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Being too helpful to a friend in need can backfire


Last updated 10/10/2018 at Noon

Dear SharonAnn,

I am 72, a widow and estranged from my only child, retired from my profession and am feeling alone and bored. I like to help people when I can. Someone suggested renting out some of my extra space on Airbnb or hosting exchange students from college. I really don’t want someone in my home permanently, though.

Recently a friend is going through a bad time in his life with a divorce and the pending loss of his home. I offered to let him stay at my house until he gets back on his feet. He is working, but the divorce requirements have left him broke and struggling. Is there anything I need to consider before making my final decision?

Signed Bored and Lonely!

BEWARE! You need to think about several aspects of getting yourself 'un-bored.' Colleges and companies like Airbnb have written contracts with people who can stay with you. However, you have no contract with your friend unless you use a landlord/tenant contract.

Each community has different laws. Edmonds may be different than Mukilteo. Therefore, your legal standing is questionable unless you get an agreement in writing or a contract. I knew someone who let a friend come and “stay for a few days.” The woman stayed in his house, and he could not get her out legally for 16 weeks.

I’m not saying that your friend could do this, but this woman had a mental breakdown, and locked herself in the room for three days. With the cats. With no bathroom! Even without paying rent or a contract, she was considered a “tenant.” Do you know tenants have rights? It was a nightmare, made complicated by the woman herself who was a legal tenant rights specialist, and she used the law to twist the system to her benefit.

It would certainly liven up your life should such a thing happen to you! Do you really want such drama? My friend ended up spending $18K in legal costs and 11 hours in court. The best way to go forward is to have a contract, even with your friend, or go with a more formal hosting option. You can write to info@CouncilForWomen.org for more information.

Helping someone in need is a noble thing to do. I’m not saying your friend will take advantage of you. But you can run into problems. Can you think of alternatives to help your friend other than taking him in? Could you help him with his budgeting? Could you ask around for someone with a studio to rent? Could you find out if he has relatives who will help? There is a difference between rescuing someone from their own folly and enabling the folly to continue. Does your friend need help for a few weeks, or years? Have you set boundaries on your generosity?

Our clients tell us it’s hard to be bored when you find purpose for your life. You can discover your new calling no matter what age you are. Have you thought about volunteering? Many local groups need volunteers, even a few hours a week. When you volunteer you choose organizations that you believe in and want to support. You connect with people regularly and may find friends for other social activities.

Your local chamber of commerce or your local library can help you get started. The best place to begin is to ask yourself what are your interests or hobbies? What do you passionately believe in? Once you have a list, you can begin hunting for the right volunteer fit.

The most important point you mentioned is being estranged from your child. This sorrow weighs you down, and can cause you to make ill-advised decisions. Holding anger or bitterness impacts the happy life you could be living. Whatever the reason for your separation, consider talking to a counselor or minister to see if you can find ways to mend your relationship. It takes both parties’ willingness to be reconciled. If your child is not willing, you cannot force it to happen. Give it time and prayer. You need family and friends to give and receive love and support.

Beware, Lonely Lady, Beware!


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