This week, a reader struggles with a flatmate's boyfriend who has been making himself way too comfortable in her home.
Send your woes to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I live in a flat of seven people, two couples and three single renters. One of the girls has her boyfriend over every night and it’s becoming an issue. He’s doing his washing at ours (there are already queues for the washing machine each night), he’s parked his unwarranted car up our drive in the one park we have, and we’re pretty sure our flatmate has cut him a key without the head tenant or landlord’s permission, as he comes and goes at different times to our flatmate.
The issue is that we really don’t want another person living in the house as it’s already pretty crammed, and the bills are ginormous as it is. We’re apprehensive about approaching our flatmate about reducing the time her boyfriend is over as it seems a bit of a dick move on our part to limit how much time they spend together, but mainly because she’s the kind of person that would take it personally and likely create a hostile atmosphere in the flat, which we really want to avoid.
Any tips on how to tread lightly?
Dear Laundry List,
What a classic conundrum. Flat harmony is so often about unspoken norms being adhered, and what a reasonable way of living looks like for one person can be completely different to another - no wonder you’re having trouble with seven people in the house!
You’re right to say it feels a little authoritarian to decree your flatmate must reduce the time she spends with her boyfriend (who do you think you are, WINZ?), but equally she is perhaps being deliberately obtuse by “not noticing” the queues for laundry, his taking up your one park, etc.
Who has a right to be where and how long they can stay is complicated when it comes to flatting and partners (especially when someone is new on the scene, and wasn’t part of the equation when you made decisions moving in). So often it comes down to things which can’t really be negotiated, such as: do you like having this person around and enjoy his company or not? The thing is we often don’t mind when someone’s in our space even when their presence is a mild inconvenience if we like them or we perceive that they are contributing in other ways.
If you don’t really like him, then you’ll never be happy about any arrangement where he’s coming and going as he pleases, and that’s kind of just one of those shit things about flatting which doesn’t have any easy solutions. If he’s an ok guy but you’re annoyed by material inconveniences, laying out some house rules should hopefully solve the issue.
When laying out those rules, don’t make it a case of “you can’t sit with us!”. Instead, point out the perfectly reasonable fact that the people who actually pay rent at the house need to know they can get their laundry done in a timely manner or park in their own driveway.
Even though it’ll be kind of sucky for the person this gets put on, I would suggest designating the flatmate she gets along best with (or alternatively the person least bothered by conflict) to have a frank one on one discussion with her in private - if she senses everyone is ganging up on her, she’s more likely to get defensive and upset, if that’s a reaction she’s prone to. Having a meeting between everyone else in the flat beforehand about what outcomes you want and what lines you’ll stick to is also a good idea, just to make sure you all back each other up if she comes to separate flatmates either to complain or to discuss the situation later.
Next, I would suggest framing any discussion as being about how to make sure everyone is happy, rather than about all the ways her boyfriend’s continued presence is annoying you. So instead of the solution being her boyfriend spending less time at your house, make it about how he can keep staying with you with minimal intrusion. It sounds like for a start he should be contributing to bills - ask that he starts pitching in however much the existing flatmates already pay per week for expenses or, if you pay as you go, that he starts putting $20-$30 a week into the flat account and then hold him to it.
I think it’s reasonable that where amenities are limited (car park, laundry, the shower in the morning) you draw a line that those things are for people who live in the house to use first and foremost. Again, none of this needs to be outlined with the express purpose of getting him to spend less time at your house, but setting clearer boundaries about what’s reasonable for him to use would likely have the effect of him realising he needs to go back to his place more frequently, or for them to start splitting whose house they sleep at more evenly.
People often secretly know when they’re being a nuisance, but enjoy pretending they don’t if it makes their life a little easier. Most people are also prone to feeling shame when confronted reasonably about their selfishness, and therefore quite amenable to being asked to change their behaviour (although if they are made to feel too guilty and aren’t given the option to make amends this can turn into resentment). The key is not to make your flatmate and her partner feel ganged up on or that their very being together is the problem - that can create a “them vs you” dynamic which if left to fester can be quite horrible in flats. Come in with suggestions and solutions and ask them to help you solve the problem, and things should hopefully improve!
Send your woes to: email@example.com.
Read last week's advice: "How do I control my jealousy about two of my friends becoming close?"