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Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Bad Housemate

My friend Sophie (name changed to protect her identity) moved away from her parents’ home right after high school to go to college.  She could have stayed home and still go to college with an ok commute, but she chose to move away.  For obvious reasons, her budget was very, very tight and her parents were not in a financial position to help her much with money.  So Sophie moved in with a friend from high school, Robert, who was also enrolled in college.
Robert used shopping as a hobby but could not keep up his lifestyle.  He dropped out of school and started working full-time, but his low-paying retail job was not enough for him to buy food, clothes and pay rent.  So he started eating Sophie’s food from the kitchen.  When Sophie would confront him, he replied that (sheepishly) that he was hungry.  Sophie had to start hiding food in her underwear drawer so that it would last and not be eaten by her housemate.  When the lease expired, Sophie moved. However, financially, she had been feeding Robert AND she had to pay for her move (Robert did not have the money to move!).
Another friend of mine had a system for paying rent: one student (my friend, Steve) would collect all the money from the other roommates and, with the bills in his name, would pay all the bills.  Except one of his friends would typically only pay partial bills because he would allocate part of his rent money to buying music.  He would then honestly explain:’ no, I did not have the full money for rent because I wanted to buy some music’.  Steve was stuck paying the bills.
Having good roommates is important and the financial (as well as emotional) burden of having housemates who won’t pay their share can seriously affect your lifestyle.  There are ways to partially protect yourself, although you are never truly protected: choose roommates who can afford the bills and seem responsible; put half the bills in your names, the others in the name of other housemates; rent from a landlord who will divide the lease and not make you responsible for each other’s rent; have a lock on your bedroom so you can keep valuables outside of others’ reach; finally, discuss at the beginning of the co-habitation what is common and what is not (do you share salt and pepper? shampoo?) and how will you identify private property in common areas (your ketchup and my ketchup).
Finally, don’t tempt housemates: don’t leave money lying around, electronics where they can be broken, and account information in plain view.  Housemates are acquaintances, and maybe friends; but they won’t remain friends if there is doubt about honesty.

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