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Roommate from Hell
July 28, 2012 6:06 PM   Subscribe

Roommate has lied about paying her share of the bills and has not paid last month's bills. She's been unreasonable and refuses to talk about bills. Her lease ends in 3 days. She owes hundreds of dollars. Can we pursue legal recourse? (part of the lease posted inside)

note: I'm not the one who is actually living with this person. My friends are the one living with her. She took my room when I moved out (found her on craigslist) because she seemed pleasant and responsible. This is not the case anymore and I feel partly responsible.

Robyn is the girl who has not been paying her bills. For the past month, my friend Heather who lives with her has repeatedly asked Robyn to pay her share of the bills because she never paid up (this is for June). Robyn has been increasingly closed off and refuses to talk about the bills. She always tries to flee the house or will slam the door in Heather's face.

Heather has just found out today that Robyn has lied about paying her share of the bills for previous months when she received late charges and checked online accounts. So now Robyn really does owe a couple hundred dollars in unpaid utilities.

The issue now is that we are afraid Robyn will just jump ship since her lease ends in 3 days and get away with not paying hundreds of dollars.

I found this bit in the lease for utilities:

UTILITIES
Where applicable, Tenant must pay fuel charges, electric, water sewer use, telephone, cable and any other utilities for the premises as and when the same become due, and make all required deposits. Additionally, Tenant is responsible for trash removal charges if that service is provided by a private hauler and the facility is not located in a County collection district. The tenant agrees to furnish a receipted water bill for the above premises to Landlord/Agent at termination of the Lease, extension or renewals thereof.

Everyone at the house has signed the lease with that clause.

They live in Maryland.

if this is relevant: there are four people who live in the house. Robyn, Heather, and two other girls. Everyone but Robyn has been paying the bills in full and on time.

They have a long list of bills that Robyn has not paid. The bills are in Heather's name I believe...so this has been ruining her credit score.
posted by taiscape to Work & Money (14 answers total)
 
Small claims court is perfect for this. The problem will be enforcing any judgement your friend gets against Robyn, though.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:09 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


@moonorb: what do you mean enforcing any judgment?
posted by taiscape at 6:11 PM on July 28, 2012


Means you may succeed in court but it's up to the successful party to collect. The court doesn't do it for you. She may fail to pay the judgment, may have limited assets to collect against, etc.
posted by Pomo at 6:18 PM on July 28, 2012


"Enforcement of judgment" is, generally speaking, collection of any court award.

Basically, you sue someone because you believe they owe you money. The, the court enters judgment--which means the court says "Person A, you owe other Person B, $X for legal reasons Y & Z." Enforcement of that judgment is the actual collection of the money. Collection of the judgment does not happen automatically and does not happen in court when judgment is entered.

It is not generally the province of the court. There are legal means of enforcing judgments, but they often require additional legal proceedings and asset searches and eventually, you often cannot get money from a stone.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:18 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


It means that even when the small claims court says that Robyn owes your friends money, it might not be the case that Robyn pays that money. In that situation you have to use the legal system to make her pay what the court ordered her to pay. That's called enforcing the judgement. It's tedious and time consuming.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:32 PM on July 28, 2012


If they can, and it won't cut off the utilities to Heather and the rest of the roommates, just close the accounts in Robyn's, and let her take the hit to her credit.

If closing these accounts DOES affect the rest of them (the utilities for the whole house being cut off), get the accounts transferred to the other roommates' names, pay off the past due bills, and then do as Pomo says and sue Robyn for the money. Do they have a security deposit from Robyn? Use it for this.
**Make sure to keep all the paperwork to prove the account was in Robyn's name, plus who paid it off, when and how.**

(Since Robyn is flaking off on this, there's a good chance that even with a legal judgement in their favor they'll never see another penny from her; if that happens, then next year they should check with a tax professional: they might be able to deduct what they've lost by paying Robyn's bills and/or an uncollectible judgement --- but check with a pro about that; I'm no tax expert.)
posted by easily confused at 6:33 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do the current housemates have a security deposit from her? Do they have a forwarding address for her they can use to notify her next roommates or her next landlord?
posted by alphanerd at 6:52 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


IANAL, but: The lease articulates Robyn's legal obligations to the landlord (same probably goes for any security deposit she might have put up), not to the other roommates, who probably have few if any legally actionable rights with regard to her. It sucks, but probably the best option (i.e. least possible aggravation) is for the other roommates to pay the money and be done with Robyn for good. And for the love of everything, don't ever let anyone else have direct access to their utility accounts, especially someone they barely know. Pay it off and chalk it up to experience.
posted by isogloss at 7:14 PM on July 28, 2012


There are no accounts in Robyn's name.

The security deposit was sent to the landlord.
posted by taiscape at 7:51 PM on July 28, 2012


I have found that in these situations, it's often possible to work out a payment plan (weekly, monthly, whatever). Type it up and get her to sign it, that often makes the person psychologically feel obligated to pay it.
posted by radioamy at 7:57 PM on July 28, 2012


The Utilities clause in the lease is to protect the landlord, not any of the tenants. If all of the bills are in Heather's name, ultimately Heather is going to be held accountable for them. Like others have said above, the courts will not be too helpful here. I think the easiest solution would be to divide up what is owed by the three remaining tenants. It's not great, but Heather should not be responsible for the total bill. If you get your full security deposit back, you can take 1/4 of it and divide that amount by three to refund as much as you can back to each of you. And Robyn doesn't get hers back.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 8:13 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Get something valuable of hers and hide it before she moves out. Yes, stealing is illegal, but if she wants to make a stink about it, then she'll have to discuss paying her share of the bills. If she doesn't make a stink about it, pawn it and recoup some of your losses. Give her the pawn ticket.

This is how we teach others that there are consequences for being irresponsible.
posted by Koko at 6:32 AM on July 29, 2012


Get something valuable of hers and hide it before she moves out. Yes, stealing is illegal, but if she wants to make a stink about it, then she'll have to discuss paying her share of the bills.

This advice is momentously stupid. Please do not follow it; committing a crime she can report to the cops while you're trying to get money from her is really not going to help and will get someone in a lot of trouble.

What you should do tomorrow morning is file in small claims court; do it before she moves out so she knows you're serious about pursuing it. Also, ensure you know where she works and where she's moving so you don't lose track of her. Most people who are willing to screw you once are willing to keep doing it again and moving is a great way to lose some past debts.

You'll need her current address to file, which is why if you lose track of her in the near future it will be hard to do so. Knowing her employer will help you if you get to garnishing wages. You may want to talk to a lawyer (many will give half an hour free advice) before you proceed, but the point is if you can't find her (and she won't email you back in the future), you may not be able to file a claim and will have a tough time winning a judgement.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 7:08 AM on July 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


The security deposit was sent to the landlord.

If Heather is on good terms with the landlord, she could try asking them to withhold money from Robyn's deposit to pay the utility bills. They may say no, but it is worth a try. Landlord likely has to provide Robyn with a detailed list of what has been withheld in a certain amount of time, so be prepared with an itemized list of what is owed.
posted by soelo at 7:46 AM on July 30, 2012


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