Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Roommate’s Boyfriend Lives With Us And Doesn’t Pay His Fair Share of the Rent”

I live in a large three-bedroom apartment with two other girls — “Mia” and “Jane” — both of whom are my close friends. Jane is moving out at the end of our lease and we are getting a new roommate whom we met online. Mia’s boyfriend has been living with her since before I moved in a year ago, but he is not on the lease. We don’t split our rent evenly four ways but instead have it calibrated according to room. Mia and Jane both have large rooms with multiple windows and lots of closet space, with Jane having her own bathroom attached. My room is very small, with very little closet space and only one window, and the WiFi signal doesn’t reach it. Mia’s and Jane’s rooms cost around 600 dollars and 685 dollars respectively. Mia and her boyfriend split her portion of the rent half and half so that they each pay only 300 dollars a month while I am paying 560 for a very small room.

I don’t think that this is a fair arrangement. Mia and her boyfriend’s argument is that they have to share a room, but not only was it their choice to co-habitate, but also it’s not like her boyfriend only lives in her room — he uses the common areas as well. If we split the rent evenly four ways, we would all only be paying about 420 dollars each, which I think is fair to everyone. Mia has a full-time job for a non-profit and her boyfriend only works a few nights a week at a bar (this is out of choice, he has specifically asked to work fewer shifts). Currently, over half of my income is going to pay my rent (I don’t make very much money and am a student) and the financial strain is getting really real. In addition to this, our rent is going up this year by about 45 dollars. I don’t want money to get in the way of my friendship with Mia, but I am really struggling financially right now. How should I handle this? — Four’s a Crowd

On the one hand, Mia is taking advantage of you, isn’t being a good friend, and has a skewed sense of logic. On the other hand, you’re the one who moved into a stupid situation where you knew you were paying a bigger percentage for space used than your roommates were. Mia’s boyfriend was already living in the apartment when you signed the lease. I assume you understood the agreement of what everyone would be paying in rent — and if you didn’t, that’s on you! — and you still decided to move in. I don’t see how, at this point in the game, you’re going to have any luck getting Mia and her boyfriend to pony up their fair share of the rent when they’ve managed this long to get away with not doing so.

If I were you, I would prepare to move out, along with Jane, when the lease is up. (Perhaps, if you like living with her as a roommate and she doesn’t already have all her plans in place, the two of you can find a place together.) You could make an attempt before you leave to renegotiate the division of rent, but I definitely would NOT count on that going anywhere, and I’d have a move-out plan ready. What I would say to Mia and her boyfriend is: “I’m not able to comfortably afford my share of the rent, and I’m wondering if you’d be willing to discuss re-negotiating the division of the rent to more fairly reflect the division of private spaces and the use of common spaces?” If you aren’t satisfied with their answer, don’t push — simply thank them for their consideration, explain again that you need a more affordable living arrangement, and then move out (and into a place where making rent isn’t such a financial hardship each month).

My high school BFF, “Evie,” was recently in a horrible car accident where she crashed head-on into a tree and was trapped inside the car for over an hour. They were able to remove her, but she broke both her legs, some ribs, and her jaw. Her mother has been updating on her FB, and now we know that she lost one of her legs from the knee down because the damage was irreparable.

Evie and I were BFFs in high school and even signed a lease to move to a different city together to go to college. Two weeks before we were supposed to leave she backed out saying that she had just met a guy and she wanted to date him. I was very upset, and I had to live with strangers in order to make rent. She apologized, but our friendship was never the same.

We have kept in touch mostly on FB over the years and through a few messages and phone calls here and there to catch up. She and her boyfriend continued to date, then they were getting married, then they were not, he was abusive, and the last I knew they were back together.

Anyway, my question is: Do you think I should stop by and see her in rehab when I will be home in three weeks? The plan would be to ask her mom if she is up for visitors. When I was 13, I was paralyzed (Guillian Barre Syndrome) and lived in that exact rehab center for months before regaining my walking and all other abilities, so I know (in some small way) what she is going through.

One of my friends thinks that since we have kind of kept in touch, I should reach out to her mom and stop by. My other friend who thinks this accident was caused by her drinking and driving (he lost an aunt that way) thinks I should just send a card, since if it was drinking and driving, it was sort of her fault.

I think stopping by to visit with her could be nice, but I don’t want to overstep any boundaries. She is going through a very traumatic and life-changing experience, and I want to be respectful while letting her know that I care about her and am here should she need me.

What do you think? — Trying to Respect Boundaries

 
Ok, your friend who’s decided that Evie’s accident was a result of her drinking and driving and, thus, she deserves to have lost her leg, is a serious jerk. I’m sympathetic that he lost an aunt in a drunk driving accident, but that doesn’t grant him carte blanche to be an asshole. So, please, at least in this circumstance, ignore his advice. I think the advice of your other friend who suggested you reach out to Evie’s mom is good. I’d keep the message brief and heart-felt: “I’m so sorry to hear about Evie, and I can’t imagine how stressful and challenging this has been for your whole family. I’ll be in town soon and was wondering if Evie would be up for a visit? At the very least, I’d like to send a card to let her know how much I’m thinking of her. I know you’re very busy, but when you have a chance, would you mind passing along a mailing address for her and let me know if she might be up for a visit from me?”

If you do go visit Evie, I’d also keep the visit brief and heartfelt. Please avoid discussing any drama in your history as friends, and don’t compare her accident to your experience with Guillian Barre Syndrome. It’s ok to say: “I was in this exact same rehab center for several months when I was 13 and was temporarily paralyzed.” It’s not ok to say: “I know what you’re going through.” The truth is that you don’t exactly know what she’s going through, and Evie may resent the suggestion that you do. If she was in some way responsible for the accident, she is likely grappling with a host of emotions that may be very different from what you’ve experienced. Be empathetic and sensitive, but don’t assume you know what she’s feeling. Reminding her of your stay in the rehab center as a young teenager will give her the opportunity to seek similarities or your perspective if she’s interested. Don’t offer them up if she’s not. These are the best ways you can respect boundaries and respect where Evie is right now in the very early stage of her recovery.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

32 comments… add one
  • avatar

    SpaceySteph July 20, 2017, 9:54 am

    I agree that Mia should pay a bit more rent for having her bf live there, but I don’t think it would be fair to split 4 ways either. After all, LW has her own room while Mia and bf share a slightly larger room. His use of the common areas is 1/4, his use of the utilities is 1/4, but their total use of sleeping areas is only 1/3.
    If you want to renegotiate rent, I think you need a proposal that is fair to both sides otherwise they are sure to shut it down. Them paying an extra $200 or so ($100 from you, $100 from your third roommate) seems a lot more reasonable than sharing 4 equal ways.

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    Findingtheearth July 20, 2017, 10:01 am

    Lw1: if you don’t move out, can you afford a wifi booster? I know my dad has one in his house so the wifi reaches every room.

    Lw2: exactly wws.

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  • Copa

    Copa July 20, 2017, 10:07 am

    LW1: I dunno. I’ve split rent before by square footage of room before, when I was in college, and I thought it was more than fair. We all shared joint expenses, like our electric bill, equally. (The year prior, I was in a two-bedroom apartment with three friends. Two girls per room. The room I shared was smaller than the other room, and I thought it was unfair that we split rent right down the middle. My roommate and I had less space.) I disagree that they’re taking advantage of you, because you did move in knowing the situation up-front, and they DO have less space that is theirs. Splitting rent four ways because you’re struggling financially isn’t fair, IMO. You can still try to renegotiate what you all pay for the spaces you have now that things are about to change, though.
    .
    LW2: Yes, go visit your friend. I don’t really understand why you think you shouldn’t. I’ve never had a limb amputated, so I can’t say what that feels like, but I spent about a month in the hospital when I had appendicitis a year and a half ago. Visitors absolutely made my day! Not everyone who came to see me was my BFF, but it didn’t matter. The company when I was spending a lot of time miserable and alone was nice, and it made me feel cared about to know people were thinking of me.

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    • Copa

      Copa July 20, 2017, 10:16 am

      Also, LW: Would it make a difference in how you think of the situation if Mia was sharing her room with a fourth roommate who she wasn’t dating? My guess is yes.
      .
      Maybe there are things you can do to make the situation better for you, like asking to pay less for Internet since you don’t have the same access to it, or paying a little less for your lack of storage space compared to the other rooms. Or simply claiming a hallway closet as your own so you have more storage space.

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      • avatar

        RedroverRedrover July 20, 2017, 11:45 am

        If they were strangers then I’d expect there’s a base “per person” cost, and then everyone with their own room pays a premium for their privacy. Not that the strangers split the cost of their room. The common areas are shared 4 ways, so why are they essentially being paid only 3 ways?

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  • avatar

    MissDre July 20, 2017, 10:14 am

    Math Time!

    Let’s say the rent is $1000/month (for easy calculations). Let’s assume that bedrooms are 75% of the square footage, shared space is 25% of the square footage.

    Rent for Bedroom Space: $750 / 3 bedrooms = $250/bedroom (so for the girl and her boyfriend sharing a room, that’s $125 each).

    Rent for Shared Space: $250 / 4 people (since everybody uses shared space) = $62.50/person.

    Change up your numbers based on your actual rent and percentage of square footage within the above formula.

    Thoughts?

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    • avatar

      csp July 20, 2017, 11:18 am

      I like your math

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph July 20, 2017, 11:34 am

      I think the thing your formula is missing is that all rooms aren’t equal, LW’s room is smaller and crappier. So even the splitting of the rooms three ways is not equitable.

      What about: taking that $750 and dividing further by % sq ft by bedroom. If Jane’s room is 40%, Mia’s room is 35%, and LW’s room is 25% then you get:
      Jane (or new roommate) pays $300 plus the 62.50 = 362.50
      Mia and bf pay $262.50 plus 2x 62.50 = 387.50 (each paying 193.50)
      LW pays $187.50 plus the 65.50= 250
      She’s still paying more than Mia and bf each because she does still have her own room, but paying a lot less than either of the other two room costs because her room is small.

      Heh what a fun word problem! LW give me your real sq footage and rent and I’ll do the math for you!

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      • avatar

        ele4phant July 20, 2017, 11:45 am

        I think what you are all showing is that there are so many ways that could be handeled, all of them valid, and what it really comes down to is that what’s “fair” is just what everyone agrees to.

        Personally, I’d argue that there is a value to private space, which the LW has and Mia and her boyfriend don’t have. How do you monetize that? It is worth something.

        Right now, they are all agreed to was that rent would be divided on square footage (and who knows how they calculated those three amounts but regardless, they all signed off on it).

        If the LW wants to renegotiate the terms, she needs to recognize that’s she the one that is upsetting the apple cart, not Mia and the BF, so she needs to make arguments as to why they should do that that doesn’t cast them as being unfair.

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      • Copa

        Copa July 20, 2017, 12:14 pm

        I think this is exactly how my college roommates and I calculated our rent when I was a senior, but it’s hard to remember. It was a five-bedroom house with three decent-sized rooms and two tiny rooms. But even the tiny rooms had pros, like they didn’t face the main street our house was on. I had the second biggest room, but had to put up with the noises of drunk people in the parking lot and on the street. In any case, if I’d been in the smallest room, I wouldn’t have wanted to pay the same as the girl in the biggest room.

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      • Copa

        Copa July 20, 2017, 12:16 pm

        But in any case, I think what’s most important was that we all agreed on what was a fair formula.

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      • avatar

        MissDre July 20, 2017, 1:27 pm

        Oh yeah for sure. If you know the square footage of each room as a percentage of the full apartment square footage, do it that way!

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      • avatar

        ele4phant July 20, 2017, 2:47 pm

        I mean, this would be a crazy way to do it. No one is reasonably going to go around and measure the entire square footage of their crappy apartment. Plus, if you nickle and dime every foot, you really should take into other considerations that have costs:

        How much are people really using shared space? If roommate X never cooks, do they get to pay less for not using that space? What if roommate X has a weird schedule, so they effectively never share the common space, but W and Z do so they’re always fighting over the bathroom? Do they get a discount because they have to put up with the hassle of sometimes waiting?

        What is the value of natural light? How do you measure it? By number of windows? What if the windows are different sizes? Do you measure the amount of light that comes in? What if some have better views, even if they’re smaller? What if some windows are bigger but up against a wall and let in less light?

        What is the value of having a room to yourself?

        How much value does it add to be right next to a bathroom, vs it being down the hall? What about being by the front door? And is that a benefit or a detriment?

        What if one the rooms is bigger but has an odd shape so a lot of that space is unusable? How do you account for the value of dead space?

        I really don’t think there’s one right way, fair way to assign unequal rents. Ultimately, the group of people just has to agree upfront with what they’re okay with, and while I wouldn’t say they’re locked into it forever if they change their minds, I don’t think anyone did anything unfair here.

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      RedroverRedrover July 20, 2017, 11:43 am

      I would also guess that the common area is bigger than 25%, no? It’s unlikely that each bedroom is the same size as the kitchen/dining/living/bathrooms together. Not to mention that one of the bedrooms has its own bathroom, which I think is a premium that can’t just be measured in square footage.

      It’s really a moot point though, since the LW agreed to this and Mia doesn’t want to renegotiate.

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph July 20, 2017, 12:04 pm

        Mia doesn’t want to renegotiate because she likes the status quo. If LW decides to move out, then Mia loses the status quo either way and may be up for renegotiation rather than finding a new roommate.

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      • avatar

        RedroverRedrover July 20, 2017, 12:18 pm

        True.

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      • avatar

        MissDre July 20, 2017, 1:29 pm

        I was just rounding for an easy math demonstration. Appropriate numbers should be substituted!

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  • avatar

    Ron July 20, 2017, 11:14 am

    WWWWhile LW seems to have made a bad deal on splitting the rent with her eyes wide open, now is the time for redress, with one of the original roomies leaving and the need to recruit a new roommate. If nothing else, take the room and the deal of the departing roommate. LW seems to have a very inferior room at a very small discount. Unless she can’t afford to pay a little more, that is what she should do. If she can only pay $40 more, then she should take Mia’s room and have Mia and bf move into the largest room. If she and Mia can’t agree, she also needs to move out and find better arrangements.

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  • avatar

    ele4phant July 20, 2017, 11:21 am

    LW1, yeah, I don’t think you really have a leg to stand on to demand a renegotiation on how you all are splitting up the rent. I’m sorry that you’ve found its actually more unaffordable than you thought, but its not like anyone hide anything from you. You knew how the rent was being split, you knew what your proposed obligation would be, and you agreed when you moved in.

    And frankly, while I think there a number of ways people might deal with this situation that are fair, I do think what Mia and her boyfriend are doing is reasonable. He is contributing to the overall rent (and therefore is contributing to the shared spaces), and they do share a room. I don’t necessarily think he should be paying the same, or more, than you just because you have a small room. There is a value to having private space, even if it’s less square footage and has less natural light. You have that, they don’t.

    If he had moved in after the fact and he and Mia decided what he would pay without consulting you and Jane, or if he wasn’t paying anything, I think you might have a case to make a stink.

    I think Wendy’s suggestion is all you’ve got. Don’t blame them or say things are unfair; say you like living with them but given the rent hike its no longer affordable for you to stay. See if they’d be willing to renegotiate. Maybe if you couch it in these terms, they will. There’s value to having a good roommate and not having to find someone new. But you can’t accuse them of being unfair when you initially indicated you had no problem with the standing arrangement.

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    • avatar

      RedRoverRedRover July 20, 2017, 11:39 am

      I agree that she’s kinda stuck with it now if they don’t want to renegotiate, but I disagree that it’s fair. As far as the two single roommates are concerned, they’re paying the same price to share common spaces with three other people as they would to share with two. That means it’s harder to get time in the bathroom, harder to get time on the TV, harder to have access to the oven or stove or counter or whatever to make dinner, etc. It’s a big difference. The only one who’s getting financial compensation for the pain of having to live with an extra person is Mia. That’s not right.

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      • avatar

        Loo July 20, 2017, 12:24 pm

        I almost lived in a similiar situation a couple of years ago when it came time to renew my lease with my roommate. We had a 2/2 where the bedrooms were approximately equal, but she wanted her bf to move in with us and split her half of the rent. That wouldn’t have been fair to me to pay the same amount of rent and have 2 roommates instead of one, so I moved out. LW in this case will likely need to move out too.

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      • avatar

        ele4phant July 20, 2017, 12:57 pm

        I guess.

        But was that burden already built into the cost of the room structure before the LW moved in?

        Basically, there was a structure in place before the LW moved in. She knew it, she agreed to it, “fairness” is really a relative term, it really comes down to what the collective all signs off on.

        They all signed off on this particular way to split the costs. Not saying you can’t ever renegotiate things, but not on the argument that things are “unfair” now.

        They aren’t, its just that circumstances for the LW have changed and if they all want her to stay (which they might – finding a new roommate is a pain and it sounds like they are all friends and actually enjoy living together), it needs to be a discussion about her financial limitations and if they’d be willing to work with her.

        Maybe I’m arguing semantics, but I think fair is so subjective, if she tries to use that as her main argument, it’s going to fall flat.

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      • avatar

        RedRoverRedRover July 20, 2017, 1:06 pm

        I’m not saying to use it as a reason to renegotiate, just that I can’t see how it could be considered fair. If you look at 3 people living together, and then you add a fourth, but 2 of them still have to pay the same as they were but deal with the pain of an extra roommate, I don’t see how that’s a fair split by any definition.

        If what you’re saying is that it’s fair for her to pay it becausr that’s what she agreed to, then yeah. I agree with that. She can’t blame *them* and call them unfair now, when she agreed in the beginning. But the split itself is inherently unbalanced. She screwed up when she agreed to it, IMO.

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      • avatar

        ele4phant July 20, 2017, 1:18 pm

        RedRoverRover, I could find the argument about the LW and Jane getting an unfair shrift on the expense of shared living spaces if they all paid the same amount per room.

        But they aren’t. So what is the expense of shared living space vs private room? What is the monetary value of privacy? What is the monetary value of two windows? Of wifi in your room? Unless they went and montesized every single one of those things (which I’m sure they didn’t) somehow they came up with those numbers in a subjective but cooperative way. They all came to consensus that (or in the LWs case, had the opportunity to buy into that structure vs not move in) this was how they were going to split things up.

        The consensus is what makes it fair, not the monetary value (which I doubt is really feasible to even calculate and in and of itself is ). This was not forced on anyone. If Mia moved her boyfriend in and said, he’s just splitting the cost of my room and Jane and the LW weren’t allowed input, then yeah, not fair, because they weren’t allowed to give input or agree to new terms.

        Again, I think there’s opportunity for the LW to ask them to reconsider how things are done, but her argument can’t be based on the arrangement being unfair.

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    • avatar

      RedRoverRedRover July 20, 2017, 1:31 pm

      The different amounts they pay are based on room size, not number of people in the room. Number of people in the room is unaccounted for. And it’s inherently unfair to not account for that, because it impacts usage of the shared living space. Just because someone agreed to it doesn’t make it magically fair all of a sudden. What if the LW wanted to move 5 other people into her room and split her rent 6 ways? They’d each be paying less than a hundred bucks, with the other roommates paying way more. They’d all have to deal with the pain in the ass of having so many people living there. It wouldn’t be fair. Even if her roommates agreed to it, that wouldn’t make it fair.

      Anyway, I think she’s getting a bad deal, which she shouldn’t have agreed to. Now she can ask them to renegotiate, but if they won’t she should move out, or just suck it up that she’s subsidizing them.

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      • avatar

        ele4phant July 20, 2017, 2:55 pm

        I mean, if the LW wanted to move 5 people in without consulting her roommates, that would be unfair as there was already an agreement in place.

        And as described to us, the room price was decided based on size of room, but we weren’t there (nor was the LW) for the initial negotiations. Was boyfriend part of the package upfront when the originated the lease? If so, perhaps Mia, BF, Jane and original roommate four did take that into account, either consciously or unconsciously?

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  • avatar

    dinoceros July 20, 2017, 12:42 pm

    LW1: I think it’s reasonable to expect the boyfriend to pay more. I’m not sure I agree with splitting it evenly four ways (since if you’re going by square footage, both of them get less space as individuals), but aside from the fact that you have more roommates (which is generally more hassle and less privacy), you have increased utility bills. If you bring this up, you shouldn’t get into how much everyone makes because I don’t think that’s relevant. Considering we still currently live in a capitalist society, rent is typically not determined by one’s income. If you can’t afford the rent you agreed to, that’s a separate issue from her boyfriend being around. I’d probably say to talk about it with them and if a suitable option isn’t found, then move somewhere else. I get that it’s awkward, but if you go through life accepting crappy situations simply because someone might get annoyed with you, then your life isn’t going to be very happy.

    LW2: Asking her mother if she’s up for visitors solves the problem of knowing if it’s too much. The worst thing that could happen is her mom says she’s not ready yet, and so you don’t. Not a big deal. Also, the idea that if she “caused” the accident, she deserves less compassion is ridiculous and cruel.

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  • avatar

    Bree July 20, 2017, 12:55 pm

    LW2: Definitely WWS. The main reason I wanted to comment was to reach out and say that I had GBS too. This is a really rare, really wacky disease, and there aren’t too many of us who have had it. I had it when I was 21, was in the hospital for 9 weeks, and had to have a tracheostomy. I’ve since made a fully recovery (except for some nerve damage to my feet) and I hope you have too. Best of luck with everything.

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  • avatar

    Loo July 20, 2017, 2:33 pm

    There are several rent-splitting calculators online with the purpose of finding prices that each roommate is satisfied with. LW1 has more bargaining power if she is actually willing to move out if the rent is not renegotiated. LW1 can play around with online tools before presenting a new pricing structure to the roomies. A quick google search turned up these 4:
    https://www.splitwise.com/calculators/rent
    https://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/29/science/to-divide-the-rent-start-with-a-triangle.html
    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/science/rent-division-calculator.html
    http://www.spliddit.org/apps/rent/new

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  • avatar

    Ashley July 20, 2017, 3:44 pm

    I had a friend whose roommates boyfriend spent a lot of time there (didn’t pay rent). Over time she got resentful of him being using the water and appliances and so she asked her roommate to start paying more. Flip side. Once he got his own place and she started spending all her time over there, she asked not to pay any of the utilities. That my friend, is what happens when you try to be split everything exactly on use. You can tie yourself in so many knots. I get you are in straightened finances, but if you can’t afford to live there as it is now, then move.

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