This article was written for Conservative Home.
Dear Agony Aunt,
Can you advise my friend Theresa? She has been living with a group of friends in a large house which they bought collectively with a shared mortgage.
She decided that living in a commune has all become a bit too restrictive. She found it irritating to have to abide by all the ‘house rules’ set by the others. In particular, she dislikes the rule that when family and friends of people in the commune come to visit they can stay in anyone’s spare room – which invariably means they choose to stay in Theresa’s room because it has the best facilities. So she wants to take back control of her life, take her share of the net assets, strike out on her own and make a broader circle of friends.
However, her housemates have taken her decision badly. She is the first to leave, and they feel that her departure could prompt others to do likewise, undermining the whole commune. Moreover, in practice she paid more than her share of the mortgage, since several others could not afford their full contribution. So those remaining will no longer be subsidised by her if she leaves.
So far, the spokesperson for the others – Michel – has insisted that she pays all the costs, theirs as well as her own, of splitting the assets, although there was nothing about that in the original agreement. And to persuade Michel to speed up the negotiations about her departure, she has provisionally agreed to keep contributing, even after she has left, towards the cost of redecorating some of the rooms. Michel argues that she agreed to the planned work, and so must pay, even though it has not started and she won’t benefit from it.
Now they have raised another complication. Theresa personally owned outright the garage neighbouring the communal house. She always allowed her friends to bring their belongings into the house via the garage. Now Michel and Leo – a member of the household who always wanted to acquire the garage – are saying that she must let them keep the keys to the garage, or she might find the doors get kicked down.
Unfortunately, Theresa will only listen to her family solicitor – Ollie – who is a great admirer of the commune and has acted for it in the past. He has persuaded her that if she doesn’t accept all their conditions, they will be able to make life very unpleasant for her: refusing to let her remove her furniture, forbidding her from contacting the people in the commune with whom she remains friendly, obstructing entry to her garage, and dragging out the change of title deeds indefinitely.
Although all these things would be illegal and contrary to the original ethos of the commune, they could mean she would be temporarily out of pocket through having to rent a flat until she is free to buy a new home. Indeed, Ollie says the only way to avoid unpleasantness is to stay in the commune indefinitely even though she would no longer have any influence on how it is run.
Should she follow Ollie’s advice and remain or should she make a clean break of it even if that means suffering some unpleasantness and a period in costly rented property before she can enjoy her full freedom?
A Friend of Teresa
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Agony Aunt replies:
Whether or not Teresa was wise to decide to leave this Commune, she would be mad to stay with a group of people who are prepared to resort to such tactics to try to force her to remain.
If they really valued her for herself rather than for her money, they would have tried to persuade her of the positive benefits of the commune. If she lets them bully her into staying – especially by threatening methods which are both illegal and contrary to the rules of the Commune – they would certainly feel free to exploit her further in future.
If she does boldly get up and leave, her former friends may throw a wobbly for a brief period, but she can take them to the World Tenancy Organisation who forbid such practices. In all probability, they will soon calm down and probably respect her all the more for standing up to them.
So in the long run, she may well end up getting on with them better from the outside than she did when still a member. A brief period of unpleasantness and discomfort while the others get over their anger will prove well worthwhile before too long. Then she will be able to set her own rules, invest her own money, make new friends and decide who she invites to stay in her home.
In the meantime, she should get a new solicitor.