How do I get my money back from my ex-roommate?
December 1, 2005 7:17 PM   Subscribe

How do I get my money back from my ex-roommate?

I just finished a one year lease with a roommate who never paid any of his share of the utilities. I asked for them every month but never got any of money out of him. Since I could afford it I paid both my share and his. The last month he didn't pay his share of the rent, and in the interest of keeping my rental history clean I had to pay it. Over the course of the year he ended up owing me $1,300.

I always wanted my money but now that I am out of the apartment I really want my money.

I have sent 2 or 3 letters to him, outlining what he owes me and when I want the money. The deadline for him to pay me was just the other day and surprise, surprise I didn't get my dough.

Initially I had planned on taking him to small claims court but though a mutual friend I found out that he (my ex-roomie) filed for bankruptcy on the last day before the law was changed.

So what are my choices?

Can I still take him to small claims court despite his bankruptcy?

Can I take him to bankruptcy court?

Should I hire a lawyer?

Cut my losses?

Are there other options?
posted by thefinned1 to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IANAL, but, if i remember correctly, you have to list all your debts on your petition (?) when you file. the people on the list get first dibs (if any, and after the lawyers). according to a friend who has filed, and before the deadline, if you're not listed as a creditor on the filing, you can still attempt to collect on that debt, but after the bankruptcy period ends. and how long that is depends on whether they filed chapter 7 or 13.
posted by elle.jeezy at 7:48 PM on December 1, 2005

if you and the roommate are youths, track down his parents and explain the situation to them. best case, they take pity on you and pay you themselves.
posted by soma lkzx at 8:28 PM on December 1, 2005

Offer to put him on a payment plan, maybe?
posted by evariste at 8:36 PM on December 1, 2005

Was he on the lease? If so, did your lease stipulate a responsibility to pay for utilities?
posted by availablelight at 9:06 PM on December 1, 2005

Sorry, dude, you just learned the shitty truth about broke roommates. You just took one hell of a karmic punch, and I feel sorry for you, but you ain't never gettin' your money. Best to just point out that he's a prick who owes you money to everyone, especially when you're in public together.
posted by klangklangston at 9:10 PM on December 1, 2005

klang is right -- this was a painful life lesson. I would not count on ever seeing the money, or the ex-roommate, again.

As a landlord, I know the most leverage I have over a tenant is when they are living in the apartment. Once they move out, why would they feel motivated to pay? Then I have to go to court and get a judgement and ... then I still won't get the money.

As for filing with the bankruptcy judge, elle.jeezy is a bit misleading. Bankruptcy law specifies a ranking for the priority of claims against a debtor:

Priority: The Bankruptcy Code establishes the order in which claims are paid from the bankruptcy estate. All claims in a higher priority must be paid in full before claims with a lower priority receive anything. All claims with the same priority share pro rata. Claims are paid in this order: 1) costs of administration 2) priority claims and 3) general unsecured claims. Secured claims are paid from the proceeds of liquidating the collateral which secured the claim.

Priority claims: Certain debts, such as unpaid wages, spousal or child support, and taxes are elevated in the payment hierarchy under the Code. Priority claims must be paid in full before general unsecured claims are paid. Priorities listed. Discussion of priority taxes.

A small-claims judgement, if you had one in hand, would fall into the "general unsecured claims" category. I'm not sure that a debt with no paperwork other than a claim letter is even valid for this purpose. It would certainly be something that he could dispute should it ever come to that. $1300 is just enough to merit a small claims action, with all the hassle; it probably isn't enough to merit putting yourself through the wringer of making a claim under bankruptcy. I wouldn't bother.
posted by dhartung at 9:26 PM on December 1, 2005

You should have pawned some of his stuff before he moved out. Live and learn.
posted by Sara Anne at 10:44 PM on December 1, 2005

Dhartung and Klang are dead on target, sorry. I rented to four "kids" and two of them had the same issues and the outcome after 6 months removed from the rental - ZIP!

Life Lesson - Bitter Pill and new wisdom in your "gut" for the future. Good luck!
posted by thebarron at 10:57 PM on December 1, 2005

Yup, sorry, you're pretty much SOL. Suggestion for next time: If the roomie doesn't pay utilities after 2 months call up the utility companies, tell them to turn off the service, and tell them that the new tenant is [insert name of roomie here]. Let them know that in the future if services are re-instated they should be billed to the roomie, and that you no longer should be listed for bills.

Find the local YMCA, etc for the shower. The more uncomfortable it is for him to live without services, the more likely he'll want to turn them on under his name / credit. Now you can get him to repay the missing money -- don't pay for the services for 2 months!
posted by shepd at 7:12 AM on December 2, 2005

Chapter 7 isn't a magic wand in that you don't just file a few pieces of paper and are free and clear of everything you have ever owed. His filing has to list all his outstanding debts that he is unable to pay. I'd say odds are good he didn't list what he owed you, though if you have been sending him mailings maybe he's not a complete retard and handed them over to his lawyer.

If he didn't list you as a debt to be discharged it means that if you go file in small claims court either you're going to still have a whack at him post BK or he'll have to get his lawyer to amend the filing to list you. BK lawyers are lazy, that's why they're working as gloified secretaries filling out boilerplate forms for a buck. They don't like to amend filings. Thus they're going to nail him for a few hours to add you to the filing. Perhaps this could be a negotiating tactic for you to get SOMETHING, though it would have to be less than the $150 or so the lawyer is going to charge him.

Alternately you can look at see what your statute of limitations is on this kind of debt (presumably verbal contract) and wait till you're closer to it to file so that his bankruptcy has long since been finalized and can no longer be amended.
posted by phearlez at 7:33 AM on December 2, 2005

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