ScoreCard Research Dear Penny: Am I Wrong to Ditch Dad if His House Is Threatening My Health?

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Dear Penny: Am I Wrong to Ditch Dad if His House Is Threatening My Health?

A woman looks stressed while leaning over a sink full of dirty dishes.
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Dear Penny,

I recently moved into my father’s house to help him pay bills. He claimed that the pandemic affected his finances. 

For about 15 years, our relationship was strained because of his second wife. I rarely visited until after she passed away and knew nothing about the state of the house, which looks fine at first glance. After moving myself and my children in, I found that my father did no maintenance to the house and it’s essentially a money pit at this point. 

I am a disabled veteran and a single mom, and my income comes entirely from my benefits. I had to spend my savings on extremely necessary repairs to make the house livable. To top it off, my stepmother was a hoarder who stuffed every crack, crevice and crawl space with items that she was going to use to move back to her country after he died. 

My father is extremely territorial and opposes any change I try to make to the house while insisting this is my home and my “legacy.” He refuses to discuss his finances with me and will act confused or just shut down when I try to figure out how to get him out of the hole he dug for himself. I suspect he thought once he got me here I would just take care of him, but this house and neighborhood is bad for my health and awful for children. 

I want to leave, but I don’t want to leave him here to rot. He won’t even talk to me about moving to a smaller place. I can’t afford to pay for him to stay here if I move out. I can’t stay because the stress and poor living conditions are affecting my already poor health. 

-Parent Problems

Dear Parent Problems,

This house is a sinking ship that your father won’t leave. You’re not letting him rot by moving out. You need to get yourself and your kids to a safe place, even if he refuses to budge.

Your dilemma may seem like it’s about housing repairs. But I think it’s about so much more than that. Your father sounds like an enormously stressful person to deal with, given his propensity for shutting down discussions when there’s an obvious problem. Somehow, I think that even if you and your father moved into your dream home tomorrow, these conflicts would manifest themselves in another way.

Dear Penny

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I think you should start making plans to move out as soon as possible. Granted, that may not be so easy given how exorbitant housing costs are in some parts of the country. Even if you can’t afford to move right now, start saving as much as possible so that you’ll have money for moving costs and a security deposit. You may also want to check with the VA about housing resources for disabled veterans. But you can’t afford to make your father’s expenses a part of your budget.

You might not want to tell your dad that you’re planning to move until you’ve actually found a place to live. That may be hard because, ideally, you’d give a loved one as much notice as possible about a decision that has a major impact on them. But you need to do whatever you can to minimize the stress of your current living situation. Once you’ve found housing, you can notify your father of your plans.

Be prepared for a guilt-laden conversation. But be firm. When someone refuses to listen to words, you have no other choice but to take action. Your father probably will be shocked when you tell him you’re actually moving out.

Keep in mind that refusing to live with a parent doesn’t mean abandoning them. Even though your father has refused your past offers of help, you can tell him that you’re willing to assist in other ways. For example, if spending a couple hours a week at this home wouldn’t jeopardize your health, you could offer to help with a few chores.

I’m sorry you’ve used your savings on improvements to your father’s home. But those funds are gone — don’t use the money you’ve spent as a reason to stay in a bad situation.

And don’t let your father make you feel guilty about prioritizing your health. You and your kids deserve a safe place to live, regardless of his poor planning.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected] or chat with her in The Penny Hoarder Community.

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