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Ask Dave

Change His Life

Sherry says her brother is renting from her and her husband. Now he's saying he needs money to pay his bills. Sherry doesn't know how to approach him.

QUESTION: Sherry in Nashville says her brother is renting from her and her husband. He’s now on unemployment and has filed bankruptcy in the past along with a vehicle repossession. Now he’s saying he needs money to pay his bills. Sherry doesn’t know how to approach him. Dave thinks Sherry’s brother has to address his issues.

ANSWER: One of the things I discovered when I went broke was that the way I viewed life and the decisions I made as a result of the way I viewed life set me up and caused me to go broke. In other words, it was my fault. Then I heard a guy named Larry Burkett say that debt is never the problem; it’s always the symptom of some other kind of problem. So what is the deal with your brother? I hear a whole lot of, “I don’t pay my bills” in this discussion. He has not lived any portion of his life recently conservatively and under control. He pretty much spent his paycheck every week.

The way I define help is if five years from now they’re in a better place because of what we did—not make it okay for Friday. But five years from today, did we change who he is? He’s 48 years old. He’s got to do some things differently than he’s ever done in his life starting today. Otherwise, when he’s 55, he’s going to be sitting right where he’s sitting. It’ll be a cycle. That’s what help looks like. So how do we do that?

He’s got to a) want to change his life and b) get the information on how to change his life. Then, if you want to come along beside him while he’s doing that and help him by working his plan with him or cut him a deal on the rent while he does this or that, if you choose to do that, then at least you’re doing some good. Right now, if you just tell him okay and allow him to not pay any rent, he’s going to keep doing the same thing over and over again. You’ve not helped him.

That’s a horrible situation for him to be in, but I don’t know any other landlord who’s going to let him sit there and pay no rent. I don’t know where else he’s going to live. If you were independently wealthy and wanted to just let him sit there for a while, you could do that. But that’s not the real world situation with you guys.

The way you help this guy is that he has to address all of these different problem areas in his life. What you’re describing here is he’s being hit on his health, his income, his debt, he’s a single parent, and this guy has a stacked deck against him right now. He’s let himself into this situation because he didn’t take care of himself when he had the insurance and got the hernia operation. He didn’t save money when he had a job. It’s a horrible, bad thing, but if he’s my brother, what I’m going to do with him is I’m going to sit down and tell him if he wants to live in our home, here are the things he has to do. And I’m going to give him a list of things he has to do. If he’s unwilling to do these things…

I think you sit down with him—you and your husband—and say, “Okay, we understand you’re hurting, but we are not going to participate in your continuing to destroy your life. You’re going to have to address these career issues. You’re going to address these health issues. You’re going to begin to address your financial issues. Otherwise, you can’t live here. If you are willing to do those things on a schedule that we’re okay with and that we lay out together, we’re willing to forgive a little bit of rent and help you for a little while. But we’re not going to let you live here for two years free while you sit and do nothing.” It’s not good for him that he hasn’t addressed these areas in his life before he was 48 years old. Giving him free rent is not helping him unless he has some steps by which he’s going to change his life.