Trust No One

September 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

This story begins in August, 2010. My three roommates [Sarah, Jenny, Christyona] and I were preparing to move into our new apartment, but we first had to set up a utilities account with the city of Columbia. Sarah and Christyona didn’t have very dependable sources of finances [aka parental funding], and Jenny said her Nebraska bank was unreliable, so it was left to me to set up the account.

The thing is, all you need are the ID and PIN numbers to access and make payments on the account; sure, my name was on it, but you could use any bank account to pay once you logged in. Still, for the school year, I paid the utilities online each month while my roommates reimbursed me by check or cash. Sometimes it took more than a few reminders to get the money from them, and it established a system in which I was the only one who really cared about the utilities being paid on time. Still, our faulty method got the job done, and we went on with our lives.

I should preface this tale with some insight into my personality. I don’t like confronting people, I don’t like asking people for things, and I don’t like talking about money. In other words, I’d be a horrible salesperson or landlord. The very worst. This might also help you understand why this situation has been extremely draining and frustrating. Onward!

The problems began when we started moving out. This is where I made my largest mistake, one that I thoroughly regret and will never make again.

The leases for our apartment went until the end of July. Christyona and I both moved out on Friday, May 20, a week after school ended, and we eventually found subleasers on Craigslist: Renee and Joanna. You might roll your eyes at Craigslist, but so far my subleasing experiences with it have been just fine, and the two subleasers seemed like intelligent, trustworthy peers who were simply spending the summer working in Jefferson City.

In any case, I naively thought that I could just leave the account and email the remaining roommates/subleasers when the bill was due [I received email and paper reminders from the city], and they would portion it out and pay it among themselves like responsible adults.

I’ve since learned that to trust other people to be responsible — even people with whom you’ve been friends since freshman year! — is too high of an expectation. I never should have trusted them. I should’ve canceled that account and turned my back the minute I signed over my lease to Joanna. But I didn’t. And I paid for that error with my time, energy, money and maybe even friendships.

Because we all moved into the apartment in the middle of August 2010, that’s when the utilities bill started generating. It wasn’t a big deal during the school year, but having the bill run from the middle of one month to the middle of the next month causes complications when you’re trying to distribute very precise numbers.

When the bill landed in my inbox in the middle of June, I forwarded it to the four current tenants and told them to divvy it up. It soon turned into an enormous email thread as Christyona and I both moved out five days into the new bill, our subleasers hadn’t moved in until the end of May, and Sarah apparently wasn’t even in the apartment half the time. Nobody was willing to compromise, and we even tried to chart out which days which people were in the apartment in a Google spreadsheet.

Eventually I made some kind of private calculation and paid around $13 for my five extra days, which was exorbitant to say the least. But really, I just wanted to wash my hands of the mess, and it seemed to clear itself up in the end.

When the July and August bills came, I did my part by fowarding it to the four people in the apartment, trusting that they would fulfill their duties. How hard could it be?

Impossible, apparently.

Interpret this however you’d like.

On Sept. 12 [weeks after everybody vacated the apartment], a shitstorm dropped on my head.

I received a piece of mail [at my current address!] marked “FINAL NOTICE.” The ominous yellow paper stated that there was still $163.12 left on the utilities account that hadn’t been paid. It didn’t help that in the same day’s mail, I received a $100 fine for a traffic violation. When it rains, it pours, am I right?

Needless to say, I was irate with my former roommates and subleasers. More than a month had passed since they all moved out [and almost four months since I moved out] and I still had to take care of this business? Unbelievable. I quickly sent an email to notify them of the issue, telling them to take care of it immediately.

The initial response was tepid. Sarah replied first, saying that she had paid her dues and had the receipts to prove it. My mother, who was already pissed enough at me for making the grave error stated above, was incredulous — she had just gotten off the phone with Columbia utilities, and she was told that nobody had paid either the July or August bills. In fact, our account never even would have been terminated if it weren’t for the new tenants of that apartment calling to set up their account [stupid, stupid me].

At the time, the account showed that $163.12 was owed, and the last payment had been $65. Apparently that $65 was the initial deposit that we four original roommates had split and paid in 2010. The amount for July and August, which was actually $228.12, had absorbed our deposit due to lack of other payments. It’s like when a person resorts to eating dirt for lack of other food, except that dirt rightfully belongs to another starving person.

From that, mother calculated what each person owed, and I sent that along in another email:

          Joanna and Renee owe $57.03 each because they did not take part in the original deposit payment.

         Jenny and Sarah owe $40.78 each.

         I’d really appreciate it if you all could take care of this so I could stop harassing you about it. Thank you.

I tried my best to be mature and somewhat pleasant about the situation because people respond better to that kind of treatment, but as time went on, this tactic became much more difficult.

I also fought with my mother for the first time in a long time. Well, it was mostly her being pissed at my naïveté, which led to yelling about a whole host of other things that she deemed to be wrong with my life [aka everything]. Then she said that if this bill were to be sent to the “collection agency for appropriate legal action” as the Final Notice threatened, then my nonexistent credit would dive into the negatives. Angry and perturbed, I awaited email responses from the tenants, which didn’t take too long.

Joanna asked for “more organization- how much is owed for each girl, the total divided among 4 people.”

Jenny replied that she was “making calculations” and would “be in touch.”

Joanna & Renee both wanted to wait to see what Jenny came to. Um, HELLO? Was everybody just going to disregard my previous email?? They all acted totally oblivious to my [mother’s] legitimate calculations. Sarah didn’t even bother responding to my email asking her to forward me her receipts. I called Jenny to ask what exactly she was figuring out, but she didn’t pick up.

In hindsight, it’s laughable that Joanna & Renee were banking on Jenny’s response because clearly they thought they all had some kind of solidarity. Well, any semblance of that went out the window when Jenny finally emailed back. It said:

          Laura, Joanna, Renee,

          I will pay $20.

          Outstanding charges:
          $10 Food and utensils
          $10 Brita filters
          $35 Cleaning/supplies
          $15 Garbage disposal

          I think this is more than generous alll things considered.

          Remaining balance is $143.12 to be split accordingly.

I had no idea what it meant. Jenny called me soon afterward to tell me that she had to clean the entire apartment after everyone moved out, and even stayed an extra day just to finish cleaning. She sounded pretty upset over the phone, so I didn’t press the issue. I guess she also talked to the other girls to explain her side because nothing more was made of it.

Then, another complication was revealed. Sarah wrote:

          Also should note for the period of july through august, i had moved out. Literally any charges from july 1 through whenever the lease was up, i had my belongings and body out of the apt, so i dont feel i should pay for that month. Just as Christyona and Laura stopped paying beginning when they moved out. It doesn’t make sense.

Great. I really didn’t want to have to do another [failed] spreadsheet. The issue here was that we only had the lump sum of the two months, not their separate amounts, making it difficult to figure out how much Sarah owed. Technically, if we called Columbia utilities again, they would probably be able to tell us, but frankly I didn’t owe them any more effort than I had already squandered. I felt like they all deserved to pay a little more for being so negligent anyway. I mean, forgetting one month’s payment is understandable, but for all four of them to ignore two month’s worth of bills was downright intolerable.

There were some more email conversations among Joanna, Renee and Sarah as they tried to reach some agreement, but in the end, Joanna and Renee became exasperated and just agreed to pay.

So by the end of the day on Wednesday, Sept. 14, Jenny had paid $20, and Joanna had paid $47.70 [one-third of the leftover amount].

163.12 – 20 – 47.7 = $95.42

I was happy that the number was decreasing, but 90-some dollars was still an alarming figure that needed to be chopped down pronto. It seemed highly unlikely that Sarah and Renee would be willing to pay that entire amount, but I turned up the pressure on them anyway.

The next day, Sarah and I had an email conversation in which she claimed to have paid her share. She’s a strong-willed person when she is convinced she is correct, but I tried to persevere.

          -From Sarah

          I appreciate Renee’s understanding.  That said, I *have* paid my share.  A full bill began while I was out of the apartment. I won’t be incorporated into a bill the term of which aggregates electric charges for a building I didn’t step foot in.  This is *exactly* the same argument Laura and Christyona made for their not paying May’s bill.  They’d moved out, so people figured they didn’t need to pay for even the handful of days they’d lived in the building.  I’d moved out precisely at this electric bill’s period.  The rules don’t simply change to suit people’s needs.  You can’t have it both ways. 

          -From me

          I understand where you’re coming from, but what have you paid? According to Columbia Utilities, nobody paid the bill that was processed for either July or August. If you moved out at the beginning of July, that means you are still responsible for half of June. 

          -From Sarah

          True.  Half of June I will do.  

          Question: I assume that $65 deposit is supposed to refund to us once all is paid off.  So rather than forking over half-of-June now, can you find the email for the June-July bill, divide by four, then divide by two to get just the June half.   Must compare that number to 65/4 to see if I’m in red or black. 

          -From me

          Unfortunately, I highly doubt that we shall ever see the $65 deposit again because what is being paid off right now isn’t even enough to offset the current bill, which has already absorbed the deposit. I’ve already given up on my share of it and I hope you don’t bank on using that to cover your payment because it’s just not feasible at this time…

          As for finding previous owed bills, the emails only acknowledge the existence of the new bill and don’t say how much exactly is owed, so that information wouldn’t be available unless you physically called the city. 

Well, the good thing was that she agreed to pay for half of June, however much that would be [nobody knows!], but it irritated me that she would think her share of the deposit could count toward her payment. I mean, if her deposit turned out to be greater than her part of the bill, what was she going to do, ask the city for her money back? No, because nobody owed her anything. She owed her portion of the utilities and that was that.

A few days passed with no communication. I tried calling Sarah and Renee but they didn’t pick up. On Monday, Sept. 19, Renee emailed me:

          Hi Laura,  I got your voice mail.  I paid last week ($40.78) on my share of the $163 owed.  I just checked back saw the addition of the $65 toward the bill and will pay the rest of $228/4 today.

I was elated. Finally, we were getting somewhere! Somebody was listening to me!

95.42 – 40.78 = $54.64

I waited for Renee to pay the rest of her $16.25, but she never did. Well, she said she would, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt and started to work on Sarah.

This was uncomfortable for me because Sarah and I have been extremely close throughout college. We met as random roommates during freshman year, lived together the year after that [with a crazy person who taught me that having a common enemy is a great way to get people to bond], and elected to live together again during our senior year. There are some friends whom you know that if they love you enough, they will compromise for you. And yes, in my head, I considered splitting the remainder of the bill with Sarah just to end this mess. Like I predicted, though, she showed no signs of acquiescence.

We played phone tag for a few days until she finally texted me yesterday to tell me that the sound on her phone had broken, so she wasn’t able to receive calls. After a short text exchange [I was taking a post-dinner walk like an old person], I went home and emailed her as she requested. She was being insistent on paying no more than half of June, so I rolled my eyes and figured that I would take it and deal with whatever came afterward.

Well actually I was planning to split the remaining sum among the four of them and basically harass them until they paid. That’s what it would take, right? It’s obvious that for me to spend this much time on this issue was totally unwarranted; I had no part in this financial negligence, yet I had to follow up with and coerce these women into paying what they rightfully owed. It had turned into a war of not only money, but also responsibility. They needed to recognize that it was their fault and their fault only that they had landed in this situation, and if I was going to come off as obnoxious and rude, then so be it.

An excerpt from our email exchange:

          -From me

          Sorry to hear about your broken phone. Hope you get a new one pronto.

          Here’s the rundown. The total bill for two months is 228.12. The last bill was for 160.71, so I guess we can assume the previous one was 67.41. You can decide how much of that you want to pay.

          What it comes down to is that after you pay, everyone will have paid, and there will be a remaining sum lingering in some hellish limbo. The only thing that can be done at that point is to have everyone pay a quarter of that, because, well, it has to be paid. 

          I’ll email the other ladies once I hear back from you.

          -From Sarah

          I appreciate you mathing out the figures. 

          Realistically, I left July 1.  Just like you stopped paying when you left (a few days after, actually), I’m stopping paying for electricity for after I left.  If people living there left the stupid AC up nonstop during the blistering hot months, that’s they’re problem regardless of whether they were inside or outside the apt.  They should’ve turned it down when gone.  

          So, if July bill is 67 bucks, then: 

          67.41 – 65 = 2.41. 

          Seventy-five cents more than covers a quarter of that figure.  I’ll pay 75 cents.  

          After that, I don’t owe a dime for my equal, full-quarter share of electricity I used in that apartment.   The other folks can suck it up an pay for having failed to turn off the AC.  There are really more pressing concerns in the world.   

Really? Seventy-five measly cents? That wouldn’t be considered a payment; it would be an insult. I was furious.

          -From me

          I’m not completely understanding how you figure subtracting $65 from the bill but whatever. You’re clearly not interested in helping rest this case.

          Look. Yes, I stopped paying after I left, but that was a different situation with a very clear bill. This one has been bungled so much that people are just making up figures to suit themselves. Also, I paid $13 for five days, which is exorbitant to say the least. But I did it because in order for the situation to be resolved, compromises had to be made. Your “willingness” to pay 75 cents does nothing but show a selfish attitude. I know that you’re just doing what you think is right, but I’m respectfully asking you to reconsider.

          -From Sarah

          Look.  I’ve had a really long day and misdid the math. 

          June’s bill was 67.41 — as you said. 

          One quarter of that is  

     16.8525

          Minus 12 — my share the deposit — is 

          Four bucks.  Five tops.  

          Then I moved out. 

          So five bucks.  Whoever ran up bills after that splits them.  End of story.  

          -From me

          But have you not read my previous email in which I addressed the deposit? The rest of us original leasers have already absorbed that cost; you shouldn’t expect to be treated any differently. In any case, one quarter of the remaining bill is around $12 anyway. If you pay it, I’ll stop hounding you. (Please, pretty please.)

Yes, by the end, I resorted to begging. But seriously, did nobody read my emails? To figure in our long-lost deposit was asking for the impossible. Still, by the end of Wednesday, Sept. 21, five more dollars had been paid.

54.64 – 5 = $49.64

I knew the hardest part was yet to come — everybody had technically paid already, though all of them in differing and random amounts that they fudged together in their own heads. But there was still almost $50 left to be paid, and there was no way in hell I was going to pay any of it. Okay, maybe I’d be willing to pitch in $20 maximum, but I couldn’t show any signs of weakness now.

This afternoon, I sent them an ultimatum.

          Hello ladies! 

          Bet you thought you’d never hear from me again eh? (I wish.) Unfortunately, this matter has not yet been resolved, but it can be if you simply read ahead.

          As of now, everybody has paid what they believe they owe. Congrats all around. But there is still 49.64 left to be paid, and, well, that remainder didn’t just come out of nowhere. It must be paid by you.

       Here is what I am going to do because it is the simplest. If you want to suggest an alternative route, feel free to do so, although I will not be the one to do all your finite calculations.

       I am splitting the remaining sum into quarters. I know you might think it’s unfair or whatnot, but please. I want this to be over as much as you do. Just pay the amount, forward me your receipt, and you will never hear from me again.

          49.64/4 = $12.41

         This is how much each of you needs to pay as soon as possible. 

          Because nobody else has taken responsibility in resting this case, I am making this decision, and starting tomorrow, I will hound you until you pay it

          Thank you for your time.

I meant serious business this time — I was prepared to email, text and call daily to get this over with.

The responses were swift.

Renee replied first, saying that she had paid her “fair share” and asking to be taken off  “any future emails.” Ha ha, was it starting to bother them? GOOD. I patiently told her that I had only seen a payment of $40.78 and nothing after that. She claimed that she had paid the “57 whatever amount.” I sent her my calculations as well as a screenshot of proof and haven’t heard from her since.

Jenny consented to paying the $12 and wanted to be taken off  “all these email lists.”  Gladly!

Joanna expressed that she had paid her fair share and refused “to pay for anyone else.” She also wanted to be taken off “any future emails regarding this.”  At this point I was glad that they at least weren’t rude enough to filter my emails, although that’s like being glad that a bully broke your finger instead of your rib.

I needed to set things straight. Their whiny entitlement was simply intolerable. To reiterate, IT WAS THEIR OWN FAULT THIS HAPPENED.

          Look. You guys can claim all you want about having paid your fair shares, and I do appreciate your general cooperation up to now, but the fact is that the payments you guys made were arbitrary amounts based on other people’s arbitrary amounts. How many of you have paid what I originally laid out? None.

          To refresh your memory, this is from an email from 9 days ago:

          Joanna and Renee owe $57.03 each because they did not take part in the original deposit payment.

          Jenny and Sarah owe $40.78 each.

          You can either pay the $12.41 or pay the rest of what you owe. 

Sarah wrote that she “simply did not owe as much as everyone else,” having “moved out a month and a half before the final bill date.” Yes, we all know that. Thank you for your help…not.

          -From me

          Yes, you’re a special case, but I hardly think paying a whole $5 is enough to cover half a month. 

          It would be great if you could just pay the $12.41 and get this over with.

          -From Sarah

          FYI, tomorow early morning I leave for the bootheel for a field trip and per rules will have no Internet/phone/whatever through Monday.

          So hound away, but I’m just deleting these when I get back.  

I guess everyone’s just going to be stubborn about it, eh? Well I am prepared for battle, and easily deleted emails certainly aren’t my only weapon!

By this evening, only Jenny has paid her additional amount.

49.64 – 12.14 = $37.50

And that’s where our account currently sits.

I’m exasperated, exhausted, enraged; any emotion you could contribute to this situation, I am.

I’m also sad. I found my exchanges with Sarah to be immensely discouraging. For most of the past four years, I considered her my best friend at school. All those late-night conversations, the infomercials we watched together, times of cooking and baking and midnight trips to Wal-Mart — it all amounted to this? I realize that I might be overreacting; I tend to be very sensitive when it comes to people with whom I consider myself very close [a true Love Me, if you speak CFC], and her undiplomatic behavior was quite startling. Very rarely do I fight with my friends, and even more infrequently do I deliberately lose friends. But I’m not sure how to extend forgiveness until an apology [or at least compromise] has been made.

So I continue waiting. Waiting for someone else to pay. Waiting for people to step up and behave like adults. Waiting for the collection agency to knock on my door. Waiting to get further screwed over because I carelessly put my trust in both friends and strangers.

In light of my plight, I feel like doing something radical. Therefore, I will open up our utilities account to donations. If you feel moved by my story, just log in and throw down a few dollars [the system is safe and nobody else can access your bank information]. If you want to be recognized for your charitable efforts, I’ll even sing or write you a song. Or wash your car. Or be the lookout on your next bank heist. Anything, really.

Here’s the information:

Go to https://www.gocolumbiamo.com/utility/
Customer ID: 391275
PIN #: 4628

Thank you for reading/contributing/commenting/sympathizing/throwing rocks. At 4000+ words, this is seriously the longest blog post I’ve ever published.

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