What Happens If Your Roommate Doesn't Pay Rent? Here's What You Can Do

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Living with friends (or sometimes strangers) can come with some serious challenges. There are some roommates who refuse to do their dishes, and other roommates who’ll eat your clearly-labelled leftovers with no regard for human decency at all. But there are some roommate problems that are a lot more serious — and can impact your financial future long-term. If your roommate isn’t paying rent, your options for what you can do vary state by state, but there are some things you can do before you start paying the price for their mistakes.

First off, you need to assess your relationship with your roommate, and what’s causing them to stop paying their rent in the first place. If your roommate is your super-responsible best friend who just got laid off, it’s worth discussing if you’re able to help her out for a month or two, or approach your landlord (if they’re cool, and you have a near-spotless record with them) to see if her security deposit might cover some of her rent — after all, you don’t want to have to find a new roommate if you can avoid it. If, however, your roommate is a Craigslist rando who’s suddenly stopped answering their texts, you need to take action quickly to make sure you’re not liable for their share of the rent.

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Double check your lease to see what the actual terms of the agreement are. It’s unlikely, but if you’re listed as the sole lessee, you’re kind of like your roommate’s landlord and can take steps to kick them out for failure to pay rent, according to the Financial Diet. More often than not, however, you’ll both be listed on the rental agreement. If that’s the case, check to see if your lease says “joint” or “several” liability. If you’re jointly liable, that means you are both responsible for the total rent regardless of whether your roommate pays their portion, according to Lifehacker. If you’re severally liable, you’re only responsible for your portion of the rent, and your landlord has to go after your roommate themselves.

If you are the only person on the lease, or your lease says you’re severally liable, and you haven’t been able to solve the issue amicably, you can look into eviction proceedings in your state. Searching your state + “tenant handbook” should lead you to an explanation of tenant’s rights in your state. You should already have this handy as a tenant yourself, but it’ll be helpful when dealing with a delinquent roommate, too. Lifehacker notes that you can ask your landlord to evict both of you, then correct the eviction for you so that it won’t show up on your record or affect your credit, but they also acknowledge that this is an extreme last resort, and not something your landlord has to do. It goes without saying, but you definitely don’t want to end up getting evicted because your roommate couldn’t pay rent. It can hurt your credit, making it harder to get a credit card or a loan, and it will definitely affect how easy it will be to rent a place in the future.  

Oh, and by the way — you’ve been documenting everything this entire time, right? If not, make a folder of email and text screenshots, declined Venmo requests, anything that shows that your roommate has been willfully ignoring your rental agreement, whether that’s your actual lease or the verbal agreement that they would pay a certain amount per month. (Now would be a good time to remind you that having a roommate contract in writing is always, always, always a good idea.) You’ll use this in the event that you do need to start eviction proceedings, or take your (ex) roommate to small claims court to recoup the money you lost covering for them, if that was the case.

Ultimately, if you are forced to kick your roommate out, there are two things that can be learned from the experience. One, that you should always pick your roommates very, very carefully, especially if you’re finding them online. And two, that you should always be prepared with a plan b — having everything in writing and documented will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

Psst! Download CNBC Make It x Bustle's roommate contract and never fight over things like whose turn it is to buy toilet paper ever again.