Pay Bills

My partner owns a house. Does he owe me half the bills?

Dear Penny,

My partner and I have been together for 15 years, but we don’t really live together. We both own our own homes, mortgage free. Our financial situation is similar in terms of net worth.

Due to my partner’s health issues, early in COVID we decided to have him move in with me as he could avoid grocery shopping etc. We thought COVID would be a short term problem.

My partner and I shared all groceries and meals, as well as the cost of a bi-weekly housekeeper (floors only) and our cat’s expenses. I pay for everything else: cable, utilities, repairs that occur, association fees.

I do all the shopping and 99% of the dinner prep, cleanup and organization. My partner feels he shouldn’t have to pay to live with me because he has his own house and his own expenses. He said, “OK, then you can split the cost of my house.” His son will one day inherit his house, so selling it is out of the question.

-P.

Robin Hartil [ The Penny Hoarder ]

Dear P,

Is it really a question of money? Or is it the uneven amount of effort you put in?

Maybe it made sense for you to do chores like grocery shopping back when COVID cases were skyrocketing. But are your partner’s health issues so serious that they can’t cook a meal or organize a closet?

But let’s focus on bills for a moment. If you were roommates renting an apartment, it would make sense to split everything down the middle. No one has any investment in this space. The money you pay allows you to buy a home, and that’s it.

It gets trickier when you share a space and you each own a home. The houses you have purchased are not just living spaces. If you sold your house tomorrow for three times what you paid, your partner probably wouldn’t be entitled to a penny.

This is a subject on which reasonable people can certainly disagree. But I think it makes sense that you are solely responsible for the fixed costs of home ownership.

You’ve paid off your mortgage, which is the biggest expense associated with your investment. I would also put property taxes, home insurance, and association fees in this category. None of this would change if you told your partner to move out tomorrow. Your partner still pays these expenses for their home, even if they live with you.

Repairs should primarily fall into this category. If you had to replace the roof, this is an expense you would have even if your partner did not live with you. But if he accidentally breaks your garbage disposal, he should foot the bill.

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I’m saying all of this assuming your partner isn’t renting out their house. In this scenario, I would expect him to contribute to these costs since living with you would allow him to make a profit. But I suppose one of the advantages of this arrangement is that you could ask your partner to leave tomorrow and he would have a place to go.

This gets tricky with variable expenses. I think it makes sense for your partner to contribute to utilities and cable, since those are things you both consume when living together full time.

Splitting the costs for groceries, cleaning, and the cat 50/50 would also seem logical if you each contributed roughly an equal effort. And that, of course, is where I think your partner could do better.

I don’t know why the responsibility of cooking and cleaning falls almost 100% on you. But is it possible that you’re splitting hairs over bills because you don’t feel appreciated?

If I lived with someone who did most of the chores, I would do my best to look after them. Maybe I’d foot the bill for any restaurant bill and pay extra for groceries as well. Even if we had technically agreed to split those costs equally, it would be a small show of gratitude.

It looks like you allowed your partner to move in just for his benefit. I hope you have also benefited from the 24/7 companionship you have acquired over the past two years. But his comment about you paying half of his house expenses seems dismissive.

The pandemic has forced millions of people to rapidly change their living and working conditions overnight. But thankfully, after two years, a sense of normalcy is returning. Many people, even those with health issues, have been able to resume routine activities like grocery shopping. So maybe it’s time to reconsider if you want to continue this lifestyle with your partner.

There’s no way to make a perfect 50/50 expense split here. But make sure your partner matches your efforts if you continue to share space with them. If not, it’s already time to send him home.

• • •

Robin Hartill is a Certified Financial Planner and Senior Writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].