Wednesday, June 23, 2021
HomeBudgetingDear Penny, Am I wrong to make my unemployed niece pay the...

Dear Penny, Am I wrong to make my unemployed niece pay the rent?

Dear Penny,

Recently, we had to transfer our mother to a nursing home. Before the move, my niece had moved in with her. My mom has dementia and is not likely to live at home again.

The niece was living for free when Mom was here. She still stays here and still doesn’t pay. She is unemployed but has been receiving unemployment. She has been there since last September. Mom went to the nursing home in February.

My brother is the permanent agent and is in charge of the expenses. We hope to hold on to the house. There are some savings to pay for the nursing home for a few years. When the savings are gone, we will have no choice but to sell the house.

My niece was paying a roommate a hefty sum before she moved in with Mom. He has had many months to save and his expenses are low as he does not pay rent or utilities. My brother turned off the cable, but the internet is still on. In addition, there are expenses for gas, oil, electricity, property taxes and maintenance. I live out of state but come back for extended visits and work remotely while there. I plan to send you a check online, electricity, etc. to my brother. I usually stay for about three weeks.

Someone should tell the niece that she should start paying some of the expenses. I don’t really know how to explain it to him. When I mentioned it to my sister (the niece’s mother’s twin), she seemed outraged that we were expecting money from an unemployed person.

I guess I need to figure out how to tell him. Before Mom went to the nursing home, there was a big argument because after Mom said she could move, Mom decided she didn’t want her here. After Mom was moved to the nursing home, it was my idea that the niece could stay. So I feel like I should be the one to tell you that the free ride is over.


Dear L.

When he offered to let his niece stay at her mother’s house, he did not absolve her of the rent for life. The conversation you are about to have should come as no surprise. Note that I say “shouldn’t” instead of “don’t want to” here. I suspect shock is exactly the reaction you will get.

Think about it from your niece’s perspective. After eight months of rent-free living, why should you have different expectations for months nine or ten?

I think since this arrangement was your idea, you should be part of this conversation. But as a durable power of attorney, your brother is the decision maker. So I think you two should talk to your niece together.

The good news is that he seems to be feeling mild frustration, rather than outright rage at the moment. Don’t let things come to a boil with your niece. This conversation should take place soon.

First, talk to your brother about what a good result looks like. Do you want your niece to leave completely? Are you okay with me staying if you pay for maintenance and utilities, even if you wouldn’t pay the rent? Or are you waiting for him to stick around and eventually pay the rent at fair market value?

I guess the ideal scenario is somewhere between the second and the third option. It’s reasonable to expect her to pay some rent, but probably not what you would charge a stranger, especially since you stay in the house from time to time. You and your brother should agree on a dollar amount that she will be responsible for and any other tasks that you need her to take on.

Regardless of your ideal outcome, let him know that this discussion is coming up. Schedule time to talk about managing expenses in the future so you don’t feel surprised.

Try not to lecture her on all the money she should have been saving since September. I understand your frustrations. But really, it is irrelevant at this point.

Keep the conversation looking to the future. Show your niece how much it costs to maintain the house and ask her how much you can contribute. She is receiving unemployment, so she should be able to kick something, even after shopping and other expenses. You can offer to help her budget or renew her resume. But ultimately, you need to set a very clear expectation of what you need from her in the future.

What I hope is that a little pressure will give your niece the much-needed motivation and that more extreme measures, such as eviction, are not necessary. Sometimes an impending deadline forces us to act.

This will be a difficult conversation. You had good intentions, but now you have to be the bad guy. Please do not fool yourself into thinking that this situation will change on its own.

Robin Hartill is a Certified Financial Planner and Senior Writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your misleading money questions to [email protected].



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