A close friend of mine shares/shared a flat with me. I did not ask him for his part of the rent very often. Over time, he's been spending less and less time here and the current situation is that he still formally lives here, but only has a couple of things here.

I've been ignoring the situation for such a long time that neither of us has a good idea of how much he really owes me. I do not think it would be fair to demand the full price since he's basically living elsewhere and only shows up every other month or so. However, the fact that he still keeps his stuff here means that I cannot have someone else live here instead of him. It's getting awkward, so I plan to talk to him and deal with the debt somehow.

The simple solution would be that we both make a guess and take the average, but the time period since his last payment is so large that our estimates and ideas of what a fair value is might be radically different, so this could become super awkward. Therefore, I want to avoid this solution.

How do we decide what would be a fair amount that neither would feel bad about?

Since there are many nerds from Stack Overflow and scientific SE sites here, if you happen to know about a zero-knowledge/game theoretic solution which would allow me to sidestep the interpersonal problem somehow, please let me know in the comments or as part of a more on-topic answer.

  • Welcome! How do solutions based on game theory fit a site called "Interpersonal Skills".
    – Catija
    Jan 5 '18 at 0:24
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    @Catija The best way to win a fight is not fight at all - if it's possible to remove the interpersonal problem using a clever, fair algorithm where neither of us knows what the other person is thinking, this would eliminate the interpersonal issue and we would not have to deal with it at all. Less "technical" approaches are still very much welcome though.
    – JohnEye
    Jan 5 '18 at 0:33
  • This is a site about interpersonal skills... Asking for solutions that sidestep or remove the interpersonal aspects/problems makes this kinda off topic.
    – apaul
    Jan 5 '18 at 0:36
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    But solutions here must be based in Interpersonal skills. We require answers to employ them. We're not a site for interpersonal problems we're a site for interpersonal skills. There's a difference between the two.
    – Catija
    Jan 5 '18 at 0:37
  • @Catja So I should just go and change the body of the question to "how to talk about money when I feel awkward talking about money"? This is an IPS issue for me, sidestepping the problem at hand is just the preferred solution. I can remove that part of the question, but I actually doubt such a solution exists, so I prefer leaving it there just in case someone knows one.
    – JohnEye
    Jan 5 '18 at 0:43

However, the fact that he still keeps his stuff here means that I cannot have someone else live here instead of him.

Therein lies your answer. He should pay you full of his part of rent because that is what you would have received if you had rented that space to someone else.

Using this amount as a baseline, you can then discuss and subtract expenses he did not contribute to like electricity, water etc. Note that this will only work if expenses are included in rent. You could also add expenses like commercial cleaning contribution if you hire someone else to clean the house.

Talk it out with him, discuss some options and be prepared to sway with the exact price if you value your friendship because friends and money rarely mix well.

If he had just stayed intermittently without any major stuff then it would be tantamount to the question you are asking now.

Also, in the future, please consider making an agreement so that all parties can abide by it.

  • @uR2die4 Being transparent like this would be a good idea in a business negotiation, but this is more of a friendship negotiation. We both know the full amount is ridiculous, unfair and unreasonable. But our ideas of what is fair could be wildly different. What if he's a cheapskate or I a greedy bastard? You don't want to know this sort of stuff in an otherwise healthy friendship.
    – JohnEye
    Jan 5 '18 at 3:29
  • @JohnEye Do you mean there shouldn't be transparency in friendship? If he is a cheapskate or you a greedy bastard (not implying) then no advice would work because it would be unfair to either one of you.
    – uR2die4
    Jan 5 '18 at 3:41
  • Complete transparency may not be helpful, no matter how much I would like it to be. This situation is a balancing act. The best thing for our friendship would be to forget about it all. But we both want to protect our interests as well. And therein lies the dilemma.
    – JohnEye
    Jan 5 '18 at 4:02

I think asking for theories is great and can play a big role in interpersonal relationships contrary to what the comment from Catija might imply - What I do feel however is that your question is poorly phrased around it. Rather than wanting some theoretical frameworks to base your interpersonal solution around it sounds as if you're simply playing on the stock market hoping to make the most out of a bad situation.

With that foray done, let's move on to the meatier bits.

I once read in a book that people overvalue favors given and devalue favors received over time as represented in a the study Flynn, F. J. (2003), 'What have you done for me lately? Temporal adjustments to favour evaluations'. I have not read much other on the subject and it seems quite hard to get a hold of this study, which means I haven't read it in its entirety, but I can add some anecdotal evidence to the point. People will often devalue favors they have received as time passes. If we are to look at this from the perspective of your friend you have done him a favor and he is not at all likely to consider the value of your favor as high as you do.

Now, if we are to discuss how you might get the most out of your situation you might look to some very common salesmen tactics; In this case the Door-in-the-face technique might be of relevance to you.

Since your friend is very likely to devalue the amount of money he owes you one thing you could to is to ask for more than you are likely to receive, very much like bartering. As he (if he) tells you that it's too much then you say something akin to "well, I could settle for at least 400 grokensons" which is much more likely to be accepted following your initial outrageous offer. You could also make use of Cognitive Dissonance. In short, attempt to make your friend say that he wanted to pay this money and make it seem as if it was his idea in some way as people want to stay consistent with their actions and previous opinions.

These are basic suggestions and following up on the study as well as continuing on Wikipedia from the links I provided will lead you to more argumentative techniques.

My only advice following this is to ask yourself what kind of friend you want to be. I would personally not want to be friends with a person employing these techniques on me. Rather than optimizing your monetary net gain you should seriously consider if this is someone you want to be friends with, and if the answer is yes just ask for a sum you will be satisfied with which you feel adequately covers some of the expenses. If he refuses to pay what you feel is a reasonable sum then you should have become quite aware that this is not someone you should be friends with and that this is a person you should keep out of your life.

Choose wisely.

  • From your answer I feel that you seem to consider me to be some kind of sociopath :-) I do not want to optimize the monetary gain, on the contrary. I want to agree on an amount that will leave us both with equal amount of "friendship tokens" because that's the best long-term investment.
    – JohnEye
    Jan 5 '18 at 1:05
  • @JohnEye I absolutely agree with that sentiment and find it very healthy, being in an uneven relationship for a long time is seldom good. My last choose wisely was uttered precisely because a lot of techniques which one can use to manipulate also can be used for good. I trust in your ability to make the best decision for this case. Godspeed.
    – Robzor
    Jan 5 '18 at 1:23
  • Yeah, it's just that when I started reading your answer, it made me go "What kind of a monster does he think I am?", that's all :-) Thank you for answering, and more so for making it somewhat science-based.
    – JohnEye
    Jan 5 '18 at 1:34

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