Buh-Bye, Please!
June 10, 2008 6:22 AM   Subscribe

How can my mom tactfully kick out guests who've overstayed their welcome?

About four months ago, a river flooded in the small midwest community where my mom and stepdad live. A couple at their small (50 members?) church was displaced during the flood, and my mom initially opened her home to the couple for the EVENING.

As the flood continued, that evening turned into a week. Once the water had receded, the couple's home was declared uninhabitable because of flood damage, mold, etc.

The couple consists of hard-working dad, disabled (non-working) mom, and two college-age kids (one of whom is now home for the summer). They are not well off and can't afford to fix their house; nor can they afford to pay rent on a second place while paying their mortgage on their uninhabitable home. They are working (slo-o-o-wly) on finding out what their homeowners insurance policy may cover.

In the meantime, my mom and stepdad have had the couple and their small dog living with them in a three bedroom home for FOUR months. Several weeks ago, the college-age daughter came 'home' for the summer, so now there are 5 people and 2 dogs in a house with *one* bathroom.

My mom is at her wits end. She doesn't work either, so her home is normally her sanctuary. She feels horrible for the family's situation, and feels it was and is her 'Christian duty' to help them, but has taken to leaving her own home for days and weeks at a time (visiting friends and relatives in other states) due to the stress (and quite honestly, cost) of having additional guests.

She wants them to leave, but really doesn't know how to do it. She already spoke to the pastor of their small church once, and that got the ball rolling in terms of getting the couple to press the insurance company, but did not make headway on a more permanent living solution.

I would like some practical and tactful mini-speeches that my mom could use to let these people know they really need to leave by XX date. Keep in mind, she is quite non-confrontational by nature and will still see these people multiple times a week at church services after they leave.

(By the way, I think these folks are nice people stuck in a bad situation, but they aren't doing everything they can to help themselves because they have my mom as a crutch. If they had to live in their home or be on the street, I think they'd be all up in the insurance company's grill about fixing their home pronto. But that's just my two cents).
posted by batcrazy to Human Relations (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
She's doing a wonderful thing but has my sympathy - are there other church members who could offer them room? Can the pastor organise a sort of "rota" so that no one family is as heavily burdened as your mom?
posted by ceri richard at 6:38 AM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

if they are part of a small church, why not ask around... maybe other parishoners are willing to have them for a while. sort of couch surfing for a while?
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:39 AM on June 10, 2008

Note that a tactful approach only works if the intended target is perceptive of subtle communications. I think it's probably already established that these people are not.

There needs to be a deadline. Perhaps it could be arranged so that the reason for the deadline appears to be circumstances beyond your parents' control. But they need to say, "I'm sorry, but after [date], we won't be able to let you stay anymore."
posted by winston at 6:49 AM on June 10, 2008

I agree with seeing if perhaps a church rotation could be set up. It is unfair for your mother to bare the burden.

if that doesn't work out, and if she is uncomfortable being direct and asking them to find someplace else to stay, perhaps she could invent some important/dire event that is occurring on XX date that will require her whole house and all bedrooms. perhaps some family members/old friends visiting? I'm sure she knows someone that could come down and visit for a few days to make the lie complete. She could say to them, "I'm sorry to have to do this, but the plans to have them visit were made long ago and I haven't seen them for a very long time. They are very excited to come down as well, so these plans really can't be changed. I'm sure you'll be able to find a solution before then." She could add in something like "The house is going to seem a bit empty with out you, and I'm sure I'll miss you all." to soften the blow.

if that doesn't work, perhaps have someone else step in and talk to them. Perhaps drop some not-so-subtle hints that they are surprised she has allowed guests so long, as she is such a PRIVATE and SOLITARY person. And how very GENEROUS she has been to take them in and absorb what must be a fair bit of additional due to them living there. or just be direct and have them say they really should look for another solution because their staying there this long is totally inappropriate and unkind towards her.
posted by gwenlister at 6:49 AM on June 10, 2008

I agree with the church rotation idea. Have your mom speak to the pastor again and good luck! Your mom is a great person.
posted by spec80 at 6:50 AM on June 10, 2008

Your mother has gone above and beyond, and it would be great if the church could help, either with financial support for the family or for your mom, or by providing a room for the family. Surely there is one room somewhere in the church itself where they could stay for a bit? What about other displaced families in the area...where have they gone? Is there temporary shelter set up by the community somewhere?

I would like some practical and tactful mini-speeches that my mom could use to let these people know they really need to leave by XX date.

Have her invite some relatives/friends to come visit, then tell the displaced family that relatives/friends are coming to visit on such and such a date, and she needs the bedrooms for them. I would suggest that she hand them a list of alternative accommodations when she breaks the news about the relatives coming. I know you said that she spoke with the pastor, but suggest she speak to him/her again and ask the pastor to talk directly to the family about alternative living arrangements.

On preview, basically everything that gwenlister said. Except for the "The house is going to seem a bit empty without you," part, which may encourage them to ask, "How long will your relatives be here? Can we come back as soon as they leave?" :)
posted by iconomy at 7:01 AM on June 10, 2008

Response by poster: To clarify, I am not asking how to solve the couple's situation. I am asking how my mom should broach the subject of them leaving. Other people in the church have offered to have the couple stay with them for a while, but why would they move unless they are being asked to? My mom needs help with wording how to do this, as she feels like a schmo for asking them to move when they have problems of their own, even though it is burdening her.

Helpful advise would give me a script (or outline) she can use to talk to them.
posted by batcrazy at 7:05 AM on June 10, 2008

Best answer: perhaps one of the other families who have offered to let these people stay with them could suggest it... "you've been staying with batcrazy's family for a while, and we thought they might like a bit of their space back. would you like to take our spare room for a short while?"
posted by russm at 7:12 AM on June 10, 2008

Shouldn't their insurance pay for their temporary residence? Obviously they just aren't trying to get this resolved, or their insurance is not covering them. (No flood insuance?) It also sounds like your mom is not good at confrontation. So, Mom should have the pastor meet with them and help them deal with their insurance and find another place. That's a pastor's job.

(I still feel like something is missing here, though. When a busted drain left me without use of the bathrooms in my home, the insurance company paid for 5 of us to stay in a hotel for a week while the plumber fixed the problem. We did not have to fight for this, it was the agent's immediate solution.)

For a direct answer to your request for a mini-speech: "I'm so glad I was able to help you during a tough time, but I need to get back to taking care of my own life. I've spoken to the pastor and he will be calling to meet with you, so you can be in a more suitable place within a week."

As far as seeing them at church, all she has to do is greet them and ask if they are getting settled, or if their home is any closer to repair, etc. just like she would anyone she was concerned about.

I know how tough this can be. I hate confrontation, but once had to nearly physically kick out my mother-in-law and sister-in-law after giving them an ultimatum. My wife arranged a small rental for them down the block, and I loaded their stuff into a truck and moved it all there. I then offered to give them a ride to the house, or they could walk. It was absolutely one of the hardest things I ever did, but it had to be done. And guess what; within a month, we were all on good terms, and she loved her new place. By being firm and getting that family out of the house, she will be helping them, not hurting them.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:19 AM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think the "deadline coming up" example is the best one to run with. It's totally conceivable that she had something planned for the guestroom [guests, painting, renovations, whathaveyou] that she did not let them know about because she did not know they would be staying for four months. Really the best time to do this would have been when the daughter came back from school and doing the "I'm sorry that's just not possible" Miss Manners approach to some sort of imposition, but I think that your Mom just needs to be in a frame of mind where her time being the helper is done, it's time to pass on the helper hat and gracious people from XYZ Church are going to help, it's their turn, and they are looking forward to it.

but why would they move unless they are being asked to?

Because the church will be sharing the responsibility for them, they are not your mother's charges. They are not her tenants, they are her people she is doing a wonderful favor for. So, suggestions

"Bob and Carol, I have been talking to Pastor Bob and he has said that Mr. and Mrs. Smith would like to offer you space in their home. I have enjoyed hosting you and wish you the best but it's time for me to get back to [things she has not been doing because she has a house full of people]. The church will help you move and we're looking at a transition date of July 1. I wish you the very best."

Part of it is

1. the matter of fact "this is happening"
2. the lack of an opening for any "this is not happening" discussion [i.e. no "will this work for you?" no "if there's anything I can do..."]
3. the acknowledgement that while your mom has been happy to help, that time is drawing to a close and she needs her life back, she is also entitled to her life back and so asking for it should be sufficient.
4. a date, she can plan this with the pastor. The pastor could also be an accomplice in this task but again, make sure it's clear that this is your Mom's wishes. She may have been very polite all along and so it may be easy for her lodgers to think "well Pastor Bob is looking out for Mom's best interests but we know she wants us to stay as long as we need to, she said as much..." make sure that is not an open door.

It is not your Mom's job to come up with solutions for this family, as much as she might like to. If the immediate goal is getting them out of the house, focus on that and if she wants to be involved in their housing solution, she is welcome to take that up after they are no longer living there. My other advice is to try to make it a clean break [i.e. get them AND their belongings out of there and don't do a partway solution] so that she knows when the process is over with.
posted by jessamyn at 7:21 AM on June 10, 2008 [9 favorites]

Mom: "The Johnsons have offered to put you up while while you finish up dealing with your insurance company to make permanent arrangements. They'll be expecting you on the [one week from this date, give or take a day or two if the weekend is more convenient]"

Family: [objection of some kind]

Mom: "I understand what you're saying, but I feel it would be rude to deny the Johnsons what they feel is their calling to serve God by helping the community. Here is their phone number if you have any questions for them."
posted by mikepop at 7:26 AM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am asking how my mom should broach the subject of them leaving. Other people in the church have offered to have the couple stay with them for a while, but why would they move unless they are being asked to?

That's why I suggested that she get the pastor to talk to them. They need to know that others are willing to take them in, and that it's way past time to leave your mother's house. No one could possibly be that dense. They were invited with the understanding that it was for one night only, and they're still there 4 months later, draining your mom's finances and her goodwill?

As for a speech, she could tell them that she can't afford to have them stay there anymore. As for what to say, how about:

"I'm sorry, but I can't afford to have you stay here any longer. I invited you into my home with the understanding that it was temporary, but it has turned out to be for much longer than I anticipated, and I can no longer afford this financially or emotionally. Other parishioners have graciously offered space in their homes - here is a list of names and telephone numbers, and dates that they can accommodate you. Oh look - one of the dates is this weekend! I would love to help you pack...let me know what I can do."
posted by iconomy at 7:29 AM on June 10, 2008

I now see your new comment that others have offered to take then in...

Your mom should arrange a move-in date with the next volunteer. She needs to tell them to set a deadline for them to leave, of course. And she can arrange for them to help the family move, or have the pastor arrange some volunteers. It doesn't matter if they don't have a lot of stuff to move. The important point is to have some come and move the stuff, so she doesn't have to wait for them to do it. She should gather some boxes and put them in the garage.

Once this is set up, she can tell them, "The Smiths have offered to have you stay with them starting on Saturday. I'm glad I was able to help, but now I have to get back to my normal routine. They will be here at noon on Saturday to help you get everything moved. I'm thankful our church has people who will help in a time of need, and I hope you can get back into permanent residence soon. I have some boxes in the garage so you can start packing. That will make things go smoother on Saturday." Then, hugs and back-pats, and then she can go out for coffee with a friend to avoid any possible objections on their part.

Obviously, the exact "script" will depend on what your mom arranges, but the point is that she should just explain things to the new volunteer frankly, make the arrangement, then inform the family. She can kindly but firmly let them know "this is how it will be." And then do it. But, to reiterate, clear communication with the new volunteer is vital. She may also want to inform the pastor, and ask him to be there on Saturday.

Good luck!
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:36 AM on June 10, 2008

Best answer: I would ask the pastor to have that conversation with the guests (and I'm saying this as a pastor). It shouldn't be that hard for a small-church preacher to drop by as part of his ongoing pastoral work, see how the displaced family is doing, and then say: "Because it's going to take a while longer for your home to be livable, we've set up a rotation of homes you will stay in. You all will move to the Honecker's house this Friday, and they'll come by here to pick you up, so you need to be packed and ready by 10:00 a.m."

No negotiation, no unpleasantness, just a simple this-is-the-way-it's-going-to-be.

But if the pastor is unwilling to do it (which would surprise me), your parents could handle it pretty much the same way.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:50 AM on June 10, 2008

No need to "ask them to leave"; just set something up with the destination family, then invite them over, and everyone meets to decide on a moving date "sometime within the next two weeks." Just state it as a fait accompli. As in:

"Hey Shirley, guess what? Well, it's awful that your insurance trouble still isn't straightened out -- I am still mad at how they've treated you. Thank God we're members of such a great church. We'll be getting together with the Smiths -- you remember Bob and that nice Jane Smith -- either Tuesday or Wednesday night to schedule your moving in with them. I wish we could put you up forever, but sadly we just can't. Bob and Jane are wonderful to help out like this, and I hope everything works out well for you.".

Then maybe Bob and Jane can have a set length of time in mind -- say 6 weeks or whatever works for them -- before the family has to move on. This could give structure to the flood victims' work on resolving their situation, and give them something with some urgency to tell the insurance company, as in "We _have_ to have somewhere to live in five weeks."

Also - broaching the subject with the pastor more than once may help him understand the urgency here.
posted by amtho at 7:55 AM on June 10, 2008

I am asking how my mom should broach the subject of them leaving. Other people in the church have offered to have the couple stay with them for a while, but why would they move unless they are being asked to?

"Guys. I love you, you're great, but this living situation is now officially nuts. 5 people and 2 dogs in a house with *one* bathroom is no fun for anybody involved. I know some folks have offered to let you stay with them for a spell, and I'd like for you to take them up on it, please. I'm going to lose my mind in x weeks, so could we get you moved by x-1 weeks? It's a pain, I know, but I think those other folks have a more practical living situation than the one we've got here. We're happy to do whatever we can to help with the move. Here, have a cookie. Oh, hey, anything we can do to help with the insurance paperwork? I'll loan you my college-aged daughter."


"Guys, I need a favor, please. I'm at wits end. This living situation is too much for me. I know x, y, and z from church have offered you a space to stay, and I have to ask you to take them up on their offer." Include cookies or loan of daughter as appropriate.

If the people have any kind of tact themselves, they'll move without rancor. Temporary irritation, maybe, but not rancor. And if they don't, well, then the intolerable living situation would've become worse all by its lonesome.

As far as tact goes, I hate it when people try not to be rude (by not mentioning something that's bothering them) until they snap and become exceptionally rude or belligerent rather than just piping up with gentle frankness before the breaking point. For me, respectful honesty is a lot more tactful than hesitant delicacy long delayed.
posted by averyoldworld at 8:02 AM on June 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Are any of the other places to live on offer appreciably better in some way? More bedrooms? More bathrooms? Bigger house in general?

Because if there's a *better* place for them to live that's out there and available, that would be the approach I would take in asking them to leave. 'I know things have been really crowded around here, with 5 people and just one bathroom, but Bob & Sue Smith, who have an extra bathroom and another bedroom, have offered to host you for awhile. That'll be a much better scenario for everyone, since there's more room there.'
posted by jacquilynne at 8:45 AM on June 10, 2008

I've actually been in this same situation. After Hurricane Katrina, my wife's entire family moved into our small home. I had 22 people living in our three bedroom, bath and a half home for over five weeks. And yes, patience runs out quickly.

The important thing is to be direct. Don't make excuses. You don't need to. It's your home. Don't be vague. Simply say that it's time for them to move on, either to another home or back to the church. No need to apologize. She's done plenty.

Elaborate games and "guest scenarios"--like any other lie--will not hold up to scrutiny. And frankly, they are unnecessary. Simple. Direct. "It's time for you to go."

In my case, the "guests" were family, and the eviction got a little ugly at the end, partly because of my wife not being direct enough. She hemmed and hawed and made excuses, and when it finally came down to it, I had to step up and be the asshole. And I have no guilt about it whatsoever. It finally reached a point where our generosity was being taken advantage of, and I refused to tolerate it any more.

Wait. There is one thing I feel a bit guilty about. At one point it got so heated that I told my wife that not only was her family leaving, but she was welcome to go with them if she liked. That was probably uncalled for.

Yeah. Direct and unapologetic is the way to go.
posted by ColdChef at 9:51 AM on June 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

What about finding another couple at the church to pass them on to? I know it is just "passing the buck" but that will at least get them out of your Mom's house and the next people will know to set more firm bounries after seeing your Mom have guests for four months. "We'd love to have you stay with us after you leave ____'s house, but I'm not sure if we can host you for more than a week."
posted by arnicae at 9:51 AM on June 10, 2008

Just be honest. If there are others in the church community willing to share the load, then she can say, "I'm glad I've been able to help you, but I can't afford it anymore, and so-and-so has kindly offered to let you come stay with them for a bit while you work out the rest of your claims and situation." There's no shame in running out of funds or energy and her guests of all people should understand this. Also, she can do this with your dad and/or pastor around to help convey the message.
posted by allthingsbright at 2:20 PM on June 10, 2008

I'd like to offer a little bit of the flipside of this scenario, which might give you (and hopefully by extension, your mother) a little comfort:

I have been in this situation. A couple of times. Not this exact situation, but similar enough to understand what these people are going through. The very first emotion these people will feel is worry/fear - what will become of us? But the second, and more lasting emotion will be that of relief. Because right now they are stuck. They are in shock, they are at the mercy of others and they have kids who are watching them struggle to get back on their feet. She will be doing them a favor by letting them go, because every day they are waiting for that ball to drop.

I am not talking about a "pull up your bootstraps/kick in the seat" type of mindset, either. If she is gentle, and gracious and above all else, firm, they will do just fine. They are locked in the doldrums and the only thing that will right their course is a good strong breeze.

As others have mentioned, I would suggest turning to the community for support. Give the house guests the names and numbers of some people/places/resources that might be at their disposal and leave them to it. Give them a firm move out date, at which time they will need to be gone. A visitor or renovations are a great excuse - if true. If not, then don't use an excuse. It is a bit patronizing, "oh well I can't have you here any more, I need the space for my bottle cap collection" - and more importantly your mother doesn't owe them an excuse or anything else. Using money as an reason is also a red herring - it opens the door to "oh well we can pay for utilities/chip in with rent/we'll get second jobs".

They know exactly what they need to do, they are just in a panic and likely cannot afford to turn down any kindness. They probably feel every minute that they are putting your mother out, they probably bristle at having to do things that reinforce that they have no home (ie: keeping their toothbrush out of sight in a suitcase in a ziplock bag, ensuring that the host's space is respected and maintained, keeping the dog quiet, worrying that any negative behavior might mean their eviction, etc). If they have a time frame set out for them, they do not have any further opportunity to argue amongst themselves on what to do or procrastinate. Things always work themselves out, for better or for worse.

Other tips I would toss out there:
- This could be emotional so asking the pastor to stop by during or immediately after she tells them is a great idea, otherwise perhaps some sort of social services worker. The reality of what happened is going to hit them fully and they will likely need some sort of counseling.

- She may want to look into some sort of counseling for herself with a therapist or the pastor to work through how this situation has affected her. The Christian tradition of charity is one that carries a great weight of responsibility, one which may leave her feeling guilty and anxious after she sets these people on their path home.

- Maybe this should be obvious but she should tell the parents first only, even if she has to take them outside to discuss it. This is not something to announce over family dinner. Their college student children likely will react more strongly to not having a place to come home to at all. Let them deal with telling the kids on their own terms. Offer to give them time alone in the house to tell the kids.

- Likewise, offer them time alone to gather their belongings together when the move day itself happens, but also give the offer of helping with the move, or rallying neighbors etc to help them move. At least offer to watch the dog while they resettle.

- Speaking of dogs they may have a concern that they can't find a dwelling (for example an insurance covered hotel room) that will allow the dog, or a rental home or social assistance dwelling that allows pets. If this is the case offer to take in the dog for a firm length of time (3 months, etc) in exchange for some household help (walking your mom's dog, etc) or else have the pastor/townspeople fan out to find someone who will host the dog. It doesn't sound rational but many people go homeless rather than give up their pets to a pound.

- The most important thing is to keep a calm head and not act embarrassed by the conversation - it will likely only make them feel ashamed/guilty for making your mother feel guilty. Compassion is ok but best is reassuring them that they will be fine and that the community and your mother are there for them in other ways. Remember that no one feels good about living on pity.

Good luck. Your mom is a very special woman and I'm certain these people are very grateful for what she has done for them.
posted by SassHat at 8:45 PM on June 10, 2008 [5 favorites]

Speaking of dogs they may have a concern that they can't find a dwelling (for example an insurance covered hotel room) that will allow the dog... It doesn't sound rational but many people go homeless rather than give up their pets to a pound.

Agreed. During Katrina, I more than once told my boyfriend I would sleep outside in the muck before I would let any of my animals be taken away.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:04 AM on June 11, 2008

@Fuzzy Skinner, jessamyn, and SassHat - Excellent advice.

Maybe I'm just feeling cranky, but it seems like the pastor really dropped the ball here. As Fuzzy Skinner correctly pointed out, "Mom should have the pastor meet with them and help them deal with their insurance and find another place. That's a pastor's job."
posted by LuckySeven~ at 2:58 PM on June 11, 2008

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