I think I'd frame it as more about you wanting a place for you and your bf and less about wanting her to leave.

Getting a bit long winded but you're both adults so attempt to deal with her in an adult manner.
posted by 6550 at 10:29 AM on February 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Agree with all the advice about talking about it soon. The easy way to frame to the conversation is to start talking about how being a homeowner has changed you - how much more of an emotional bond you have with the house than you did when you were renting. Your housemate is your friend also so she'll empathise and you can go from there about how her behaviour was is bothering you.
posted by patricio at 10:36 AM on February 21, 2008

I think if you just let her know now that she needs to move out by a certain date in the fall (or whenever) so your man can move in, a lot of these issues will be resolved or at least diminished as a result. For instance:

1. You don't have to hurt her feelings by implying she's not a good housemate. It's a simple next-step-in-life thing. A good thing. Those are good terms on which to part roomie ways.
2. Any extra cleaning/paying/worrying you need to do in the mean time won't seem as bad with an end in sight.
3. If you also let her know that it's totally fine if she wants to move out earlier, then that's also a win-win. Gives her more flexibility in her search for a place, while leaving the possibility of getting your house to yourself earlier than planned.
posted by lampoil at 10:53 AM on February 21, 2008

If you're going to talk to her about the boyfriend issue, be clear about what differentiates her having her boyfriend over 3-4 nights a week and you having your boyfriend over 3-4 nights a week or she's going to think you're just being hypocritical. Is it that she's only known them a short time? Is it that she lets them stay in the house when she's not home? Ask for changes that seem reasonable to solve your specific issues -- not bring a buy home until she's been seeing him for X weeks, making sure they leave with her, etc.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:35 AM on February 21, 2008

I agree with LobsterMitten that at the very least, you can mention the space heater bit. Just point out that utilities have gotten really high, and that it's terribly wasteful. There is nothing out of line about that. I nag my roomies about turning lights out, and I don't even own the place. But it's an expense that's shared, and it's really wasteful for lights to be on when we're gone, so I mention it. So just tell her you want her to use the space heater less.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 12:04 PM on February 21, 2008

You might be friends, but a renter/rentee relationship should still stay professional and respectful. I would either raise the rent or change the way utilities are being charged (split 50/50, or have her pay them and Billmonk half the difference on what she already owes you.) But I wouldn't make this a sudden decision, instead give her about three months haven't been upfront with her so far so it would be unfair to spring this on her all of a sudden.

I think a lot of the frustration you're having is not really *what* she's doing, but how she is taking advantage of the nice renting deal you've set up for her, while not really acknowledging what it is costing you in money, patience, and privacy. You really do need to sit and discuss how she can take part in being aware of the impact she has on your privacy, and likewise in the other direction if some compromises can be arranged. But for the most part so far there's been a lot of bottled up resentment that needs to be rationalized out and taken care of before you can move forward. If otherwise she is a good friend, that is potentially the best kind of renter you could have to help pay your mortgage. You may have a little more patience with her on things that would annoy a standard landlord, and she will have more patience with you when it comes to fulfilling landlord duties such as repairs etc.
posted by samsara at 1:10 PM on February 21, 2008

You should really look into rental rules and regulations where you live before you initiate anything. You need to know what your rights and responsibilities are as a landlord;you need to know how to legally evict your tenant.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:14 PM on February 21, 2008

Give her 60 days, or 30 days if you're completely disgusted. 60 days, written, and then reminders every 15 days.

Next time, use a lease.

Of course, w/o a lease, you could tell her to GTFO right now if you wanted to. Also, it's your house, so feel free to enforce a "no opposite gender houseguests" rule.
posted by TomMelee at 2:06 PM on February 21, 2008

Every time I interview a prospective roommate, I give the "since I own the place, I'm more compulsive about its condition" speech; generally it still falls on deaf ears. I've found that doing short-term leases, with a formal lease and everything, is an ok solution: people are often willing to pay more for flexibility than they would for a year-long lease, and I know that I can put up with most behavior for only a few months.

If you want to ease her in to paying for utilities, perhaps introducing it at the same time as a small reduction in rent would be helpful. Although having the condo lit up like a Christmas tree every time I come home still gets on my nerves, I've put CFLs in all the fixtures so rationally it isn't such a waste; would any improvements to the house's HVAC system (or even plastic over the windows) make you feel better about the heating?

It might be a cheater's way out, but I tell all my roommates that the neighbors with young kids downstairs and across the hall will get upset at noise at odd hours, so it's not just me being personally the enemy of all fun when I ask them to turn down their music or quiet down on the phone.

Now that I've revealed myself as an unreasonable and tyrannous landlord, is anybody looking for a room in the Boston area for this spring?
posted by nonane at 7:21 PM on February 21, 2008

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