Dear Penny: My Mom Keeps Dressing Like a Landlady and Threatening to Evict Me

A woman dresses up to exert power.
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Dear Penny,

Not wanting to freeload, I suggested that my mom charge me rent. She seemed surprised, and said she'd get back to me on that. 

Sometime later, she appeared in a rather formal outfit, and said she was now my landlady. She spelled out my rental rate and terms; it was higher than I had planned on, but she conveyed such an air of authority that I didn't argue. Later, when she was back to her normal self, I told her the rate was too high. She stepped out and returned as the “landlady,” and asked what the problem was. 

I explained that the rate was more than I could afford. She told me I could either pay it or find somewhere else to live. I decided to forget about rent and hope my mom would also. However, I have now received notices of late rent and eviction. 

Not caring to interact with her alter-ego, I haven't tried to talk with my mom about this. She is normally loving and supportive, but I'm afraid she will transform into the “landlady” and kick me out, or possibly sue me for the rent and late fees I already owe. 

Should I pass my mom a note explaining that I love her but I don't like her alter-ego. I’d tell her that I can't afford the rate she is trying to charge me, I would have trouble finding another place to live, and I regret ever mentioning rent. Anything else I should include?

-Rent Regrets

Dear Regrets,

Regardless of whether you have a face-to-face conversation or write a letter, I think your message is off.

The problem is that it’s all about you and your needs. (Read back what you want to tell your mom: I don’t like your landlady alter ego. I can’t afford the rent you’re charging, but I can’t afford to live anywhere else. I wish I’d never mentioned rent.) That message won’t resonate with a landlord or a loving and supportive mom. However you choose to communicate, start by expressing gratitude to your mother. You don’t get to complain about your mom’s landlady alter-ego if you’re living at home rent-free. What you can say, though, is that you want to talk to her as her child, rather than her tenant.

Money would be a fine thing to include if you write a letter. Maybe you can’t afford the full amount your mom wants you to pay. But giving her some cash for your living expenses would show that you’re serious about carrying your weight.

Dear Penny

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I’m not sure whether a letter is the way to go here. If your mom is serious about her landlady role, she’ll be more than happy to communicate with you in writing. It creates a handy paper trail. You could come home to find an eviction notice taped to your bedroom door.

So talk to her instead. Say that you’re serious about wanting to contribute. Tell her you have some money for her, albeit not as much as she’d like, and you’re hoping that will show your commitment to helping out. I think the mom in her will respond positively if you embrace responsibility. And doing so makes you a much more appealing tenant if she’s determined to maintain the landlady schtick.

Try making a budget that includes a contribution for household expenses, plus a monthly savings goal so you can eventually get your own place. Since you can’t afford your mom’s rental rate, think about ways that you could make her life easier. For example, maybe she’d agree to a lower rate if you could take care of making dinner, cleaning or mowing the lawn.

If you’re able to work out a lower rent, commit to paying it on the same day each month. Don’t make your mom ask for it. Landlords hate having to chase down tenants for rent.

I’m guessing that your mom isn’t actually going to evict you. The landlady routine sounds like her way of teaching you an adulting lesson while having a little fun with it. You may find it annoying, but I hope you’ll learn from it. Ignoring bills won’t make them go away. Consider yourself fortunate to have learned that lesson from your mom, rather than a real-life landlord.

Once you finally get your finances in order, you want to keep them that way. Here are several moves to make now.

Editor’s note: Dear Penny is on vacation this week. This column was originally published Sept. 22, 2021.

Robin Hartilll is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].