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Shawn, The Pyromaniac Housemooch

Twelve years ago my then college age daughter asked me to do a favor for a friend (not a boyfriend), a young man, ‘Shawn,’ who’d lost his home when the house he shared with several other young men burned to the ground. Could he stay the night and perhaps camp on our couch until he found his own place? We let him sleep over that night. He seemed ok. He worked in construction, was polite, he got along with me, my husband and our 12 year old son, and he could hold up his end of a conversation – an important virtue in our household. My husband is a much better judge of character then I am (he was a US Air Force brat and learned to size up people quickly because his family moved so much), so I deferred to him. He thought Shawn was OK too. A few days after Shawn came to stay with us, he was in a terrible car accident that wasn’t his fault. Someone blew through a stop sign at high speed and cut his truck in half. Shawn was lucky to be alive. Generally it takes about 8 weeks to recover from the kind of injuries he sustained and, as a family, we agreed that Shawn could stay and have the use of a guest room while he mended. We took care of him during this time. After he recovered we offered the following proposal if he was going to continue to stay with us: he could do some repairs on the property that fell within his construction skills, and pay 1/3 of the utility bill, which fluctuated, $40 to $100 per month, depending on the season. Less when we weren’t using heating or air conditioning. The heat and AC in our house is controlled in each room, so it’s not like we asked him to subsidize centralized heating and AC. Shawn accepted those terms. Repair work instead of rent, plus 1/3 of the utilities.

This wouldn’t be an etiquette hell story without things going very wrong now would it? He filled half of our 2 car garage with the contents of his storage unit – no exaggeration – floor to ceiling STUFF. He never completed the repairs, and he took it upon himself to knock down a fence because ‘it was going to fall down anyway’. He paid for his share of the utilities two times then stopped. He didn’t go back to work when he became able bodied. He didn’t need to: he got a healthy insurance settlement from the accident. He purchased 2 vehicles and took one of them apart in our drive way. Eight months after he came to us, we told him that we needed his room because my sister and her family were relocating for work and needed a place to stay (absolutely true). We gave him a month’s notice. During that month we caught him doing things like leaving up porn-ish stuff on my husband’s computer and trying to blame my son, bringing my daughter’s ex-boyfriend on to our property after being asked not to, and harassing my bi-racial niece (a college student with a full time job) about being lazy and collecting Welfare.

Once he was gone my son disclosed that Shawn like to play with fire, and had tried to get him involved with a game that involved small plastic soda bottles, gasoline, and our wood stove. We still wonder about the house fire that left him homeless. Then the phone bill came with $100 + charges for 900 numbers(phone sex). My credit card company contacted me and told me someone had tried to use my card number to buy the kinds of gadgets Shawn liked to collect. The order came from our home computer the day before Shawn left. The sale was denied. We think Shawn lifted my mail (back when your credit statement had your full account number on it). Several months on Shawn still had literally ½ as ton of junk in our garage. We moved it out and covered it with a tarp and gave him a deadline to remove it or it would go to the dump. He never came. We hauled it to the dump ourselves and paid for disposal, which is why I know there was ½ a ton of it.

At my husband’s request we took Shawn to small claims court for the unpaid utilities. We won a modest sum. I’ve never pursued Shawn for payment. Winning in court was enough. My family and I have chalked it up as a learning experience. My son learned that charming fun people may not be what they seem. We think perhaps Shawn has a personality disorder of some kind. We’ve continued to give shelter to people over the years and we are much more careful who we let stay with us.

The State of Delaware is a very small town. In the years that followed I ran into Shawn several times. Two years after the above occurred I was in a store. He didn’t see me, his back was to me and he was loudly discussing how he was messing with his current landlord. I left the store. Over the years whenever I see him I withdraw before he sees me. My son and I were in a café last year and he came in. He didn’t see us until just before we left. We listened while he talked nonstop for 10 minutes to the counter man about some money making schemes. He was still talking when we left. More recently he was at a farm auction. He said “Hi Giani.” I didn’t return the greeting. I have shunned him. I don’t know whether what I have is a classic ‘holding a grudge’ against him. I’m not angry at him. I’m not afraid of him. I never think about him when he’s not around. The best metaphor to explain how I feel about Shawn is he’s like a needy stray cat with ringworm. He’s pathetic, I need to keep my distance, and if I make the mistake of making eye contact and acknowledging him in any way, nothing good can come of it. 0410-15



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • just4kicks April 13, 2015, 12:52 pm

    Dear OP: I applaud you (and your family) for your generous spirit and compassion. 🙂

    I’m so sorry he turned out to be such a jerk, and am glad you recouped some of what was owed to you.
    You all were so kind, and in my opinion, filled your “good karma bank” to the top.

    Also, this in my opinion is the absolute BEST title to any story I’ve ever read on here!!!
    I needed a smile after a loooong weekend of teenage angst and drama.

  • bern821 April 13, 2015, 2:09 pm

    I’m wondering why on earth this went on for 8 months until you actually needed the room back! If he had insurance money and refused to pay his portion of the utilities as promised – why not give him ‘das boot’?? Oh – that’s right, sociopaths like this guy have a way of making you forget their horrible traits due to their constant manipulations. You probably felt sorry for him. You are very lucky there wasn’t more collateral damage to your family and home.
    I’d just like to add: I’d much rather see someone help the needy stray cat with ringworm (who is what he is through no fault of his own) over a ‘human’ monster like ‘Shawn’!

  • AthenaC April 13, 2015, 2:23 pm

    “I have shunned him. I’m not angry at him. I’m not afraid of him. I never think about him when he’s not around. ”

    There is nothing wrong with the way you feel and your approach to the situation is perfect. In fact, kudos to you for being able to emotionally move past these events. I can think of half a dozen people (or so) whom, although they taught me lessons that were very painful at the time, I no longer think of at all. And my life and mental health are so much the better for it.

  • mark April 13, 2015, 2:52 pm

    No good deed goes unpunished. I sometimes feel like I should help people more. I use to do quite a bit of volunteer stuff and I’ve largely stopped. (In part because I don’t have the time anymore.)

    But when I read stuff like this. I just am totally turned off on helping people. What soured me on it was how there seems to be a “professional” class of “takers”, who seem to pass through life with their hands permanently out. I want to help, but I want to be the person helping them stand up and not the person throwing coins in their hat.

    • lakey April 13, 2015, 9:06 pm

      Sometimes a good way to deal with this problem is to do your giving through organizations that are pragmatic and realistic about the people they help. These organizations understand that some of the people who have problems have behavior issues and take measures to minimize manipulation.

  • technobabble April 13, 2015, 3:43 pm

    How sad that you opened your home to a guy down on his luck and he took such advantage of you and your family. Kudos, OP, on moving on with your life.

  • Lisa H. April 13, 2015, 4:01 pm

    On behalf of stray cats everywhere, please don’t compare this low life form to them.
    You are a very kind and considerate family. Kudos to you.

    • Melalucci April 13, 2015, 9:38 pm

      Yep. “Stray” cats are abandoned cats. Moocher people choose to be that way.

    • Lady Macbeth April 13, 2015, 9:55 pm

      Seconded. The cat didn’t choose ringworm, but Shawn did actively choose his lifestyle of grifting (and potential pyromania).

      • Jaxsue April 15, 2015, 1:07 pm

        I agree with Lisa H. I much prefer a stray cat to this guy! Stray cats have done nothing wrong; you can’t say that about him.

  • Gabriele April 13, 2015, 4:23 pm

    I think his non-payment of the small claims court award went on his credit report. I’m thinking of the landlord he was talking about and feeling sorry for the person. If a landlord does a credit check (they should) an unpaid court bill could be a red flag, and protect the next landlord.
    I can understand not wanting to engage Shawn in conversation or acknowledge his existence but if he likes to play with fire who knows what damage he could do to another property owner.
    Yes, he may have psychological problems but not having to face up to his responsibilities is of his own making and can hurt a lot of people.
    If I overheard the conversation about the current landlord I might try to find out who the person is and advice them of what you know…and ONLY what you know, so he can’t sue you for badmouthing him.
    There’s a line between turning the other cheek and giving someone a pass when it could hurt someone else.
    I also wonder if perhaps he has used your name (the family name) as a semi-reference so that it might come back on you. His willingness to lie, cheat, steal and all when you were trying to help him should not be forgotten. How would you feel if he had set fire to your place and you found out later that someone that knew both of you was aware of his fascination with setting fires?
    To quote Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
    I’d suggest bringing the subject of Shawn up again with your husband.
    I appreciate that you haven’t let this sour you against continuing to help others; I’ve been in a similar situation myself.
    Good luck.

    • Ergala April 13, 2015, 6:52 pm

      Our prior landlords actually called our references…I would hope the guy’s landlord did that and if he didn’t and something happens and he blames the references for not warning him he could be facing some serious trouble.

      I’ve had friends ask me for work references….I’ve had to say no a few times because I have some friends whom honestly I would never ever ever hire….EVER. They have a habit of calling out for every little thing “oh my allergies are flaring up so bad I can barely see!” and then I’d see them outside tanning. Or they think they know every thing and like to argue with everyone over everything. Perhaps I know they have a drug problem or alcohol problem that will affect their job. I don’t want my name tied to theirs in any way. What if I decide to put in a resume at one of these places and they remember I gave a reference for someone that royally screwed them over.

      Same goes for housing, unless I have been to their home personally I don’t give character references to landlords on behalf of anyone. Especially those whom have moved like 6 times in 2 years because they say their landlords are “illegally evicting” them or something else. I know most of the people around here and a few are slumlords, but the vast majority are people my family knows very well. They aren’t slumlords. They simply expect you to pay your rent on time and not damage the property and not cause issues for your neighbors.

      • Ergala April 13, 2015, 6:55 pm

        Oh and if I get a call as a reference for someone and I wasn’t asked if I would do it I always decline to give the reference unless we have had a conversation about it before. I was always taught you ask people if they will give you one. Of course that bit me once in the butt when someone said yes then proceeded to give me a bad reference when I was a teenager. It was an adult too. I was a pretty good kid, never got into trouble, didn’t smoke, played sports and went to Church on Sundays. For some reason they decided I needed a life lesson and gave me a bad one which cost me the job. The job by the way was to pay for my school clothes and summer vacation with my family. It would have been my first job. I was almost too afraid to apply anywhere else because I didn’t know who gave me the bad one.

      • manybellsdown April 14, 2015, 10:19 am

        Yes, my current landlord rejected 4 applications before ours because of poor credit. It was making me quite nervous, since I had a long haul to repair my credit (after divorcing a man who sounds A LOT like Shawn here). Fortunately I’d managed to clean it up and we got the house.

        And I agree, work references are very hard to give, especially since so many people I haven’t actually worked with seem to ask for them. Two college classes together in 2011 does not qualify me to speak about someone’s work ethic!

    • lakey April 13, 2015, 8:59 pm

      I agree with all of this. It is wise to be very careful about allowing someone to stay in your home. There are, unfortunately, people who know the legal system regarding eviction. They ARE professional freeloaders, and they know how to play the system. Do a credit check before letting someone into your home, even if you aren’t charging rent. I know a couple of people who’ve been burned like this. One woman had someone that she was helping steal from her. Another couple had to go through the courts to get someone removed from their home.

      • Lerah99 April 14, 2015, 7:41 am

        This is so important.

        My friend’s son was addicted to drugs (cocaine, pain pills, heroin, meth, basically a revolving circle of uppers and downers).

        When he was 19, he was stealing from her, inviting his druggie friend over when she was at work,
        siphoning the gas out of her car to trade for drugs, etc…

        She kicked him out because his sister was only 12 and she was afraid the sister might get hurt if she walked in on her brother and his friends striping the copper wiring from the walls or whatever else they might do.

        He came back with a Sheriff’s deputy. And my friend was told that since he had a key to the property, she couldn’t just throw him out. That she would have to allow him to stay there while going through the legal eviction procedures.

        Those proceedings were supposed to take 90 days, but her son kept filing for extensions and even filed a counter-suit just to get more time before he had to move. In all it took almost 18 months to get him out of her house.

        So even if they aren’t on the lease, and haven’t paid a dime in rent, it can be a huge nightmare to get someone out of your house once they’ve lived with you for a certain amount of time.

        • Devil's Advocate April 14, 2015, 11:56 am

          Depending on state, I would say the mom had poor legal advice. Here we have emergency evictions for those who do drugs, steal etc. What a weird case.

          • Lerah99 April 15, 2015, 9:42 am

            This happened in FL and it was a nightmare.

            My friend tried to get the Sheriff to toss her son’s room for drugs so he would be in lock up for a while – but due to her attempt to kick her son out of the house, the Sheriff told her she could no longer give consent for a search of the son’s room.

            She was in and out of court constantly trying to get him out for those 18 months. And the judges kept telling her the same thing – they understood her concerns but their hands were tied by the law.

          • Ergala April 15, 2015, 4:27 pm

            There are cases where there are squatters whom don’t even have a lease. They moved into the house while the owners were on vacation or gone for the season. The owners come back to their home and discover someone else living there. It can take months to get those people out if they claim they had a month to month lease which doesn’t require a written lease in a lot of places. There was one gentleman who was basically living out of his car while the squatters trashed his house and he couldn’t do ANYTHING about it until he was able to have the sheriff come and get them out after a court verdict in his favor.

        • mark April 14, 2015, 12:13 pm

          This is one of the main reasons I would never let anyone stay in my house. Renters have pretty strong rights. I understand the need for due process, but at some point you have to have property rights as well.

    • Timothy April 14, 2015, 9:16 am

      For it to go on his credit report, the op would have to make a motion to the courts for none payment. He would have a chance to defense his lack of payment. If he failed to show for this court, another motion could be filed. After this failure, he would be in comtempt of court and an arrest warrant could be issued.

      Keep in mind this is civil court, not to be confused with criminal.

  • tessa April 13, 2015, 5:05 pm

    I would of sold his junk….either for scrap or just for $.

    • Yasuragi April 13, 2015, 6:46 pm

      Not many people would want to buy a pile of unsorted junk that’s been sitting out in the elements and covered in squirrel nibbles. The hassle of sorting, cleaning and selling wouldn’t have been worth it. I doubt Shawn was hoarding Picassos in there.

    • A different Tracy April 14, 2015, 3:19 pm

      Which is probably illegal.

  • Lady Anne April 13, 2015, 6:17 pm

    A fellow who used to go to our church got laid off, and hubby suggested we rent our guest room to Bill. Sounded good to me; we’d known him for about five years and he seemed to be a steady sort; one of his kids was in my Sunday school class and I was friendly with his ex-wife. We asked him for $50 a week, which included his breakfast and supper. Lunch and laundry were on his own.

    It worked well from September until Thanksgiving. He said he wasn’t working as many hours and he wanted to get some gifts for his family, but he would catch up later. Well, “later” never came. He started leaving before we got up and getting home after we went to bed, if at all. It turned out he was spending all of his time at the fire hall, where he was a volunteer. I had to barge my way into the room to take the sheets off the bed, and there were donut boxes and carryout bags all over the place.

    Hubby finally went to the fire hall and confronted him. Bill said he couldn’t afford to pay us rent, which is why he hadn’t been around. Hubby pointed out that what he was spending on breakfast and dinner out was probably more than he owed us.

    We finally ended up packing all of his stuff into copy paper boxes and leaving it at the fire hall.

    No matter how well you think you know somebody…

  • Angel April 13, 2015, 7:14 pm

    It’s good that you took this mooch to court. A lot of people would just have said “good riddance.” I personally wouldn’t blame you for never taking a non-family member into your home again, but since you and your family do have a generous spirit, hopefully this experience has taught you that a little healthy wariness is not a bad thing.

    This story reminds me of a documentary I saw on this man who was of all things, an arson investigator in California. This man was actually a serial arsonist who set probably about 2,000 fires over a 30 year period. When he was finally caught and sent to prison (he got life in prison because one of the fires actually killed 3 people), the number of brush fires in his area in that previous year went down from 67 to only 1! That is just crazy imo. So whenever I heard about these people who love fire, it just bugs the heck out of me because it’s the type of crime that can go undetected for years, it is so hard to prove who did it, and this man in particular, was so good at it because he had studied it for years. Just food for thought.

  • Cat April 13, 2015, 8:16 pm

    If a young man is working, he can either rent a room somewhere or get another place with his roomies. Bringing a stranger into your home when you have a young son is seldom a good idea. I commend your trying to help him, but caution is always important when dealing with a stranger in your home.
    It is evident that he tried to take full advantage of you: refusing to help with the bill/work he agreed upon, trying to scam you by buying things on your credit card, the extra phone bill charges for indecent calls, and the fact that you later found him gloating over scamming a landlord tells you all you need to know about the kind of person he is. You got off relatively lightly considering the damage he could have done.
    There are many ways to help those in need without putting your family at risk. Few criminals can be discerned by looking at them. Who would have thought Ted Bundy was dangerous?
    You should not acknowledge his greetings. It’s very easy for him to turn to his next victim and say, “Oh, we’re good friends. I stayed with them for eight months and did a lot of work for them. Do you need any work done? I need a place to stay.”

    • yankeegal77 April 17, 2015, 11:11 am

      I agree with you 100%, but it sounded like this guy was a friend of the daughter’s and they did their due diligence to what they thought was reasonable, so I can see why they opened their doors. That said, my family was in a similar situation for awhile and I agree there are other ways to help. 🙂

  • Rebecca April 13, 2015, 9:21 pm

    Sounds like a sociopath. Charming, fun, fools everyone (even the OP’s husband who she says has a special knack for sizing people up). And because of his social skill, can manipulate and cheat and not care.

    • manybellsdown April 14, 2015, 10:23 am

      Seriously, except for the pyromania, it sounds like my ex-husband. He’s a master at working the system and working people. One of his tactics is to “convert” to different religions to get a whole new churchfull of people to help him out with money or housing, sometimes for years.

      • Cat April 14, 2015, 11:29 pm

        Sounds like an incident I saw in my local paper. A poor family began attending a church. When the members of the church learned the family was basically homeless, they pooled their money and bought the family a small, but nice, house and gave it to them.
        The poor family turned right around and sold the house. They never lived in it. I don’t recall what they did with the money, but it was just a scam to get something they did not need to work for themselves.

  • Lynne April 13, 2015, 9:37 pm

    Ah, a REAL eHell story… worthy of the old page. 🙂 Not a plea for advice, just a condemnation of truly boorish behavior!

  • Mojo April 14, 2015, 2:40 am

    Well done for protecting yourself, but for not letting one moocher put you off helping others. He was more to be pitied than censured, as the old saying goes.

  • Weaver April 14, 2015, 2:58 am

    He sounds like a real piece of work, and I’m glad at least that your son has learnt something from all this.
    Why on earth didn’t you kick him out before?

  • just4kicks April 14, 2015, 3:17 am

    Does this story remind anyone of the movie “Pacific Heights” with Michael Keaton???

  • Tracy W April 14, 2015, 6:05 am

    That’s so sad that he took advantage of you like that. And so short-sighted of him.

  • Enna April 14, 2015, 12:52 pm

    I am glad the OP can move on from this incident. I would not have been so kind as to not press for payment but understand why the OP didn’t want to go though with it if she felt it was more hassle. What a sponger.

  • Enna April 14, 2015, 1:13 pm

    I would also like to add, it is worthwhile if you are putting someone up and it turns out is more than a few days or a week or two drawing a brief contract. That way all parties are covered. I like to see myself as a nice kind charitable person but I would not take this kind of behaviour from someone. They would be given notice to get out as my time would be better spent looking after friends, family and others who are deserving.

  • Jennifer Clark April 14, 2015, 6:03 pm

    Be careful about drawing up contracts, in some states that can create legal rights for the mooches. Where I am, it’s better to have no contract and just have the locks changed and take a financial hit with no recourse, than to have to let the mooches live rent free for 6 months longer while you pay for the eviction process. Always check local and state law first!

  • Tara April 15, 2015, 2:58 am

    I have 2 theories for this guy, and neither has anything to do with etiquette.

    First theory: he was a sociopath from the beginning… they’re very charming when they need to be, but at their base they’re horrible people. He was nice when he moved in but showed his true colors once he felt settled.

    Second theory: you were right about him being a good guy when he first moved in. The whole “playing with fire” and his house burning down could have been a coincidence (especially since firefighters investigate and prosecute arson). The accident may have damaged his frontal lobe and left him a sociopath (look up the case of Phineas Gage, which is very similar), which isn’t too far fetched since brain injuries are common in horrible car crashes, especially in cars which lack airbags. Not all brain injuries are diagnosed, especially since frontal lobe injuries only cause a change of personality.

  • JWH April 15, 2015, 1:34 pm

    Personally, I would have pursued collection actions. Nothing says “what you did was wrong” quite like putting a lien on his assets.

  • Kovi April 15, 2015, 7:27 pm

    I would feel far worse for a stray cat with ringworm than I could for a person like this, ha ha. At least the cat can’t help what/who it is!

  • Hanna April 19, 2015, 11:30 am

    OP- this was all on you. You should have kicked him out the moment he was able bodied and didn’t pay utilities and/or do repairs. But you let him stay with you up to a year? YOU let him pile his junk in your garage. YOU let him tear down your fence without consequence. YOU let him do all these things. I’m sorry, but I don’t feel bad for OP.

    • The Other Elizabeth June 10, 2015, 5:07 pm

      That’s a little harsh there, Hanna. You have a point, this went on way too long and most reasonable and objective people would have taken none of it once payments started lapsing. The problem is, human beings are rarely objective in the heat of the moment. There’s a well-documented psychological term for this kind of conundrum, the “Foot-in-the-Door Phenomenon” if my memory of AP psych is correct. Basically when you have performed a favor for someone, you are more likely to continue to perform favors, even if the requests increase in scope and inconvenience to persons involved. Lend somebody $40 to pay a parking ticket, you’re more likely to lend $100 to help cover their rent. Drive a coworker to work one day while their car is in the shop, and you’ll have a harder time declining a request to drive them to the grocery store. The moochers know how to work it, too: “But you already helped me this much, can’t you take it just a liiiiittle bit further?”

      I think personally part of the reason we get this way is because after the first couple of favors, we feel emotionally and even financially invested in that person. If we’ve spent money, we want to see some kind of return on the cost, even if it’s just some sign that the person is using the help we provided to turn over a new leaf. If in this case, the person in question at least appears to be in serious need, it’s even harder for kind-hearted souls to turn their back on them. This guy turned out to be a mooch, but he appeared to be in honest need long enough for the OP to get used to caring for him. That has a big impact on the psyche. I think OP deserves a break for letting it go on.