The "Roommate" Dilemma

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I have an awesome apartment attached to my house. It has everything so I could essentially close the door between the two units and rent it out and the person would have everything they need (1,300 square feet including a full kitchen, bedroom, walk in closet, laundry, living room, dining room and separate entrance).

Mom's former caregiver, Carol, became like family. She is 79 and very active and healthy. She lives alone in a second story apartment in an over 55 complex. She had been looking to move closer to her daughter all along (daughter lives in my neighborhood).

So, now Mom has passed and Carol and I have negotiated her renting Mom's apartment. Win /win. She has a better living situation, we have rent coming in and the kids love her. I agreed to honor the rent that she had been paying but it is $300 less than we would have rented the apartment for. In exchange for the bargain rent, she has agreed to continue to be available to take my daughter to her orthodontist appointments, give the kids other rides as needed etc.

The dilemma: She clearly envisions that this will be a roommate situation where she is an active member of our family - the new grandma, if you will. I envisioned it to be a landlord/tenant relationship where we are neighbors and friends. I pictured the door between the units being shut and us knocking when we want to spend time together. I was picturing her living alone but joining us for an occasional meal together or a shopping trip or whatever. But mostly, living as two separate households.

She has made comments about helping me with housework (vacuuming/sweeping downstairs) and helping get dinner started for us. I subtly demurred. Too subtly because she has mentioned it again.

I like her a lot but want some space and privacy. I know I need to have a talk with her and express my feelings but don't have the words and can't find the perfect time.

And, we also need to consider that she is 79. I was an unwilling caregiver to my mother. I do like Carol a LOT more than I liked my mother but I also know what an endeavor that was. I know as she gets older, Carol will need help but I am worried that an occasional assist with this or that can eventually morph into full blown caregiving.

Her daughter and I know each other professionally and we are friendly. Her main problem with her mother is getting her mother to back off and not do everything for her kids. You know, letting them clean up after themselves, do their own laundry etc. I can see that.

It is too late to back out now. Carol has already figured out where all of her furniture is going. I just need to find a way to define the relationship.


Good luck, but, it's very difficult to set boundaries when you are practically living under the same roof, with a person that you have had a previous relationship with and consider more a friend than tenant.

You may want her to perform some things, like being available for children's transportation when needed, but, at the same time expecting her to not be overly involved. It's ripe for a terrible outcome, imo. If there is no contract yet, I'd reconsider. There are so many things that could go south. And then how would you feel evicting someone at her age? That's what I would look at. What is the remedy if things don't work out? It could make for a very uncomfortable situation.

If you still want to proceed, I'd consult with an attorney and get help on getting a written Lease that includes provisions that protect your interests.
I would say that you are unwilling to set up a situation either one of you may regret some day, where she may feel she is not free to come and go as she pleases or has become an unpaid caregiver and you begin to resent your lack of privacy. Tell her that you appreciate her offer to help you and will avail yourself of it only when you both agree in advance. And of course set up an understanding about how much to pay for her time.
She would not be becoming an unpaid caregiver. My worry is that I might eventually slide into that role as she ages. She will be free to come and go as she pleases. My kids don't need any care except transportation (ages 12 & 14) and I would not be paying her for her time. The reduced rent should cover the once a month rides she would be providing.

My problem / concern is that she wants to do too much. She wants to vacuum my house, help with laundry, start dinner etc. I don't need help with any of that so I would not offer to pay her for it.

I would like our lives to be a little more separate than I think she is picturing. Example: The other day, a comment was made about if my husband's TV was too loud and she said "Oh, I could just shut the door" And I am thinking that the door would always be shut and we would knock if we wanted to visit.

And if she starts our dinner, there is a presumption that she will be joining us for dinner - which would be fine sometimes but I don't want it to be an "always" thing.

I just have to find a way to let her know my expectations.
Unintended consequences
She's apt to be lonely and you'll probably feel sheepish trying to send her back to her unit as you sit down to a family dinner

Sorry I don't have any suggestions but maybe some of the nightowls will
Prevail on the daughter, who doesn't want her mother moving quite so nearby anyway, to find a better alternative; and tell this nice lady that you're awfully sorry but you have had enquiries from a full-paying tenant and nobody can afford to turn down an extra $300 a month now can they, not in these hard and uncertain times. She'll understand the money far better and less painfully than she will ever understand why the connecting door's been locked.

If you let this happen you'll be plagued and she'll be hurt. You have to scrap the idea.
Or you could just be really honest. That's always been my motto. If someone is sensitive, it doesn't always work but subterfuge never works in my opinion. You could possibly end up losing a good friend in the process. It might hurt her feelings initially but she'll get over it.

Just get a good lock for your side of the door. Maybe, she'll figure it out herself when she can't get in.
Boundaries up. That door will never be used, not even as a convenience. She will be a neighbor, each of you calling ahead, using the front door entrances at all times.
Carol: " You have your own family to care for now that you live nearby to them. I am looking forward to having you as my friend and neighbor, but now that Mom is gone, your caregiving role has ended (or something nicer) and we will be separating the living spaces by (sound-proofing) closing off that door, as my family prefers. (like I said, or something nicer). We will call ahead like neighbors do for privacy. "
Seal off, sound-proof the door now, before she moves in.
If her daughter has these issues, you already know what to expect. Maybe you do want to reconsider.? ?
Better boundaries would be to choose not to use her as a driver for your kids at all (to make up for the decrease in rent). She may feel obligated to overdo to make up the difference. How long will she be driving safely, in your opinion? Keep the landlord/tenant relationship clear, neighbor.
I agree with Sendhelp. Having her drive the kids is cracking that door wide open in many ways. And what a good point about how long will she drive safely?
Good point on the driving. She is a good driver now and would only be taking them a few miles on familiar roads but how long before her skills start to diminish. Kyle will be driving in 2-3 years though so it won't be an issue long.

We all love Carol. At one point, when Mom was declining but nowhere near dying, each of my kids approached me separately and pondered "When YiaYia dies, will we still be able to keep Carol?" They were not at all broken up about the possibility of losing Mom.

I guess it is a bit selfish of me to want to control when and how much we hang out. And who knows, maybe Carol will be too busy for us.

Keep the conversation going (or start a new one)

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