How much should I expect to get repaid?
May 5, 2012 11:57 AM   Subscribe

How much should I expect to get repaid?

Long story short, I lived in a house with several roommates for a couple of years. We pooled our expenses and I was in charge of managing the utility bills. Due to a billing error and some other awkward circumstances, one of our utilities went unpaid for a year and a half. We moved out not long ago, and when I went to close the account I realized the house collectively owed over $1000 to this particular utility. I have asked my roommates (past and present) to each pay their share of this $1000. I am getting significant push back from one of the prior tenants, who trusted me to manage everything. Do I have a leg to stand on insisting I get full payment from everybody?
posted by Captain Chesapeake to Human Relations (38 answers total)
It sort of depends... "a billing error and some other awkward circumstances" means... what exactly? Was it your fault? Should you have known that it wasn't getting paid? You will need to give a few more details in order for us to be able to make an informed decision about whether you should be responsible or not. Without this information, I agree with the prior tenant -- this was your responsibility.
posted by brainmouse at 12:00 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

You did this as a volunteer, as in its not like they were paying you to manage the houses finances or anything right?

It is kind of shitty that this thing you were managing got fucked up, but your housemate still owes you their debts. Legal questions aside, morally your housemate owes you their share in full.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:02 PM on May 5, 2012

How much of the balance is late fees?
posted by jon1270 at 12:04 PM on May 5, 2012

Lets just say it was my responsibility to make sure all the utilities were getting paid, and I didn't follow up after the billing error.
posted by Captain Chesapeake at 12:05 PM on May 5, 2012

No late fees.
posted by Captain Chesapeake at 12:06 PM on May 5, 2012

I did this voluntarily.
posted by Captain Chesapeake at 12:06 PM on May 5, 2012

I feel like it might also depend on what the bill was for. If it was for something everyone in the apartment should have known they needed to be paying (like electricity), then they should shell out ("should", but good luck with that). Of course, if you gave them the impression it was all taken care of by the money you were collecting at the time, then you should probably eat the cost for anyone who pushes back.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:10 PM on May 5, 2012

morally, they owe you that money. practically - if my experiences (and most of the early 20s roommates situations i witnessed) are to be believed, you'll never see that money - or you'll see some token amount. especially when it comes to prior tenants - they could easily brush it off since it's something that affects prior and current tenants - they might see it as you trying to pull one over on them even if you're not.
posted by nadawi at 12:11 PM on May 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

Constructions like 'long story short,' 'awkward circumstances' and 'let's just say' make me feel like there might be some important information being left out of this story.
posted by box at 12:12 PM on May 5, 2012 [29 favorites]

I disagree that they morally owe you the money, though I don't know about legally. They acted in good faith, and it sounds like you fucked up. It would be nice of them to pay you, certainly, if you ask them nicely and contritely enough, but that's a big monetary bomb that you're dropping on people because of a mistake you made -- if it were me, and you gave me as much info as you're giving us now, my first assumption would be that you were trying to screw me out of money. Have you explained in detail what went wrong, shown them bills, and apologized profusely? If you want money back, I would start there.
posted by brainmouse at 12:15 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unless you took the correct amount of money from them and then spent it on something other than the aforementioned bills*, then yes, they do owe you that money. They would owe that money if you had never been involved, because they lived there at the time and used the utility service in question.

However, like nadawi, I very much doubt you will ever see a penny.

*I hope this is not the "awkward circumstances" you mentioned, because in this case no one owes you anything but disapproving glares.
posted by elizardbits at 12:24 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

No embezzlement or anything, more negligence.
posted by Captain Chesapeake at 12:25 PM on May 5, 2012

Were you actively communicating with them, like in monthly meetings or notes or whatever? Were they just sitting around waiting for you to stop them in the kitchen and say "the electric bill showed up, pay me $18.37 right now, please?" What they were told at the time is a huge part of figuring out what everyone's moral obligations were.
posted by SMPA at 12:27 PM on May 5, 2012

There was active communication, monthly discussions about bills.
posted by Captain Chesapeake at 12:31 PM on May 5, 2012

So, you told them they needed to pay you X each month, then, years later, when they aren't living with you any more, you're telling them they actually owe you another $200? That's not going to happen. If you're nice about it, you might get something, but if you took charge of the utilities, and told them to budget for X for over a year, then come after them for more money after they move out? I don't think they are at fault. Sorry.
posted by Garm at 12:37 PM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's really up to you how much information you want to give people, but it seems pretty clear that you're not sharing the whole story. Totally your prerogative, but an answer is only as good as the information given.

However, answering based on the details you've chosen to share, I would say they may have an ethical obligation to pay, but unless you have a legal contract, or everyone's name was on the bill, I can't see there being a legal obligation.

Should you decide to include further detail, that might change my (and other's) answer.
posted by dotgirl at 12:41 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do I have a leg to stand on insisting I get full payment from everybody?

It does not sound like you're in a position to insist on much. Your communications ought to include a fair bit of Please and I'm Sorry. At the very least, you've caused some inconvenience and cash flow problems, and the way to buffer those problems is to let your former roomies pay you back as they can afford to, not Right This Minute. But they do still owe the money. Just be nice about all this, and hope you can get most of it back.
posted by jon1270 at 12:49 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreed on not "right this minute." Ask that they pay it some time in the next six months or year or so.
posted by salvia at 1:29 PM on May 5, 2012

If the level of detail you're giving your old roommates on this matter is the same as you're giving us, I can see why there might be significant pushback.

What, exactly, was the billing error? And how, exactly, did your actions (or inactions) exacerbate that error?
posted by matlock expressway at 1:32 PM on May 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think that if your negligence resulted in the utilities having a significant unpaid balance after the roommates moved out, it sucks, but it's pretty much your problem and not theirs. They were reasonable in believing "cool, the utilities are paid," and getting on with their lives, and it is unreasonable to ask them to scramble to come up with unbudgeted money on a bill that you should have told them about.
posted by jayder at 1:43 PM on May 5, 2012

If the situation is that you:

1) Added up all the bills for the house for the month
2) Split it up equally
3) Told them what their share was
4) Took their shares and used them to pay off the bills

And you happend to mess up by neglecting to pay a specific utility, then no, I personally don't think they should have to pay.

This is my personal opinion, but if you gave them a monthy cost, they agreed to it and payed you what you asked, the transaction is complete.

In other words, you can't say "The electricity is $50 for this month" then after they pay say "Oops! I need $20 more from you". They already payed the price you asked for and agreed upon. If you find out that an error occured after the customer/roommate already payed the agreed upon price, it is up to you to pay for your own personal mistake.

Having said that, it would be a kind gesture for them to agree to help you with your mistake. However, if you came to me with "you owe me" instead of "I am really sorry, I screwed up, can you help pay this off?" I would probably not be inclined to pay.
posted by Shouraku at 1:47 PM on May 5, 2012

i came in to say what jayder said.

that said, if i were one of your roommates and i could afford it, i would pay you.
posted by anthropomorphic at 1:49 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should expect them to pay you back some, all, or none of the money in varying degrees.

The more apologetic you are and the more complete your explanation, the better your odds. If your explanation to them isn't more complete than it is here, good luck. If it would be a hardship to them, expect some hard pushback because they relied on your calculations and made all their payments.
posted by J. Wilson at 1:59 PM on May 5, 2012

If I was your roommate and you gave me the amount of information you are giving us in this question, there is no way I would pay you. I'd want to know exactly what happened.

If it turned out that you made a reasonable mistake, and you were honest about it, and it was money I really should have paid - I would pay the whole thing.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:30 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

The thing that really struck me is that you say you asked your tenants *past and present* for the money. I think it might depend how *past*. If I'd moved out of a place a year before - for example - and then someone I used to live with came after me for utility money, I'm not sure I'd feel obliged to pay. I think I'd feel more obliged if I still lived with the person, or if I knew deep down that there was a bill I should have been paying the entire time, but I got away with it because no one had ever brought it up.

Having said that, (legally) I don't think you can insist on payment, you can only ask.
posted by Fairisle at 2:42 PM on May 5, 2012

In other words, you can't say "The electricity is $50 for this month" then after they pay say "Oops! I need $20 more from you".

Of course you can. You did not become theior energy servide provider, when you volunteered to ssort out paying the bill. You were doing them a favour.

If the costs are legitimate and arose from the agreed shared use of the household during the period that each of the tenants were there then they are obliged to pay them. Ethically this remains the case since they are their costs. Legally you may well have to go to small claims court but there is a good chance you can win if you can demonstrate that the costs arose during the time you were all tenants. This may prove to ba a pain of course.
posted by biffa at 2:42 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I was a past roommate, and you tried to get me to contribute to these old, undisclosed bills, even if I thought that there might be some merit in the debt, I would not trust you to determine what the debt is, because it sounds like you are incapable of doing so accurately.

Perhaps you should sit down with some of these other tenants, look at the documents together, and reveal all the particulars which you're not revealing here. Then, if the other tenants agree there is a shared debt, you can make a joint plea for contributions from others. But if nobody agrees with you, or is willing to look at the documents, you should just personally pay off the bill and never volunteer to take on such a household role again.
posted by Scram at 3:31 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Did you tell this person that they owed money at the time, or not? If you did, then it's their fault for not getting it to you. If you didn't, then I can see why they'd be annoyed at having to suddenly find a share of money that they weren't even aware they had to pay. If you missed the opportunity to let people know that they owed money 18 times, then it's pretty understandable that they're giving you a stank-eye now.

Do you have some kind of evidence that this person owes you money, that might help you present your case to them? For example, a bill for the utility, showing that they used it for X amount of time and that Y amount of time it wasn't paid for? If you can show them that, it might help.

Also, consider some kind of repayment plan, maybe? If it's a large sum of money to them, that they weren't expecting, then I don't think it's fair to put them in financial hardship for a mistake that you made.
posted by Solomon at 3:33 PM on May 5, 2012

I think you have zippo chance of getting anything out of past roommates - assuming they would even have the money - unless, crucially, you are talking about the last billing cycle before they moved out (i.e. person moved out in June, 3 monthly power arrives in July, and it covers April, May and June). If more than one billing cycle had passed and an old roommate was asking me for money when I had been living somewhere else for months, I would probably tell them to GTFO. Failing that, I would want the most rigorous and exhaustive documentation of the fuck up.

Secondly, are the former roomates names on the bill? Back in the bad old days when I was sharing, this kind of situation is exactly why I would try to get as many names on as many bills as possible. I dunno, I don't like your chances, man.
posted by smoke at 3:42 PM on May 5, 2012

What utility company lets you go a year and a half without full payment? I'm just curious.
posted by gt2 at 4:14 PM on May 5, 2012

If you want to maintain the relationships, eat the error. You were responsible for the bills -- voluntarily -- and you screwed the pooch, so to speak. Welcome to the world of responsibility.

A leader accepts the blame and the costs; followers pass along blame and costs. How you handle this determines your orientation. I've been where you are before, and let me tell you my friend, you only make these mistakes once. From here forward, you will be more circumspect in your dealings with both businesses and comrades.

Sounds like you feel as if you've been burned, when you only burned yourself. Take the hit and carry on. In the event you do not care about ill will, you can push them on your rickety platform. Most likely result was stated above, you either receive a token sum or a bag of nothing. Either way, you wreck the friendships.

Most friendships are worth more than this utility bill. Expensive lesson? Indeed. Will you ever repeat it? Nay. In school, you pay for education. Just because you're not in school does not mean you no longer pay for education.
posted by nickrussell at 4:49 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

IT sounds like there was a billing mistake in your favor (like that you know you owed 200 a month, and they only billed you 50), and instead of trying to stay on the up and up, you let it go through "negligence".

As a former roommate I'd be incensed on "our" behalf until I found out you'd known about the mistake, and hadn't called to figure it out. Literally 5 minutes of your time would have saved us this huge hassle, I'd think. So I'd probably pay it but we would NOT be friends after.
posted by spunweb at 5:00 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you are completely justified in asking the full amount. This amount would have been owed by the same people regardless, and I guess a person could justify saying they can't be expected to pay it all at once and ask for the option to pay over time but if they are looking to put you on the hook for their portion of the bill because you mixed up the billing they they are just looking at the situation as an excuse to get out of paying what they owe. If you took part in racking up a bill you owe your part of it.

Of course there is the other side of what you're willing to do if the person won't pay. I personally would think you'd have a reasonable case to take them to small claims but depending on how big a portion it is is it worth it? What I don't think you're justified in doing is asking the others who are willing to pay their part to be on the hook in any way for the recalcitrant person's portion, because that problem (one person resisting paying) would not exist if not for your mistake.
posted by nanojath at 5:22 PM on May 5, 2012

Suck it up. You fucked up by either negligence or trying to pull one over the utility or some other dark secret you refuse to reveal.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:12 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

The push-back person does not trust you and is probably in bad financial circumstances. If you can afford to let it go, do that.

I know it is so annoying!

I had an ex-roommate who wasn't on the lease and was really really on my ass about the return of her deposit - this all occurred within weeks of us all vacating together, but I had nothing to send her until the management company returned the deposit. It was clear she didn't believe I would come through once they did. I was bummed to discover she did not trust me, but it was TOTALLY understandable from her point of view.

It is what it is. You did not keep up on the bills, no one wants to get billed after the fact.

Be responsible and kind. Let it go. It will come back to you down the line:)
posted by jbenben at 9:01 PM on May 5, 2012

Oh, and also: if you hooked up with/were dating any of the roomies (and this is part of the long story) and the end was acrimonious, you are TOTALLY not getting anything back. You're also not getting anything if you never said explicitly that this was an estimate.

"And lo, Long Story Short took unto him two wives, and knew them, and so Long Story Short begat Resentment and Unstated Expectations. Resentment begat Drama, Drama begat The Answer to Your Question is Now No, and The Answer to Your Question is Now No was found pleasing in the eyes of man."
posted by spunweb at 9:28 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would find it sketchy as hell if I was your former roommate and you contacted me with this request. However, assuming the facts are substantially as you say, I also think your roommates owe you. They used the utilities just like you. There's no reason you should subsidize that for them. I do think it is only fair that you document this as thoroughly as possible for them to ease their suspicions.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 9:34 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think they absolutely do owe you the money, but not sure you will get it. Nearly every group house has one person on a utility bill, who, in my experience, puts the bill w/how much everyone owes, on the would suck to know you had to owe more years later. And I'm sure they're thinking since their name isn't on it they can ignore you.

I'm guessing you realized y'all weren't getting billed but just assumed it would go away and you were "off the hook." I thought that one time too, then got an 8-month gas bill. It sucked. Your roommates also could have asked you "So, we didn't get a bill for months, huh?"

You should call them, PDF it and email, and see if you can take them out for drinks. Get monthly documentation from the utility company so you can parcel out how much each person owes.
posted by manicure12 at 2:54 AM on May 6, 2012

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