2

A few months ago I moved into a shared house. The house used to be a kind of community house for (where people would eat dinner together and roommates are found through the church). I'm not religious but most people in the house are and there still is an expectation to be respectful and trust each other.

I don't think I've been treated fairly when it comes to money. The first month I move in the lease holder had to kick someone out and asked me for money to change all the locks. The next month he wasn't able to find someone to occupy the now vacant room and again asked for money. Then the utilities bill was very high compared to the previous year. There was talk the garage needs to get cleared out and we need to chip in money to rent a truck.

Here is where I draw the line. When I moved in I was told we use a system where if someone buys a household supply (like garbage bags or dish soap) we write our name on the receipt and put it in a pile. This sounded like a good idea to me and I agreed to it. After several months someone went through the receipts, and posted in the group chat how much everyone owes each other. I was a bit surprised how much I owe some people as I had no idea they purchased anything. After doing some investigation, I find there's a few things that aren't fair in the way the costs were divided:

  1. Someone had bought some supplies for a Christmas party we had, and I had been under the impression each person was contributing out of their own pocket (for example I brought two bottles of wine and didn't expect to get reimbursed).
  2. Someone broke the vacuum while using it, bought a new one, and now is sharing the cost with everyone. I said I didn't think this was fair but the response was "the vacuum cleaner was old and ready to go anyway"
  3. Someone purchased close to $200 in cleaning supplies at once. The receipt doesn't have enough information to really tell what the items were (for example often times it just has a brand name).
  4. It's just silly that people owe each other small amounts that are awkward to pay, like $1.38
  5. I had been told the receipts would be processed each month, but in reality it happens once every several months. This makes it hard to track down what the costs were for.

As you may tell from my writing, I'm not good at stating a case that comes across as polished. The person in charge of this system is Bob. When I got home Bob was talking to another roommate who was trying to convince Bob of a better system. Bob was using arguments, which IMHO, hold no weight (like "this is how we've always done things" or "person-so-and-so wouldn't agree to this"). I tried to support the new system, but Bob got offended. I think this is what led to him making nonsense accusations and yelling at me.

I had asked to see the receipts and Bob got offended at this too saying he triple checked the numbers and wasn't trying to rip anyone off. I tried explaining I wanted to see receipts so I know what was purchased but he was too mad to listen.

I need to make absolutely clear to everyone in the house if someone wants me to help pay for something, they need to ask me before buying it. What's the best way of doing this considering some people get offended I don't trust them? I could play it up as "ask me first because I may know a cheaper place to buy it or have a friend who would lend/give it to us" but this may not always be applicable if I don't think we need the purchase in the first place, or if its something consumable like food for the party (though would work well for things like a mop).

I would like to get a new system that is fair in the sense everyone uses it the same way. I think it's much better to purpose an alternative instead of just saying "your way doesn't work". I tried purposing a new system but Bob got very defensive and used lots of arguments that made no sense to me, like "we tried this before and it didn't work" to which I replied "there's only 2 of the same people still living here" I think I was rude in the way I phrased it but I also think it's true. What is a good response to "we tried and it didn't work" when the conditions have changed? He also argues "this wouldn't work for person X" but I'd prefer if people spoke for themselves.

Bob is not the lease holder and in general I have a problem with how he thinks he can tell people what to do. Often he phrases things in such a way that makes it sound like everyone else has agreed and he's just relaying the message, when in fact only one other person agrees. Also I made a purchase that other people refused to help me pay for.

To summarize, my hope is we can agree on a system like everyone pays $20 at the start of a month and any leftover is evenly returned, but until such a system is in place I must insist people ask before expecting me to pay for a purchase.

Response to comments:

Q. are you looking for a better system to implement, or just a way to communicate that you won't participate in this system anymore?

A. primarily a way to communicate I won't be part of their current system anymore, but I think the best way to achieve this is getting people on board with a new system

Q. consider the scalability of people getting permission for purchases - does someone need to ask every other person in the house before buying a roll of paper towels?

A. In this post I'm not asking about what systems might be good in it's place, I'm asking how can I respectfully communicate I won't be part of the current one

Q. How much longer are you intending to live in this house?

A. At least another year. It's a very nice place and aside from the roommate politics everything is great, I even enjoy the roommates company when we get along.

Q. Do you ever have house meetings with all of the roommates together?

A. Yes but often times at least one person can't make it

Q. Are there any formal/public documents about house expenditures and budgets, or is it all up to Bob?

A. First off Bob isn't the landlord and I feel like he's acting in a position of authority he doesn't really have. Sometimes Bob, and other people, write things down and leave them in a public area. Usually these documents are unilaterally created and just because someone makes a document doesn't mean everyone has to follow it.

Q. Do you talk to any roommates other than Bob about these issues, or just Bob?

A. I talk to the others and most agree with me but have very passive or neutral attitudes.

Q. Are you prepared to compromise on issues, or are these hard stops for you?

A. It's a hard stop for me that I won't be paying anymore unless I agree to it first. My hope is I can change this position once everyone agrees to a new system.

  • 2
    "To me it seems obvious you can't just expect someone to pay for something they never agreed to." This is the system you already agreed to. Anyways, some clarifying questions on your situation: 1) How much longer are you intending to live in this house? 2) Do you ever have house meetings with all of the roommates together? 3) Are there any formal/public documents about house expenditures and budgets, or is it all up to Bob? 4) Do you talk to any roommates other than Bob about these issues, or just Bob? 5) Are you prepared to compromise on issues, or are these hard stops for you? – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Jan 22 at 20:35
  • @Upper_Case thanks for the clarification question, I edited the main post to include your question and the answer – Haptometer Jan 22 at 22:48
4

The underlying problem seems to me that the "rules" of this house are not bringing order, but chaos. Most shared houses have a few rules, but this one allows people to randomly do things and then attempts to reign that back in by trying to equalise and restore balance. That isn't ordered.

The reason other people in the house seem to be going along with it is probably that they don't know any better, or because they like it that way. There are different kinds of people in this world. Some people live chaotically anyway and don't mind it. Others live strictly by their own rules. Then there are some who know they probably should have some order in their lives but aren't very good at it, and so they welcome it when other people introduce rules for them. I know lots of different types of people live in shared accommodation for lots of different reasons, but I suspect that this latter "type" of person may be attracted to it for the reason that they get a semblance of order placed upon them and happily go along with it.

Your stated goal is to tell them that you will not be participating in the arrangement any more and cause the least amount of offence (or none at all). That is going to be tricky. If you could find a way of living completely independently within that household then you could make a reasonable argument to "opt out" of their cost-sharing scheme.

There may be some aspects of the arrangement that you should be able to get out of by being reasonable. For example, lets say you all currently contribute to buy toilet paper - you could say that in future you will buy your own toilet paper, keep it in your room and take it with you when you go to the toilet. You no longer need to contribute to it because you do not use the resource. But it is going to be tricky with some other things. For example, if you announced that you are going to buy your own garbage bags, that would mean you could no longer put your garbage in their bags. You may have to keep your own garbage in your own room, which I guess isn't ideal. You can't really opt out of paying for a shared resource unless you can absolutely avoid using it entirely.

Even if you could opt out of sharing the cost of all these consumables, I would imagine that you probably have an agreement to share chores such as a cleaning rota. You are going to find it hard to argue your independence in that regard. For example, if you did manage to keep your garbage separate and dispose of it yourself then perhaps they'd let you off taking out everybody else's. But you probably can't opt out of vacuuming the communal areas, for example. I don't think they'd accept that you don't generate dust. And when you do vacuum or clean, you are going to have to use the communal vacuum cleaner and cleaning products.

I think the best way to bring this system down is to question it, perhaps in a way nobody else has. On the subject of the vacuum cleaner, you could ask who owns this vacuum cleaner?. As you contributed towards the purchase of it, if you were to leave the house tomorrow are you owed a share of that asset - cost minus depreciation? Does the landlord own it? Or does Bob own it? Whose name is on the warranty? I bet they can't answer these questions. It might make some other people in the house start to question the arrangement and realise they've been conned.

It is in the landlord's interest that a property let to multiple people has rules and a rota for cleaning and maintenance. If the landlord provided the vacuum cleaner (the one that broke) then the cost of that and things like it will be factored into the cost of the rent. If the vacuum really was on its last legs as they claimed then it should have fallen to the landlord to replace it. An up-front, "all-in" cost of living would be fairer as there is less to question and less to worry about.

I can't put words in your mouth because really you have a lot to figure out before you attempt to address this. You need to find out things like who owned the original vacuum cleaner before you can challenge the agreement to replace it. You need to know if the vacuum and other shared resources like it are actually included in the rent paid to the landlord, and if so then the answer to a lot of the problems is just to have everybody in the house pay an equal share of that.

Every house has rules. If you live with your parents, they have rules; if you rent from a landlord, the landlord has rules. Unless you can afford your own place, you must expect some rules. If you can't live with the rules or the people that make them, it may be time to move on. Your best chance here is to challenge the authority of people who don't actually have any authority over you; but if they do have authority either because they are the landlord or the leaseholder then you're fighting a losing battle.

  • I get how your argument applies for things that are tangible, but what about consumables and maintenance? For example I'm worried someone will come up to me saying "we hired a dump truck to clean the garage. You owe me $20" – Haptometer Jan 23 at 19:07
  • 1
    You might suggest a threshold above which there needs to be general agreement from the tenants before money is spent. Whether it be $20/item or $50/month or whatever. That can allow people to buy TP, but not buy a truck or vacuum cleaner until after there is a discussion. – thursdaysgeek Jan 23 at 19:52
1

So... there's a lot going on here.

A few points I have pulled out to address are:
1. It's a hard stop for me that I won't be paying anymore unless I agree to it first.
2. My hope is I can change this position once everyone agrees to a new system.
3. I plan to stay here least another year. It's a very nice place and aside from the roommate politics everything is great, I even enjoy the roommates company when we get along.

The first problem I see is that you want to both change the system that is in place and not be a part of it - people (easily offended or not) won't react well to both things at the same time.

You're essentially saying, "I'm not going to be a part of this, and here's what you need to do from now on."
If you aren't going to participate, it doesn't matter how they do it.

I see that you have two options if you want to stay there.
(3rd option would be 'suck it up and just pay it' which I don't think you are open to at this point).

First Option

Do an end run around Bob

  • Come up with a system you would be okay participating in
  • talk to the other roommates one at a time and discuss your system, get their input
  • as you talk to each, adjust based on the prior person's input
  • circle around until everyone agrees
  • as for a house meeting and specifically say that you want to change to a new system at this meeting
  • roll the dice... throw it out there to all of them at the meeting. Use notes and give credit for different parts of the plan to other roommates. Try to find something to give as credit to each person including Bob (surely your can find something in the current plan that is okay)

Second Option

  • Figure out what you've owed other people over the last six months or so
  • Leave out items which aren't yours, such as the vacuum cleaner
  • Average to a monthly cost
  • Explain that you aren't comfortable with the current system, but you still want to pay your share
  • Give them the average you've paid and say you're willing to pay X per month
    (Where X is the average rounded up to the next multiple of 5, plus 5. So an average of 23.47 rounds up to 25 +5 = $30/month). Be prepared to go $5 more.
  • Offer to give this amount to Bob monthly on the condition that this is the limit of what you owe. You don't pay more than this unless you agree to something (like the Christmas party). If you owe less in a month they should save it for future months.
  • Personally, I like the second because : 1/ Bob won't change and the others want things to change but won't speak up, this solution only demands you act and speak up for yourself; 2/ You're still contributing to the household for the day to day stuff (the first answer shows how not contributing will make things very difficult); 3/ You can still add that if there are bigger purchases, you're willing to pitch in if this purchase has been okayed by everyone (you included) first. – MlleMei Jan 24 at 15:26
0

My answer is based on what I'd do if I found myself in your situation. Firstly, I would not be doing/paying for anything that I wasn't specifically obliged to in writing as part of your tenancy agreement or was made crystal clear before you moved in.

Contributing to large/expensive purchases such as a vacuum cleaner is a very grey area, as has been pointed out by the other answers: who owns the vacuum? Who's responsibility is it to get it fixed if/when it breaks? If someone leaves do they get reimbursed for their share of the cost? At the very least this purchase should have been agreed up-front so that everyone had an opportunity to either object or set a budget.

Although it's a more confrontational approach, I wouldn't feel bad telling the other housemates that you have issues with the current system and you aren't willing to contribute financially unless there are some changes made to the system. Namely, setting a sensible limit on the amount that can be receipted per month, plus a per-item limit. Anything above the limit gets agreed in advance.

If Bob objects, you need to reach a consensus with the rest of the house and don't allow his voice to drown everyone else's out - you are all equally entitled to define how the shared arrangement works. It sounds to me like everything is done Bob's way because he is simply the most vocal/demanding and nobody wants to challenge the status quo. Either you all have to step up and fight for the changes you want to see, or you are stuck with things as they are.

0

This is your opportunity to work things out:

Also I made a purchase that other people refused to help me pay for.

No system is perfect, but cost-sharing should work the same for everyone.

It might seem to you like some receipts (your $1.38 example) are too trivial to contribute. Or your sense of social norms aren’t shared by the others - like footing the bill personally for contributions to a party. But some system has been established and there isn’t any momentum to change it. So you need to either move out or find some way to participate fairly.

Since you don’t want to move out yet, here’s something you can try:

Bob, you’re volunteering your time to be our treasurer and I haven’t given that due recognition. I’ll give your system another try. But it needs to be fair. If I’m to contribute to replace the vacuum cleaner that I didn’t break, the others should contribute to (the purchase others refused to help you pay for). If others are claiming party costs, I’ll be claiming for the drinks I bought for the Christmas party.

From what you’ve described, you aren’t in a position to challenge Bob’s position as the de facto governor of the house, and it sounds like he doesn’t have much patience for your suggestions. By accepting his system and insisting on equal treatment, you will either be able to (fairly) equalise the payments somewhat by claiming expenses you’d otherwise be paying for yourself, or if he refuses, you’d have an opportunity to ask why it’s only your costs that aren’t shared.

It may be that what you claimed for wasn’t considered to be ‘household’ expenses, but this gives you an opportunity to try to understand how the rest of the house think about it.

Note that the above approach is based on a sense of fairness regarding established household norms, so you’ll need to keep an open mind yourself about how things are categorised by the household.

Tl;dr You ask about how to say you won’t participate in what you consider an unfair system of cost-sharing when you feel feel the other party is unreasonable. This answer suggests you do this by insisting that the system be applied fully. If accepted, the inequality is reduced; if not, you open the door for mutual understanding.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.