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I moved into a shared home with roommates. The landlady and her husband are two of the roommates. I've been having issues with storage space. Today she was cleaning up and she was about to throw out (or at least move) somethings I need for work. I caught them before it was too late and I asked her where I can keep them. She said "in your room" and I replied "there is no space" which is true. She replied "you are only renting a room" and I replied "I thought we shared common spaces?" which is true. She replied "no" and I replied "well that wasn't my understanding" and the conversation got completely unproductive from that point.

Nothing in the contract specifically about shared spaces, though I thought when living with roommates it's obvious that a shared space is to be shared equally.

She also uses my bathroom for storage and I asked if she could move her makeup out so I can keep my toothbrush, razor etc. in the space, and again she just said "no".

Two things I think are extremely important to context: the landlady is old enough to be my mother (in fact older).

The landlady's husband recently got diagnosed with a very serious/terminal illness. Understandably she's under a lot of stress. I don't want to put a bunch of extra details into this, but I think with the stress she's under she's been ignoring certain problems (for example she also has dogs that won't stop barking and though I complained, even when she's in the same room she does nothing to get them to stop barking).

To me it's reasonable that if I see a free space in a shared area (and no one has said otherwise) I can use it. For example I would like to put a box of winter clothes in the basement where there's a free spot. However I'm afraid someone may move or throw it out and if I try asking if it's to put there she just says "no".

TL;DR a roommate, who is also the landlady, is basically telling me I can't use the shared space except for a few items.

UPDATE: first, I'd like to thank everyone for their input. Second, this is not a legal question because I do not consider going to court a solution (IMHO often times lawyers are the only side that win when things go to court). Regarding the lease, it is the government issued standard rental agreement, which does not have any specifics on shared areas. The address given is for the whole suite (not a room number or anything like that). However, at the top of the lease it was written "room rental". My understanding was that the room was private, and the other areas equally shared; this is based on the price I pay for rent, and the fact that during the viewing I was showed the shared areas. But I must stress again, interpersonal skills should always be used before court gets involved.

I didn't want this to turn into an argument but for my area this is very common: when living with roommates you have equal share of the common space (which includes things like the kitchen, bathroom and laundry room). I have lived in 5 different roommate situations and this has always been the case (and has always been the case with all the other homes I viewed and didn't move into).

Final edit: I didn't want this to turn into a legal debate and that's why I'm not responding to any more comments.

  • 3
    What is your locale (guessing Anglosphere?) – rath Jul 19 '18 at 16:35
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    What does your contract/lease say about what space is yours? – user3067860 Jul 19 '18 at 17:00
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    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. (cc @EricLippert) – Arwen Undómiel Jul 19 '18 at 21:32
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    Having answered the question myself, I think the title needs editing. The question isn't really a general one about dealing with obstinate people, it's quite specifically about tenant/landlord boundaries. – Will Appleby Jul 20 '18 at 7:35
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    So you share a home with a couple, who are the landlords. You call it "shared home with roommates", but to me it sounds more like a "sublease" or just a "rented room" - i.e. you get one room, the landlords get the rest. What does your contract say? – sleske Jul 20 '18 at 7:56
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In the absence of anything explicit in your tenancy agreement, this comes down to what you can negotiate with them. Ultimately it's their place and if they never intended for you to store items outside of your room, you aren't going to be able to force the issue, except perhaps by finding somewhere else to live or at least threatening to move out - the only leverage you have is how much they need/want your rent money and how easy it would be for them to find a new tenant.

I would suggest sitting down with them at an appropriate moment and asking if there is any additional storage space on the property that you can use. If they say no, explain that you may have to look at moving elsewhere because you don't have enough room. Either they won't want you to do that, and may then offer additional storage as a compromise, or they'll tell you to go ahead and find somewhere new.

As an aside, I think when renting shared accommodation, there is a difference between

  • having 'use of' shared areas such as a kitchen* or lounge, and
  • having an implied right to store personal items in these spaces.

So I would tend not to assume the latter is okay unless you were explicitly told differently.

Edit: I accept that it's typical to be able to store some utensils in a kitchen (and food in the fridge etc) and toiletries in a bathroom. I was referring to personal items that would not be expected to belong in such places.

  • 3
    I don't really get some of the points by this answer (and others) like " Ultimately it's their place". A landlord can't tell a tenant where to put their belongings. It doesn't matter if the landlord happens to be another roommate. If someone takes something that's not there's that theft. I guess somehow she didn't think we were roommates but that was not my understanding at all. I would feel it's fairer if it's "equal rules" but she leaves her stuff and adds furniture etc that I can't use after I moved in. – refbobby Jul 19 '18 at 21:31
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    @refbobby sounds to me like you are just renting a single bedroom in their house, which is a different matter to having a multi-occupancy building with shared spaces. – Trotski94 Jul 20 '18 at 7:12
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    @refbobby, I agree with the "equal rules" idea. I just think, in reality, they see it as "their" house and you are a renter - i.e. you are not equal occupants, despite what you might think (or want). Ultimately the advice is the same: if they won't compromise, you need to move. – Will Appleby Jul 20 '18 at 7:28
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    As this is an IPS answer I would suggest not making the assumption that the issue of explicit rights (which is a big factor in how to resolve this as an interpersonal issue) comes down to a tenancy agreement. In some jurisdictions landlords of shared properties are required to provide certain facilities and an agreement that didn't allow for them would be unenforceable. From an interpersonal perspective, however, such regulations have the same effect as a tenancy agreement. – Will Jul 20 '18 at 9:34
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A negotiation requires two parties which are both open to a change in the status quo. You can't negotiate with a person unwilling to negotiate.

The reason why people won't negotiate is usually because they think that the other side either has nothing to offer which has value to them nor any leverage on them.

And this seems to be the case here. Your landlord is under the impression that you only have right to that one room and nothing else. Compromising that position would be a disadvantage to them with nothing in return.

So what can you do?

Either provide an incentive (for example "if you let me use the space, I will do [X] for you") or find some leverage (for example: "I've noticed I do [X] for you which isn't part of our agreement either. I will stop doing that." or the ultima ratio: "I will move out and you will have to look for another tennant").

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Start by understanding that you and your landlord have a fundamental disagreement.

You say

shared home with roommates

But everything the landlady has said suggests that she views it as a home with a room rented to a lodger. In which case,

it's obvious that a shared space is to be shared equally.

is definitely not true.

In this situation you would typically have use of your bedroom and whatever communal areas that are agreed (usually kitchen, bathroom and maybe a living room). But this is entirely at the discretion of the landlady and is definitely not an 'equal' sharing. They 'own' the entire house. You pay for the right to live in it. Very different to a houseshare where you jointly rent the house.

To answer the question, you cannot negotiate with someone who flat out says "no". The choice you have is broadly to live in her house according to the limits she sets or move out.

  • 2
    Small point of clarification: some places have legal definitions of what rentable accommodations must include. This frequently includes stipulations for bathrooms and kitchens. So those parts may not be entirely at the discretion of the landlady. – Beofett Jul 20 '18 at 18:32
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    @Beofett Agreed. Though even if use of kitchen/bathroom is stipulated then I would expect the question of storage to be at the landlady's discretion. – Mark Perryman Jul 20 '18 at 19:03
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You have yourself in a very unpleasant situation. Truth is it is their house and I am not sure you can change the rules of how they behave in their house unless you have something legally binding in your contract (or even then to be honest).

Easiest solution is to move out and find another place though I realize that can be quite costly and time consuming.

If that is not an option or you really want to stay there I would say try to improve your relationship with the landlords. You say they are under a lot of stress, maybe you can try to relieve them of some of it. Help out more around the house. You can do a lot of small things like clean the shared spaces more often, walk the dogs, cook for everyone every now and then, ask what they need help with. Go beyond what is expected from a good tenant.

If you are helpful for them they will treat you better and will respect your right to use the shared spaces to store things.

I realize that it is pretty much earning the right to do things that you should get by default and there are 0 guarantees that it will actually work but it is a difficult situation during a difficult time.

  • 4
    @refbobby - Did you discuss this with this specific landlord before moving in? – Fake Name Jul 20 '18 at 8:03
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    @FakeName: Yes, and: Did you put the result into the contract? If it's not in the contract, it does not exist. – sleske Jul 20 '18 at 8:07
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    @refbobby Were all your other roommates owners of the property and older than your mother? With peers you negotiate as equal, with landlords they're lords and you're a supplicant. All of my roommates had stringent rule "only if owners live off premises" for this reason exactly. I understand that it might be not practical for you, I'm merely trying to highlight how big difference it is. – Agent_L Jul 20 '18 at 14:29
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    @refbobby - If you're in the US, your apparent beliefs about how rentals work are very different from how every rental I've ever been involved in worked. In rentals, if you don't explicitly have some facility in an agreement or a codified law (FHA, etc), you should assume you cannot do it. – Fake Name Jul 21 '18 at 1:19
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    You really need to add more specifics to your OP. You've been asked multiple times to add your location (it's important!), and you haven't. The details of the items you're trying to store are also important. – Fake Name Jul 22 '18 at 4:19
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Present situation

As it stands right now, you have no power or right to demand more space. They own the house, you are merely a paying guest. I say this because because if I were an elderly person caring for my dying spouse, I would be Extremely pissed if someone we let a room to started acting entitled to things they don't own and don't pay for.

Side note: I've had some very bad roommates in my life, who have raised issues very similar to this one. I would be remiss if I did not say that I am highly biased against your situation.

How to make the best of it

Simply put, make them an offer. Pay them for some storage space, and get all of the details in writing with a signature. If money's too tight, offer to take up some task around the house - cleaning, landscaping, whatever you can do. Point is, actually offer them something in return. Negotiations are about give and take, not getting everything you want at no cost.

Possible legal concerns

One thing sticks out to me in your post - the bathroom. I'd suggest you study up on renters rights in your area, because not having the full use of a bathroom seems... off. Do not ever compromise or negotiate on things you are legally entitled too. If my gut instinct is right, the bathroom might be one of them.

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    I'm not sure of any jurisdiction that says you have to be able to keep your toothbrush/shaver/etc. in the bathroom, as long as you can use it otherwise for normal bathroom tasks, and there are many shared housing spaces where it is not normal to keep your stuff in the bathroom. TBH, I think the OP is blinded by dislike for the landlord instead of approaching this as a practical storage problem. I have a feeling most of the problems could actually be solved with some under bed storage, a cheap 5 shelf unit, and one of those shower caddies to tote bathroom supplies in. – user3067860 Jul 20 '18 at 13:54
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    I live in a house and rent two rooms to two tenants. They split the bathroom. I try not to get involved in bathroom fights but I had to after multiple cleaning fights ending in the bathroom not being cleaned. – Joshua Jul 20 '18 at 15:16
  • @user3067860 thanks for your constructive opinion that I'm blinded by my dislike. I already have tried all that and am completely maxed out of space in my bedroom. Also for sanitary and convenience reasons it would be nice if I didn't have to keep things like shoes in my bedroom. – refbobby Jul 20 '18 at 21:28
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    All due respect if you're going to write answers about housemate shares, you should have experience with housemate shares. Shared bathrooms are extremely common: the rule, not the exception. I cannot recall ever having a dedicated bathroom except one case where I rented the whole wing of the house. Remember houses are not built from the ground up to be housemate-share homes, which is what it would take for your gut instinct to be even a possibility. They also do not have separate utilities, which would be required if they were separate occupancies. – Harper Jul 21 '18 at 6:02
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    There may not be extra space to pay for. I have a desk in my living room that is usually empty or nearly empty. It is where the sewing machine goes when I am using it. It is the buffet table when I have friends over for a potluck. That space in the basement may be where the camping gear that is currently out on loan will be next week. – Patricia Shanahan Jul 23 '18 at 14:10
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I've done a lot of housemate shares. It doesn't really matter whether the person is the landlord or the master tenant (the one who holds the lease and is bottom line responsible for ALL the rent being paid). I use the phrase "master tenant" to describe all shares where one person is master. There's also an arrangement where several housemates go in together to rent a house jointly as equals, but that doesn't apply when some are owners.

Of course everything is up for negotiation, but the bottom line is: Their house, their rules.

As such, you are digging yourself a hole and hurting your reputation with the house by struggling to argue over these rules.

What's more, all housemate shares are at-will -- they don't owe you housing, you are in their shared living space, and if they don't like you, 30-day notice is traditional. Even if your town has rent control which prohibits eviction without cause, that does not apply to subtenants in a housemate share. You are in their home. Somebody mentioned how they need to work with you or risk losing you -- no they don't. They really don't. Housemates are expendable and replaceable. Jerk housemates are super expendable. It's a chore, but replacing a jerk is half pleasure.

Pursuing legal action is out of the question because it will result in your eviction as rapidly as possible. No judge will force two strangers to share a house, if their interpersonal skills are so awful that they are suing. Even if you found a viable claim, such as discrimination, the judge would still tell you to find another housemate share, and you would only get money damages. If you can't be friendly, you can't be housemates.

Generally, housemate shares are exactly what they say on the tin. When you were interviewing for the space, did they hide or subdue the dogs so you didn't hear them? I'm guessing not. When you toured the bathroom, was their stuff in it? I'm guessing so. (and by the way, shared bathrooms are absolutely normal.) It's your job to be savvy in selecting housemate shares.

Since you are dealing with a master-tenant, you can request what you want, but you also need to respect that their word on the subject is final. Be respectful and deferential to their decision.


Now as far as stuff -- collecting too many possessions is the American (Western?) pastime. You have that problem, and perhaps so does your master tenant!

I assure you, your idea that "Anyone can throw stuff in commons space" is not a standard housemate rule. In your eagerness to solve your immediate problem, you have imagined this in your head. That is not interpersonal relations, that is its absence.

The actual rule is "you can negotiate, but don't get high hopes of doing it casually or regularly".

Living in a housemate share is a lot like living in a tiny house. Rest assured: Every housemate has that same impulse to overcollect stuff. And has to fight the internal battles with oneself to learn to let go, and to pass up desirable items. So when you obliviously start stacking things up in commons space because your room's full, they start thinking "Why does he get to do that, and I don't?"

If they did, well, humans expand into the available space. Everyone would race to stuff the commons space to the gills, making a cluttery mess - by coincidence this is actually called "the tragedy of the commons". Don't be this fellow, who blunders because he doesn't know the impact of his actions.

Commons space is not yours for storage. Your room is. And yeah, that means you need to make hard choices about stuff, particularly whether you want a room stacked with cardboard boxes, or a presentable space for friends and lovers. Several times I have resorted to renting two rooms, one for my stuff. I've also rented a "storage unit".

Typically you also get a shelf in the bathroom medicine cabinet (yes, sharing bathrooms is par for the course in housemate shares) and shelves in the kitchen for your food. Fridges and freezers are sometimes catch-as-catch-can, but that does not entitle you to hog the space with a CostCo run or side of beef. There can also be rules about cooking, so ask before doing messy or stinky cooking.

There may be occasional, common-sense exceptions; a bicycle is the most typical example if a suitable garage space exists. These are the exception, not the rule, and you must always obtain permission/agreement. Even in a joint/equal share situation, you can't just "do stuff".

  • Actually I have done the house mate share thing for a while. And it is standard that housemates share the common areas. Today I was looking at another place and the landlord was showing me a closet. Given the replies in this question, I asked if I could actually use the closet. He said yes, and asked why I even bothered asking such a silly question? So, I ask you, could you please explain where you're coming from that all belongings must be stored only in the bedroom? – refbobby Jul 21 '18 at 7:34
  • Second, where I live there's no such thing as "tenancy at will". I have a least that is for a set amount of time. – refbobby Jul 21 '18 at 7:35
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    I did housemate shares for almost 20 years, totaling over a dozen places. You're right, I wasn't clear enough: Storing anything in commons space can always be negotiated, but you cannot expect a whole lot of that. What's definitely wrong, in my experience, is your notion of "If I see space, just do it" -- particularly when "if I try asking if it's to put there she just says "no"." If that is the answer you expect, then I really don't see how acting without asking will have a more favorable outcome. – Harper Jul 21 '18 at 8:38
  • @refbobby Leases to a subtenant? New to me but okay... But the lease has terms, yes? It surely has a clause allowing evictions for rule violations etc. The people who wrote the lease surely wrote it to their favor. – Harper Jul 21 '18 at 8:48
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As the landlady said, you are only renting a room. They are not obliged to provide you storage space at no extra cost.

As for the wc/toilets, if it belongs to your room and for your use only, you should be able to leave there personal stuff like your toothbrush and shoes. If it is shared, you usually use a purse and take back your utensils to your room. At most, people will leave there a bottle of shampoo, a soap, and towels, as they usually are wet. Often in a while if you are lucky, you might get a drawer of your own in there.

As for shared space, usually it is expected guests will make a minimal use of it, like storing some cutlery, food in the common storage areas/fridge, hanging their clothes in common areas, and maybe leaving the shoes of the day near the entrance. Not much more than that, except is the landlord allows for it, either for free or paid. It is also your duty to keep your belongings in the room, and keep it tidy and clean.

As for negotiations, they are usually done before moving, while you have bargaining power. At the moment, you are not offering anything in return.

The IPS solution here is either suggesting a token payment for your extra stuff, or when scouting the market for renting a room, saying "This room is not fit for my needs as it is too small, but if I could get a bit of extra storage space..."

I knew personally someone who managed to fit his two extra fridges in the house he was renting a room, because:

  • he negotiated for it before doing the contract;
  • he was renting the worse room - a sort of trade off for the fridges;
  • he was someone who had a soft tongue.

PS. I rented several rooms in my life, and never expected to store personal belongings outside my room. People that usually have such needs rent additional storage space somewhere else at a lower cost while they have to rent rooms. You are demanding such services at no extra cost.

PS2. Obviously, another possible IPS solution is renting an apartment on your own and have all the space for yourself. More realistically, that is why often bachelor pads are highly sought after in the market, for not having to live in with landlords, and abide by their rules (e.g. landlords are not roommates).

  • "I rented several rooms in my life, and never expected to store personal belonging outside my room" well I'm certainly not in Lisbon but I find this hard to believe. So you never stored your towel or toothbrush in the bathroom? You never stored your shoes or coat near the door? You stored your bike in your room? You stored your groceries and cooking utensils in your room? – refbobby Jul 21 '18 at 7:37
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    If you only ask questions to see if people validate your point of view, and do engage people without properly interpreting what they write, why bother then? Write whatever you want here, I won´t engage with someone who is not being reasonable. – Rui F Ribeiro Jul 21 '18 at 17:53
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Well - in your question two things stand out. Firstly, your landlady and her partner are facing a dire terminal situation. If you think about it, she will ultimately lose her partner, and then their life together will be gone. How important do you think this is to them? Can you try and empathise with this, because your expectations must be insignificant compared to their situation. Plainly they do not compare.

Secondly, try and ask yourself how anyone can stop dogs from barking? It is obvious that you are not comfortable with dogs. Complaining about this is not making your situation any better.

In the current situation I do not think that you will be able to change the status quo by arguing for yourself, but perhaps you could reflect upon their awful future and help them by being as minimalist as possible in the short term. You have a future in as far as I can tell, and it is in your power to strive not to see or feel the shortcomings of others. Never lose sight of your own shortcomings - cast them behind you, respect their wishes and work with them by replying rather than expressing any opinion and the only in answer to some useful and necessary question. Best answer frivolous questions by silence - with a target result of a harmonious relationship which is mutual.

If you do not want to do this then I think that you should consider your situation, and either choose to let go and accept that you do not dictate how you spread your belongings in the property, or plainly look for alternative accommodation with plenty of space for spreading out - and no dogs. You chose to stay there, and it is you that has to change your situation and attitudes and not them.

  • "you do not dictate how you spread your belongings in the property" the landlord also doesn't dictate how I spread my belongings across the property. – refbobby Jul 20 '18 at 21:30
  • Also I sympathize that her husband is very ill but it would be worse for her if I move out over something that could have been solved – refbobby Jul 20 '18 at 21:31
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If her default answer is 'No'. You have to be willing to walk away from the negotiation as well.

If you tell your landlady that you think she's breaking the lease by telling you 'no', then she'll need to become more accommodating or possibly risk losing you.

After all, if you're sharing the kitchen, sharing the bathrooms, etc. It's obvious that you're entitled to some storage area in those common areas (unless it specifically says otherwise in the contract).

And since she's breaking the contract, you have no obligation to remain, or even find a replacement for the lease. She'll need to find her own replacement and be more explicit about the conditions with that other person (otherwise, she's likely to lose him/her as well). And obviously, if she's honest about all the conditions, she'll probably need to offer a significant discount for her to convince someone to move in.

If you're unsure about this, just visit your local legal aid, or any local government organization in charge of handling disputes between landlords and tenants (or between master tenants and subletters). They can help you recover your deposit and they can give you advice that's actually relevant to your local jurisdiction.

  • 4
    Hm, it's not quite clear that the landlady is breaking the lease - looks more like the opposite. However, clearing that up is definitely a good idea, and if the landlady is acting against the contract, this is the way to go. – sleske Jul 20 '18 at 8:09

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