A New York apartment and a fiance come between two best friends

I'm paying for a place I'm not living in -- and living in a place I'm not paying for.

Published January 20, 2006 11:39AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

A year and a half ago, I rented an apartment in New York with my best friend. At that time, we said that we planned to live in the apartment for two years -- we were both tired of moving all the time. Two months after moving in, I met my now-fiancé. I'm now midway through the second year of the lease, which will expire at the end of July. I'm getting married in October.

My difficulty is that I haven't spent a single night in this apartment since May, and while I'd like to sublet my room for the remainder of the lease, my best friend is entirely opposed to having a new roommate for the next several months. My desire to relieve myself of a $1,025 storage space is compounded by the fact that my fiancé's roommate would like to begin splitting the rent for their apartment in thirds, since she has essentially taken on a second roommate. Between us, my fiancé and I will be paying almost $2,500 in rent for two places, one of which we never use.

My best friend has suggested that we begin splitting our time between the two places, thereby continuing to pay the rent and utilities that we currently do, but without having to take on the additional rent that my fiancé's roommate would like us to pay. The major difficulty with this is that my fiancé literally lives across the street from my new job. I have to be at work by 8 a.m. and the thought of having to pay to commute and haul myself out of bed 45 minutes earlier just to placate her is really beginning to irritate me. In addition, splitting our time between the two places is really inconvenient at best -- clothing, shoes, food, toiletries, etc., would either have to be duplicated or carted around Manhattan on the bus or subway several times a week.

My best friend feels that I signed a contract, that I made a commitment to stay in the apartment for two years, and that I am obligated to fulfill that. I can see her point, and I understand that she'd prefer not to live with a stranger for several months. On the other hand, I'm paying for my own wedding, I'm drowning in debt, and every time I go over my financial spreadsheet, the glaring black hole on the page is the rent I'm shelling out for an empty room. I feel that my situation has changed since we first signed the lease, that I committed to staying in the apartment before I had any idea that my life would be altered so dramatically and that I'm throwing thousands of dollars out the window solely to keep her happy. I'm really beginning to resent it. I want to know if I'm being unreasonable and shirking my commitment or if I have some ground to stand on here when it comes to subletting my room.


Dear Frustrated,

It's true that when we make agreements we are expected to abide by them. But when things change unexpectedly, a fair agreement can turn unfair. Does that mean we have to continue to abide by it? In business, the favored party may try to enforce the agreement while the unlucky party tries to break it. But between friends, an agreement that no longer makes both people happy ought to be amended -- because what's important isn't the gaining of an advantage but the preserving of a friendship. It's not in the spirit of friendship to rigidly adhere to an agreement that's making one friend unhappy. A better alternative is for each party to shoulder a share of the cost and inconvenience. That's friendship.

Does your best friend want to take advantage of you?

Probably not, at least not consciously. Things have simply swung in her favor unexpectedly. She is living alone in her own two-bedroom New York apartment -- subsidized by you, generous person that you are. So it's understandable that her first instinct would be to prolong her good fortune and avoid unpleasantness.

But I think when you make it clear to her that your primary interest, no matter what happens, is to preserve your friendship, she will find herself willing to be flexible. So work something out with her. Try to make her happy but ask her to make some concessions as well. What is it that she fears most about getting a roommate? Is it the prospect of having a stranger in the house? Or is it all the hassle of finding a roommate? If it's the hassle, you might offer to help with the search. But if she just cannot face having a stranger in the place, maybe she should be willing to pay something for the privilege. Perhaps she should pay three-quarters of the rent and you one-quarter.

Another question is this: Are you really prepared to move everything you own out of that apartment so she can get a new roommate? I assume you are storing quite a lot of clothes and other things there. If you decide to officially move out, you'll either have to move that stuff into your boyfriend's apartment or put it in storage. Think about the costs of moving all that stuff and storing it. That would eat into the savings you would gain by moving out. And if you are on the lease, there may also be legal issues related to subletting.

That's a lot of potential issues. With all that you have going on, I would caution you not to get too wrapped up in solving this one situation, especially if it begins to get more complicated rather than less so. Whatever you do is only going to be a short-term solution anyway. You and your fiancé need to concentrate on where you will live once you are married.

So if this situation seems like it's just spinning out of control, and you can't find a good compromise that makes everybody happy, I would just keep your friend happy and pay the money you owe until the lease runs out. There's nothing wrong with doing that. Consider it an investment in a lifelong friendship.

She'll owe you one.

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