What To Do When A Roommate Doesn't Pay Rent

By Ashley Paskill

One of the most common issues when living with a roommate is making sure both parties pay their share of the rent. It can be tough when you pay your share but your roommate does not, especially if that means your utilities and living space are in jeopardy of being taken away. Luckily, there are ways to approach your roommate calmly to help resolve the issue.

Student Roommates: What To Do When A Roommate Doesn't Pay Rent

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Talk it out

The first approach is to have an open conversation with your roommate. Be calm and non-accusatory but remind them of why it is crucial that they pay their share of the rent. Talking about paying bills can be a sensitive subject, especially if your roommate is struggling with finances currently, so being gentle and kind in how you speak is important. Show that you are willing to talk about it and compromise as needed. Avoid threatening them with moving out or taking legal action, especially during the first conversation. This may have to occur at a later point but avoid this at the beginning.

Refer to your roommate agreement

When you first moved in with your roommate, you likely made a roommate agreement that highlighted how much the rent costs and when it needs to be paid. You may have also included what to do if someone is unable to pay their share. Refer to the agreement to see how you should proceed and see if any action needs to be taken. Again, try to be calm and understanding when bringing up the roommate agreement, but be firm in the fact that they need to pay their share.

Inform your landlord

Talk to your landlord about the situation, even if you think it is a one-time thing that will get resolved. The landlord may be willing to give you some extra time to get rent in or may waive the late fees for the month. If things escalate and you end up leaving the lease or finding a new roommate, your landlord may be willing to give you a small break if they are aware of the situation surrounding these actions. They may have some tips for ways to handle the situation since they have likely seen others go through something similar.

Check your lease

When you and your roommate signed the lease, you agreed to be equally accountable for the rent. Many leases have terminology that has each tenant as “jointly and severally liable” for their portion of rent. Make sure your roommate is fully aware that they are legally responsible for their portion of rent since they signed the lease. Knowing this, they will be more willing to fix the situation in a timely manner and get the rent paid. Hopefully, knowing their legal obligation, they will be more willing to be careful moving forward so this situation does not arise again.

Cover the cost

While this is not ideal, you may have to cover the cost of the roommate’s portion of the rent, especially if you both signed the lease. Do this, even if you have a “split between roommates” as the option for paying rent. You can switch back to this option next month. The landlord can seek the payment from any cotenant on the lease, including yourself, so you may have to pay for your roommate’s share. However, make sure your roommate pays you back in a timely fashion. If they do not, you may be able to take further action down the line.

Paper trail

After speaking with your roommate, consider writing a letter to them to express your concerns in writing. This starts a paper trail. Be sure to date the letter and make a copy for yourself for your own records. This way, if you need to take action down the road, you have evidence that you were in communication about the rent not being paid. You may also want to include a copy of the roommate agreement to show that there is a clause about rent that the roommate signed off on. Also, be sure to document your roommate’s behavior and anything that they say out loud.

Sue your roommate

If things do not get resolved and your roommate does not pay their fair share of the rent, you can sue them in a small claims court. Doing so is inexpensive as you do not need a lawyer (most small claims courts do not allow for lawyers). Just be sure you know the maximum of how much you can sue for when it comes to what you are owed. If your roommate owes more than what you are allowed to sue for in a small claims court, consider speaking with a landlord-tenant lawyer about what options are available to you.

Having a roommate on your lease that does not pay rent can be stressful. Knowing that there are people and resources available to help you and things you can do to rectify the situation quickly will put you at ease and make things better in a timely manner.

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