What to Do if Your Roommate Can't Pay Rent

By Kaitlin Hurtadol

The biggest benefit to having a roommate is making rent more affordable when you can split the cost. In an ideal world, all roommates will pay their share of their rent in a timely manner as agreed upon, with no issues for the entire time you live together, however, this isn’t always the case. Life happens and for whatever reason, you may find yourself in a situation where your roommate is unable to pay their share of the rent as promised. It’s a stressful situation for everyone involved, but you can’t just let the situation go by unsolved as it’s going to affect you as your name is on the lease as well. Keep reading on what to do when your roommate can’t pay rent.

Roommate Tips: What to Do if Your Roommate Can't Pay Rent

Stay calm and assess the situation
In the best case scenario, you have a good relationship with your roommate and they bring up their inability to pay their rent as soon as they are aware of the situation themselves. When you do become aware of the situation, it is important to stay calm as you figure out the best way to handle the situation.

If you are close with your roommate, such as being close friends outside of just a roommate relationship, you may be more comfortable coming to an agreement to temporarily cover their rent. If your roommate just got laid off, for example, you may opt to cover their rent as they find a new, steady job and get back on their feet on the condition that they can pay you back after a chosen time period.

However, if your roommate is a random match-up you found on a local ad calling for roommates or someone you don’t get along with, you may be more wary about their ability to pay you back should you offer to cover their share of the rent. If this is the case for you, you may opt to go straight to your landlord to figure out your options (and if you are truly responsible for their share of the rent).

Whatever approach you decide to take, make sure you make an effort to document everything along the way, from emails between your roommates and landlord, to bank statements showing any transactions regarding rent.

Check with your lease to verify if you’re liable to cover the rent
Once you have assessed the situation you are facing, refer back to your lease agreement to verify if you are responsible for making rent is paid in its entirety, not just your portion. In most roommate situations, you both will be listed on the lease agreement. Check the lease to see if the agreement has joint or several liability. If you and your roommate are jointly liable, you are both equally responsible for making sure the total rent is paid, regardless of whether or not you or your roommate are paying their individual portion. If you and your roommate are severally liable, you are only responsible for your portion of the rent, and it is your landlord’s responsibility to get the other portion of the rent from your roommate.

Speak with your landlord to discuss your options
You and your roommate aren’t the only renters that have found themselves in a situation where they are unable to pay rent, and your landlord has likely dealt with this situation before. Depending on the landlord, they may be able to offer options to help your situation.
Your landlord may agree to have your security deposit cover the portion of the rent that your roommate can’t pay.

Your landlord may also be more flexible when it comes to deferred rent or establishing a repayment plan. For example, your landlord may offer to let your roommate pay in installments over the course of a month rather than paying the rent in full at the beginning of the month. Or, they can allow your roommate to apply for rent relief if they find themselves facing financial hardship.

Evicting your roommate
If you happen to be the only person on lease and are not coming to an agreement with your roommate on them paying rent as promised, you may have to look into eviction to solve the issue at hand.

Tenant’s rights will vary depending on the state you are residing in, but doing a quick search on your state and “tenant handbook” or “tenant rights” can get you the information needed to navigate a possible eviction. Eviction can be a difficult process, so it may be something you consider as a last resort rather than the first solution you choose.

For example, if you and your roommate are both on the lease, you would not be able to evict them just because they aren’t paying rent. Your landlord will have to get involved to take action, and may have to evict you as well, which will affect your credit and your ability to rent in the future.

Finding out that your roommate can’t pay rent can be a stressful situation for anyone. With this information in mind, you can help yourself and your roommate find the best solution for your situation.

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