Replacement Rights: When to ask for reimbursement

by epi on January 13, 2012

Q: My neighbor borrowed my air mattress last summer.  When I took it out for the holidays, I noticed a hole.  Should I ask the neighbor to replace it or say nothing?

A: The neighbor may have ruined the air bed, but unfortunately you can’t be sure, so don’t point fingers.  If you had noticed the damage when it was returned, asking for compensation would have been fine.  But in this case, you just need to write it off as a loss. Borrowing and lending between neighbors can be a source of great tensions so in the future try not to lend out anything that you cannot afford to lose.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Jerry January 14, 2012 at 6:47 pm

You can certainly bring it up in a friendly way. Hopefully she’ll offer to pay for a replacement. (You don’t need to press the issue; you’ve got to live next to her.) If she doesn’t, you know not to lend things to her in the future.

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Zakafury January 15, 2012 at 11:54 pm

I’m having a hard time coming up with a friendly way to mention it that doesn’t sound like a passive-aggressive request, possibly because that’s really what it is.

Do you have something in mind?

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Jerry January 16, 2012 at 10:37 am

Passive-aggression? Me? I think you need to start thinking more creatively when you communicate. Try, “Hey, [neighbor], so we pulled out the air mattress for the first time today since we lent it to you. There was a ginormous hole in it. We hadn’t stored it any differently than normal. Do you know anything about what happened?”

Ask the question in such a way that it sounds like you’re genuinely interested in the answer. If neighbor acts as if she is horrified that (i) the air mattress had a hole in it, and (ii) that she was the last one to use it, that at least suggests that she was careful with it and that she treats borrowed property as if its her own. (Consider continuing to lend to her, even if she doesn’t offer to pay or offers to pay only half.) If the neighbor acts as if she could not care less, or that it’s not her problem that there is a hole, you know that the neighbor probably sees you as a quartermaster. I would never lend to her again and would consider myself lucky that the lesson only cost me an air mattress.

[And please, nobody reply that "it could be mice, or some other thing that's nobody's fault." That's a real cop out -- it's possible that aliens snuck into the storage area and punched a hole into the air mattress just to be a pain. But Occam's razor tells us that this is not the way to bet.]

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Ashleigh January 16, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Perhaps it was mice or an alien that punctured the mattress. If I were the neighbor, I’d certainly want to know I have such destructive house guests ;) ;)

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Alicia January 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm

But just think how Elliot’s mom reacted to finding about ET being in the house!

Jerry January 16, 2012 at 2:46 pm

ROTFL

:-)

Zakafury January 16, 2012 at 8:26 pm

Passive-aggressive. You. Just because you asked a direct question doesn’t mean it’s not cover for, “I blame you and want you to pay for it.”

If I had torn your air mattress when I borrowed it, I would’ve bought you a new one, because I do treat borrowed items like my own. Showing up on my doorstep 5 months later and “innocently” asking about the hole is transparently manipulative. I would be offended at the implication that I hid my misdeed and very annoyed that you were trying to make me feel guilty – cash request or not.

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Jerry January 16, 2012 at 10:03 pm

I guess we don’t know each other very well. Passive aggression is absolutely not my style.

But the bottom line is that if you were the last person to use the air mattress then, yes, I hold you responsible if it’s broken. Why? Because plastic just doesn’t punch holes in itself. You can get “offended” or “annoyed” all you want, and that would probably be the end of our relationship. Why? Because I have asked you in a friendly way what happened (I find it really odd that you wrote “innocently” instead of friendly) pegged your defensive response as an admission that (i) you broke it, and (ii) you’re trying to hide your guilt. If, instead, you said that you weren’t aware of any issues (or that you noticed a slow leak but forgot to tell me about it), I’d be much more forgiving.

eblunchlady January 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm

My father-in-law passed away this past July. We recently received Christmas cards for him that were forwarded to us. How do we respond to the people that sent the cards?

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Alicia January 16, 2012 at 8:46 am

Write them a note. In it you should say something to the following effect.
“It was so nice to hear from you at Christmas. I know that father in law valued your friendship. It is with sorrow that I inform you that he passed away in July 2010. ” Then say something about how he died to answer the obvious next questions that the reciever will be thinking. Then end it with either a note to keep in touch if family or people you know or a note saying that you hope that they have a good year if not.
My sympathy for you and your family.

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Lady Antipode January 16, 2012 at 1:15 am

It can be very difficult to detect a hole in an air matress. I swear sometimes they develop spontaneously! It’s possible that your neighbour didn’t realise there was a hole in the mattress.

I suggest you let this one go.

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Robin January 16, 2012 at 12:22 pm

I think the original answer from EPI was the best, “The neighbor may have ruined the air bed, but unfortunately you can’t be sure, so don’t point fingers.” As EPI stated, if you had noticed the hole when it was returned, asking about it would be different. But, not noticing it until a season later and then asking them about it might seem petty. You have no proof, so making an accusation might just be hurtful and cause discord among neighbors. Chalk it up as a lesson learned and try to move past it.

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Jerry January 16, 2012 at 12:38 pm

So what do you do the next time this neighbor wants to borrow something? (I’m actually curious, not trying to make a rhetorical point.) Because if you say “no” or “I don’t lend things out,” they will think “he lent me the air mattress, what’s the deal now?” That could lead to resentments and hurt feelings. If you say “yes” you’ve lent to someone who put a hole in the last thing you lent to them. (i.e., you run the risk of taking the hit and why would you do that to yourself?)

And despite what EPI says, there is proof — at least enough proof to get beyond a motion to dismiss. The hole speaks for itself!

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Alicia January 16, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Jerry,
I would lend things out and then be careful about checking things over when they arrive back. It seems to me that this also depends are we talking a gash or a pinpoint leak. A pinpoint leak could easy have occured during storage. I know that was the even of my air mattress. I put it away having held up to 3 nights of a guest and then went to blow it up about 8 months later and it leaked. I know It was not anything I did but the plastic just got brittle over time. If I had lent it out and then 8 months later it got the same hole would it really have been the neighbors fault? Not at all.

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Jerry January 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Fair enough, Alicia. You’re right that we’re dealing with a lot of assumptions here. I think that it is very unlikely that the leak occurred during storage or that the plastic somehow got so brittle during storage that it compromised the integrity of the mattress. Plastics generally don’t break down over time. (If the plastic somehow did get brittle during storage, the owner should contact the manufacturer to have the item replaced under its warranty.)

The call of the question doesn’t suggest a pinhole. (Pin holes aren’t things that most people notice.) But if it truly is a pinhole then yes, you are correct that you can’t blame the neighbor.

I still haven’t gotten an answer to my question — If I believe that my neighbor damaged my air mattress, how would you recommend my responding when she asks to borrow something in the future? Do I lend her my lawnmower knowing that she broke my air mattress? (And arguing that she didn’t break it doesn’t count as I believe that she did and I am both judge and jury of the facts as I see them.)

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Alicia January 16, 2012 at 2:14 pm

“Oh I’m sorry but it is inconvient for me to lend you the lawn mower. Check home depot they may have them on sale. ” Replace the item and a store where one could buy the item as needed ie pan /target, sewing machine /Joannes ect

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Jerry January 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Ok, but the neighbor will wonder why the sudden change of heart, probably employing a thought process along these lines: “How long does it take her to mow her grass? She can’t lend it to me for a couple of hours? Did I do something to upset her? I can’t think of anything. So she’s just an oversensitive *!@#. You know what, I don’t think I really want to put up with her in the future. Let’s see how she likes it when she needs [someone to pick up her mail when she's out of town].” How do you propose getting around this?

At least if you bring up the fact that (i) neighbor was the last to use the air mattress, and (ii) there is a hole in it, you get (a) some closure, and (b) some idea as to how the neighbor is treating your stuff. (See my response to Robin.)

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Country Girl January 16, 2012 at 4:56 pm

I would say “You know neighbor, we’ve had so much heartache in the past lending things out and having them return damaged, that we’ve made a family rule not to lend out our more expensive/treasured items. I’m really sorry. But I hear home depot is having a sale on lawnmowers. (or) My husband would be happy to mow your lawn tomorrow after he finishes mowing our’s.”

This answer does a couple of things. It a) Explains your concern without placing blame which may be unwarranted b) will likely make neighbor feel ashamed if the blame IS indeed warranted and c) it absolves you from loaning out any items that you would be upset if they came back damaged. My fiance and I have a good understanding of which items we lend out freely (ie. $10 yard rake), and which items we don’t loan out because we would be upset or put out if it was returned broken or ruined (ie.$100 air mattress or $500 mower). Because even the most careful neighbor or friend can make a mistake a damage a costly item, having the potential need to place blame and try to recoup losses from neighbors, friends, or family is not a position we want to find ourselves in.

Zakafury January 16, 2012 at 8:32 pm

If the neighbor shows up to borrow something again and you aren’t comfortable lending it, that would be the time to mention what happened.

“I’m really not comfortable loaning stuff I can’t replace out. I’m sure you didn’t notice, but the air mattress broke between when you had it and when I took it out next. About the lawnmower, I just can’t soak the cost of an accident.”

Jerry January 16, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Zakafury: You appear to have painted yourself into a logical corner here. How do you justify bringing up the air mattress if and when the neighbor asks to borrow something again? That sounds a lot more passive aggressive then what you accused me of.

I think you can use Country Girl’s approach; you can use my approach; but your approach appears to be the worst of both worlds.

Maggie January 17, 2012 at 12:54 am

There seems to be a misunderstanding of the term “passive-aggressive.” Zakafury’s statement is not passive aggressive. It directly states his belief to the neighbor about what happened and explains the direct consequence of that. He is not beating around the bush. I would still perhaps not say that because I personally do not want to accuse someone if I cannot be sure that they are at fault. In the future, I would just decline to lend anything too expensive to replace to either this neighbor or really anyone.

Jerry’s suggestion that the neighbor “bring up” the leak in the hope that the neighbor will offer to pay for it is actually the definition of passive aggression because your are telling the neighbor about the leak with the clear underlying motive–to let the neighbor know you think they punctured the air mattress and to passively ask for payment. A person would recognize this and understandably feel accused. I would not do that to my neighbor, but if you don’t mind making someone feel this way, there is no reason to not be direct as Zakafury suggests.

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Zakafury January 17, 2012 at 11:03 am

Thank you, Maggie. If I were actually in this situation, I would give very little thought to the accident. My answer to the original question is a definite “say nothing.” Personally, I would mention it only if the same person wanted to borrow the new air mattress – I would urge caution and refuse any offer of payment so far after the fact. Here, I feel the need to mention it because it will probably be quite obvious it’s not the same item.

Jerry, to answer your last question. The hypothetical situations have painted me into a corner, so I’m offering my approach if I really did feel like I needed to bring it up. I don’t expect my neighbors to interrogate me for saying I don’t want them borrowing my lawnmower. I would meet someone who wants to twist my arm about it head on.

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Jerry January 19, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Maggie: With all respect, you’re just wrong. There’s no misunderstanding of the term. And my approach is not passive aggressive because the sole purpose is not to seek reimbursement (although that is a purpose). You bring up the leak not only in the hopes that the neighbor will pay, but also to ask what happened. It’s obvious that you blame the neighbor (as is your right) because the neighbor was the last to use the mattress.

If the neighbor feels accused, so be it. It’s perfectly fair to blame the last person to use something for any damage. (And unlike car rental companies, it’s there’s no reason for neighbors to check the property after they receive it, particularly if the property is something like an air mattress that doesn’t get regular use.)

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