I knew I should have made a rental agreement...
August 14, 2006 6:13 PM   Subscribe

Roommate won't pay! What are my options?

At the beginning of July my husband and I invited a woman to live with us as a roommate. She had been hired by a company in Texas and was moving from another state, so we offered to provide her with housing while she got settled in. There was no rental agreement signed and no deposit. We had not known this person previously.

Well, things have not been going as well as we planned and it's time for her to leave. The only problem is she thinks she was told the first month's rent was "on the house", which was not the case.. she was told she could pay when she got her first paycheck at the end of the month.

I assume she's going to refuse to pay rent at the end of this month. My husband thinks he can just lock her out without her possessions until she pays, but I'm not so sure that would go over well with the authorities. What are my options?
posted by Sufi to Law & Government (35 answers total)
No rental agreement? No deposit? Didn't know the person?

If she doesn't voluntarily pay, express your disappointment, give her at least 2 weeks to find other accommodations and eat the month.
posted by rinkjustice at 6:21 PM on August 14, 2006

Write it off and tell her to leave. Box her possessions and leave them outside if she won't budge; locking her out and keeping her stuff is likely to get you into more trouble than it's worth.
posted by holgate at 6:22 PM on August 14, 2006

Talk to a lawyer. Preferably one with expertise in landlord-tenant law. These laws typically vary on a municipality-to-municipality basis, so you need help from someone local.

Do not lock her out until you have spoken to a lawyer (who will almost certainly tell you not to lock her out). You'll probably need to start formal eviction proceedings and follow a predetermined timeline, etc. Stick to the letter of the law and document everything. Right now your priority should be getting this woman out of your house without getting yourself into any additional legal hot water. Worry about the money later.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:23 PM on August 14, 2006

As a landlord, I second the lawyer opinion, especially since the laws on landlords/tenants and evictions vary from state to state.
posted by matty at 6:47 PM on August 14, 2006

especially since the laws on landlords/tenants and evictions vary from state to state.

And many jurisdictions -- and individual judges in those jurisdictions -- don't take too kindly to locking tenants out.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:39 PM on August 14, 2006

she's a roommate? you don't need a lawyer. just ask her for the rent, and ask her to leave. if you don't get any money, consider the lesson. locking her stuff out would be mean, and if she's motivated, she'll be gone in a couple of days. two weeks would be generous, but not out of line.
posted by lester at 7:39 PM on August 14, 2006

It would be my impression that if she signed no agreement then she is not a tennant, and as such cannot be evicted as such, nor does she have any rights as a tennant. In essense she is a guest and you probably cannot force her to pay rent legally. I would not try to use her stuff as leverage to get what you are justly owed from her, but I also wouldnt not continue to allow her to take advantage of your hospitality. Since she wont pay, just put her stuff out on the street and lock her out, and be done with it. After all, you get what you pay for. You might want to check to see if that is illegial where you live, but I cant imagine throwing out an unwanted guest is illagial, and you are under no contractual obligation to hold her stuff.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:42 PM on August 14, 2006

BobbyDigital, that's horrible advice. She is not a guest, because she is living in that home. It is, currently, her primary residence. The law respects that, especially given that she's been there over a month now. The OP almost certainly needs to go through with a legal eviction at this point.

Granted, laws vary from place to place, but the few I've heard of agree on this. Whether or not they're paying rent or whether their name is on the lease/mortgage doesn't matter. Just that it's where the person in question has been allowed to live.
posted by CrayDrygu at 7:52 PM on August 14, 2006

There is so much bad advice in this thread. Please don't lock her out, lock her stuff up or try to do anything mischevious. Just talk to a damn lawyer, you need to evict her legally so this doesn't get worse.
posted by geoff. at 7:57 PM on August 14, 2006

BobbyDigital - You'd be wrong in most municipalities I've lived in.
posted by bshort at 8:05 PM on August 14, 2006

Sufi, is this woman refusing to leave or just trying to get out of paying a month's rent? If the former, it's LAWYER TIME. If the latter, just get her outta there as fast as possible and eat the month's rent. It will cost you more than month's worth of rent in both time and money to get the cash out of her.

Consider it a learning experience; always get it in writing.
posted by Justinian at 8:13 PM on August 14, 2006

If there was no rental agreement or deposit, how could it possibly be illegal to lock her out? (I'm not suggested she be locked out)
posted by null terminated at 9:01 PM on August 14, 2006

I'm a little unclear on things here. She moved in at the beginning of July? Or you just invited her then, and she only moved in in August?

If she did indeed move in July 1, then she didn't pay rent last month, right? You say, "I assume she's going to refuse to pay rent at the end of this month." So are you concerned about losing two months' rent, or only last month? I'm going to assume we're just talking about one month that's in question here.

I agree that it's probably better just to cut your losses. Lawyers get expensive fast. As lester says, if she's a roommate who you've agreed to let live with you, and then she doesn't live up to her end of the deal, you should be able to just toss her out on her ass - relatively speaking. Different jurisdictions have different laws on how fast you can throw out someone who you've let live with you, even if it's been purely on your good graces. Giving her until September seems reasonable, then change the locks and take her to small claims court if you feel like it. Though without an agreement, it's just your word against hers, and you'd probably lose. You were sort of asking for trouble when you didn't get it in writing.

Also, make sure she doesn't steal/wreck stuff on her way out.
posted by Dasein at 9:05 PM on August 14, 2006

null terminated writes "If there was no rental agreement or deposit, how could it possibly be illegal to lock her out?"

First of all, there was a rental agreement, though it was exclusively oral. The woman is obligated to pay rent as a tenant, but Sufi and her husband are also obligated to follow proper legal procedures to evict her in the case that she fails to pay. There's no way that the landlord-tenant law in Sufi's municipality allows for a lockout without following some prescribed process.

Second, as CrayDrygu said, Sufi's house is this woman's residence. She lives there, and she moved in there with full consent of Sufi and her husband. Hell, even if she were squatting, they'd probably have to follow some legal procedure to evict her. You can't just kick someone out of their residence: there are laws that describe how you have to evict someone.

This is one reason why being a landlord can be difficult.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:10 PM on August 14, 2006

Seeing a lawyer is obviously the best answer, but it is also the most expensive - although your desire to get the woman out of your house is probably worth more than the month of lost rent.

A quick trollop through Google found this Texas tenant's rights organization - should answer your basic questions about giving notice/eviction.
posted by magwich at 9:56 PM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

give her a choice:

pay rent now and stay till the end of the month or leave (asap).
posted by sophist at 1:48 AM on August 15, 2006

I disagree on seeing a lawyer - the money that you hope to recover from the deadbeat tenant will just end up being turned over to the lawyer (fees for services rendered) - chalk it up to a learning experience. Give the woman notice to be out on a certain date - if she does not leave - change the locks and have her stuff packed and ready to go when she trys to return. Turn the tables on her since you have no rental contract, you can maintain that she was only a temporary guest who has worn out her welcome if she ever trys to take legal action.
posted by DonM at 4:17 AM on August 15, 2006

First of all, there was a rental agreement, though it was exclusively oral. The woman is obligated to pay rent as a tenant, but Sufi and her husband are also obligated to follow proper legal procedures to evict her in the case that she fails to pay. There's no way that the landlord-tenant law in Sufi's municipality allows for a lockout without following some prescribed process.

In light of this, would it not be quickest, cheapest and easiest for the OP to lock this woman out and if the issue was ever raised, claim there was no such agreement, the woman was just a guest for a month and now that month has expired?
posted by ed\26h at 5:02 AM on August 15, 2006

In light of this, would it not be quickest, cheapest and easiest for the OP to lock this woman out and if the issue was ever raised, claim there was no such agreement, the woman was just a guest for a month and now that month has expired?

That claim would be easily proven false. Locking out someone from their residence is a really big deal where I live - I should know, I'm a resident manager. Simply put, you do NOT do it before going through the proper legal channels.

I would strongly recommend that you consult a lawyer, and understand that since there's no written agreement, you are likely to lose money on this deal. Sorry. But the lawyer can help you get this woman out of your home so that she can't take any more from you than she already has.
posted by rocketman at 5:26 AM on August 15, 2006

In some states you might have to pay to pay triple compensatory damages, punitive damages and the tenant's attorneys fees for locking a tenant out. Known as a "self-help eviction," it's illegal in most places.

Here's a resource on state landlord-tenant law.
posted by footnote at 5:42 AM on August 15, 2006

That claim would be easily proven false.

I see, how so though?
posted by ed\26h at 5:53 AM on August 15, 2006

I should have mentioned that we are living in an apartment. My husband and I are on the lease. Our landlord was not informed of the roommate moving in.
posted by Sufi at 5:56 AM on August 15, 2006

I just want to reiterate this, because so many people who don't know what the hell they are talking about keep chiming in.

This person is a TENANT. You are their LANDLORD. (Technically, you are a sub-landlord and they are a sub-tenant, and your landlord is also their landlord).

There is no requirement that a lease agreement be in writing. There is no requirement that money change hands, either.

Just as the law would not let your landlord lock you out of the apartment, the law will not let you lock your tenant out of the apartment.

If you want her out, you need to nicely tell her a deadline to get out or pay up. I would not mention eviction to her. This woman may be one of those scammers who does this over and over again, finding suckers to take her in, then stringing them along for free housing for a while. If I was you, I'd put a lock on my bedroom door, and keep all valuables in there.

I hate to rant here, but if you aren't a lawyer, a landlord, or someone who actually works in the business of renting homes, why are you trying to answer the question? I don't jump into the threads on math problems just to shoot my mouth off.
posted by MrZero at 6:18 AM on August 15, 2006

Do NOT lock her out.

You need to research the rights of the tenants in your municipality and your state.

Lectlaw.com is a start, but a lawyer is probably worthwhile.

posted by gte910h at 7:33 AM on August 15, 2006

ed\26h writes "I see, how so though?"

All her shit is in their apartment?
posted by mr_roboto at 8:07 AM on August 15, 2006

i had a friend go through a very similiar situation IN texas. there is nothing you can do, a lawyer is pointless unless it becomes an issue of this woman not leaving upon being told to do so. she IS NOT a legal resident. just because she has been living there and has her stuff there DOES NOT make her a legal resident. you could put her stuff outside and lock her out, but she could claim that you invited her as a guest and stole her stuff. its not worth it.. give her a week to get out, and cut your losses.

in the future NEVER invite anyone to move in without a legal contract, even if its your best friend.
posted by trishthedish at 9:08 AM on August 15, 2006

Ancillary/Tangential Advice:

Make sure she hasn't taken advantage of your hospitality in other ways, too. Check your up-to-the-minute cable and phone statements to make sure she hasn't left you with her long distance bill or pay-per-view charges. Also, get a free credit report to be sure she hasn't appied for any credit cards in your name using those pre-approved offers you get in the mail.
posted by mds35 at 9:20 AM on August 15, 2006

All her shit is in their apartment?

Would this not be compatible with the claim that this person had been a guest for a month rather than a tenant?
posted by ed\26h at 10:03 AM on August 15, 2006

All the advice about not locking a tenant out is spot-on but I agree with the posters that she's not a tenant. She has no lease or other written documentation authorizing her to stay there. She can provide no receipt or canceled check showing she is a tenant. She's a guest, and one who has overstayed her welcome.

The Texas code defines a tenant in residential matters as "a person who is authorized by a lease to occupy a dwelling to the exclusion of others and, for the purposes of Subchapters D, E, and F, who is obligated under the lease to pay rent." Sec.A92.001.(1)

Personally I'd just lock the deadbeat out. Even if this slack-ass decides to pursue legal remedies the code allows her a penalty no higher than $500. It's a small price to pay to be done with this mistake. In the future you should consider that people value things at the price they pay for them.
posted by phearlez at 10:24 AM on August 15, 2006

Gah! Lawyers! Ugh!
Sure, you can lawyer up, but first..why don't you talk to her about the situation? See if you all can come to a reasonable solution that doesn't involve running down to the first lawyer in the phone book.

Is it possible that this is all a big misunderstanding? From what you said, it kind of sounds like there's a miscommunication here.

Be adults. Talk about it. See if you can come to an acceptable solution.

Then you can sue her ass.
posted by drstein at 11:17 AM on August 15, 2006

Phearlez for leases of less than a year an oral agreement is valid under Texas law. It also allows you to lock out tenants if you follow a strict set of procedures. I would think, given that they did not know the person and there is no relation, that the courts would assume that she is a leasee and is protected under Texas law. Plus if this person is this big of a deadbeat, who is to say they won't retain a lawyer and sue for intentional emotional damages? I would just give the said person a 3-day notice to vacate using the correct procedures and see if she goes. A letterhead from a law office goes a long way.
posted by geoff. at 11:26 AM on August 15, 2006

Geoff, you are picking and choosing which parts of the law you like. If you're going to do the notification route and treat this person as a tenant then the Texas law states it's -5- days notification. You knew this, of course, since you no doubt did not decide to disagree with me over this without a personal knowledge of the law or reading the passages I linked above. Providing 3 days notice is a violation of law and the penalties for doing so are identical to providing 4, 2, 1 or 0 days notice. So if you're gonna risk the penalty then why fuck around? Just lock her out now.

I presume you have other knowledge of Texas law supporting your claim that she could sue for 'intentional emotional damages' since the linked Texas legal code explicitly spells out - as I said - the available financial penalties for an illegal lockout, which is $500 plus whatever rent. Since no rent has ever been paid I seriously doubt she would be able to collect an amount in excess of $500.

Which, again, as I said, I think would be well worth it to be quit of the situation. From a purely economic view it may be worth it as well depending on the lost opportunity cost of that room that you could rent to someone else.
posted by phearlez at 1:11 PM on August 15, 2006

Phearlez my intention was not to bait you. This page indicates:

"Texas law requires a three day notice for eviction for breach of the lease unless the notice provides for a different notice period."

But I will concede that a FAQ is no substitute for the actual law and I could not find it in the linked PDF. I do however question whether her being a tenant is so cut-and-dry. Again, I'm not challenging you but I do not see anything indicating that money even needs to change hands for it to be a valid lease:

(3) AA"Lease" means any written or oral agreement
between a landlord and tenant that establishes or modifies the terms, conditions, rules, or other provisions regarding the use and occupancy of a dwelling.

They did, indeed, make an oral agreement. Are you saying that a paper trail must exist to establish that the lease took place? Not trying to be combative ... simply questioning. What if she were to pay in cash and they took the cash right to the liquor store every month. There would be no paper trail.

Furthermore I will again disagree with you that they will only be charged $500:

(2)AArecover from the landlord a civil penalty of one
month’s rent plus $500, actual damages, court costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees in an action to recover property damages, actual expenses, or civil penalties , less any delinquent rent or other sums for which the tenant is liable to the landlord.

Actual damages include anything that makes one back to where they were. That is if she does not go to her job because they kicked her out and then caused her humiliation she could, conceivably sue for much more than the $500.

In any case, she needs to retain a lawyer. You and I are not her lawyers. The fact she has shown a lack of understanding on how to go about in a tenant-landlord situation would lead me to believe that there may be pertinent information she is not telling us because she does not realize it is pertinent information. A lawyer would be able to find out if there is anything specific to her municipality.
posted by geoff. at 5:23 PM on August 15, 2006

If You cannot prove in writing that she is a tenant, then neither can she. She is just a houseguest who has overstayed her welcome.

can she prove otherwise?
posted by Megafly at 3:10 PM on August 16, 2006

Update us on what happened.
posted by geoff. at 5:37 PM on August 16, 2006

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