Help me collect rent!
March 12, 2008 7:43 AM   Subscribe

So it's the 12th. One of my roommates still hasn't paid rent and is avoiding all contact with us. What's the best way to handle this? (more inside)

Backstory: My roommate of 2.5 years and I moved into a new house with 2 other guys in December. The new roommates have been great. However, for some reason, my once-steady roommate has become unreliable. He bounced his January rent check, then paid me in cash a week later and paid his Feb rent on time. Didn't pay March rent and said he didn't have the money when I asked him. Asked him for it again on Sunday and he said he still didn't have it and would have to work something out. He's ignored all other attempts to contact him since then and I haven't seen him (I usually try to contact him once per day).

I covered his March rent; I write a check to the PM and the roommates give me their share. We are concerned that I'm not going to get my money back and he won't pay future rent. Ideally we'd like to keep him as a (paying) roommate, especially since we have no prospects that we could potentially replace him with anyway. I don't think he'd mind leaving though.

Additional info: He is kind of a baby, we need to coddle him a little bit so any kind of harsh contact with him would probably shut him down. He is also going away on a trip in 10 days, so are we out of line asking for next month's rent before he goes (assuming he pays us for march)?

Also: I understand that he's only 12 days late and has been, overall, reliable over the last couple years, but stuff with this kid seems to spiral out of his control pretty quickly (schooling, personal life, etc). We are worried for him but we also want his money.

We are in TN and everybody is on the lease.

How would you deal with this?
posted by PFL to Human Relations (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Give him X days to pay you back and have the check clear. Otherwise, move his stuff outside the apartment and change the locks (or ask for the key back).

He has enough money to go on a trip, but not pay for his basic room and board? No, you're not out of line asking for the next month's rent especially if he's recently become unreliable.

Don't let yourself get screwed over because of a roommate's inability to be an adult (or sudden inability, for that matter).
posted by spec80 at 7:52 AM on March 12, 2008

Are all 4 of your names on the lease ?

If it was me.... I would first make it clear to him that him that his March rent must be deposited no later than March 15. If its later than that, you're going to move his stuff out, and take him off the lease.

If it was me... I'd ask the other 2 roommates if they wanted to split the 4th portion of rent between the 3 of you, and use the 4th room for something fun (game room,etc) Of course assuming you have the money each month to afford that.

If you cant do that, start looking for a new 4th roommate.
posted by jmnugent at 8:05 AM on March 12, 2008

However, for some reason, my once-steady roommate has become unreliable.

He's suddenly unreliable, bouncing checks, avoiding you? Well, something's up. Put aside the money issue for the moment* and find out what's wrong.

* Letting you cover his share of the rent is NOT COOL. You have every right to tell him that you're pissed about it.
posted by desuetude at 8:05 AM on March 12, 2008

Otherwise, move his stuff outside the apartment and change the locks (or ask for the key back).

This is really bad advice, and is probably illegal to do without going through the eviction process in court.
posted by grouse at 8:11 AM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

You also need to get together with your other roommates and decide on the game plan for April ahead of time. You've already covered March, and getting the money back from your friend is your own issue. Assuming he eventually pays, what happens if he is as late or later with April rent? Your landlord won't care about anything except getting paid on time. You might want to have a plan in place stating that you divide up his share and pay it, then spend April finding a new roommate.

Unless of course your lease is set up such that each person is responsible for paying his or her share individually. Then, it might be the landlord's problem, in that he has to go after your friend for his portion of the rent. Go over your lease to figure out your options, and check into your local laws as well so you are ready for next month.
posted by mikepop at 8:12 AM on March 12, 2008

Response by poster: To elaborate, this dude is always having one sort of mini-crisis or another. He doesn't open up to me (or any of us) even when things are obviously not going well for him.

It just never usually affects his rent payment.
posted by PFL at 8:16 AM on March 12, 2008

Response by poster: The lease is set up so that the group owes the rent every month, so it basically all has to get paid whether he contributes anything or not.

And I should state that moving his stuff out without his permission isn't an option. He is on the lease and has the right to keep his stuff there until he is off the lease.
posted by PFL at 8:18 AM on March 12, 2008

Whoa, whoa. Be careful of the advice to just kick his stuff out and change the locks. I don't know about TN but in some states you can't just throw someone's belongings out on the street just because they didn't pay the rent. You are not his landlord and you may not have much legal recourse.

I found a link that has more resources for Tennessee tenants and landlords. You may also want to contact a lawyer who specializes in housing law to find out what your rights and responsibilities are. If you go to school, your school may offer free or cheap legal aid, especially for housing disagreements.

You definitely need to talk to your friend and find out what's up. You may have to eat the month's rent that you covered for him. But maybe you can work something out - maybe a payment plan, or maybe he'll agree to move out so you guys can find a roommate who can pay. Just be careful about how you proceed, because there are generally laws that deal with this kind of thing, and if you anger the guy he could sue you for kicking him out of his home.
posted by sutel at 8:24 AM on March 12, 2008

To elaborate, this dude is always having one sort of mini-crisis or another. He doesn't open up to me (or any of us) even when things are obviously not going well for him.

Confront him. Tell him you don't need to know what's going on, but he needs to pay up. Now. As in, let's take walk to the bank. Guilt the heck out of him for making you cover his rent.
posted by desuetude at 8:34 AM on March 12, 2008

I apologize that my advice to throw his stuff out and change the locks is bad, but, honestly, that is what I would do in this situation which is what his final sentence asked. He's already tried the nice route, don't do what I said I would, but you have to shock it to his system that he can't ignore his responsibilities to the rest of your household.
posted by spec80 at 9:16 AM on March 12, 2008

Don't take personal checks from him; insist on cash or a bank money order.
posted by Carol Anne at 9:27 AM on March 12, 2008

Spec's suggestion is illegal in just about every state. I haven't looked up TN laws, but generally speaking, states outlawed forcible eviction by landlords/co-leasors when they enacted relatively efficient court-mandated evictions. If you can't get the money out of him, you should be able to file a fairly quick and easy court action and get an enforcible order forcing him to leave.

I wouldn't cover his rent once, and especially not twice. FWIW, it seems like, generally speaking, rent stands as a significant portion of the monthly income of those who live with unrelated/romantic roommates, and that sort of money tends to cause friction between even the best of friends when it's not there, much less roommates.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:28 AM on March 12, 2008

Don't take personal checks from him; insist on cash or a bank money order.

Definitely. Also:

He is kind of a baby, we need to coddle him a little bit so any kind of harsh contact with him would probably shut him down.

He is not a baby, he's an adult who needs to get his act together, and you need to stop enabling him. You don't "need to coddle him a little bit," you need to get the rent money from him, and if he can't or won't reliably provide it, you need to find a new roommate (aka DTMFA).
posted by languagehat at 9:34 AM on March 12, 2008

He is also going away on a trip in 10 days

Unless this trip is going to make him some money, he should reconsider. Seeing as the Bank of PFL won't be extending him further credit, and expects to be paid back. Right? I know you've got a history with the guy, but avoiding you while stiffing you for rent shouldn't be rewarded. I mean, honestly, I wouldn't fault you for cutting a longtime roomie some slack if you can afford it, for old-times sake, but not if the guy refuses to even talk to you about it.
posted by mumkin at 10:09 AM on March 12, 2008

You may not have an alternative to him, but if he's not going to pay then you may as well get him the hell out. His presence consumes utilities so a non-payer is worse - even if slightly so - than nobody. Plus the sooner he's out the sooner you can find a replacement.

You've got two problems, and you should confront them both.

a) Where's this month's rent?
b) Will he have April's rent?

If he doesn't deal well with conflict you can be as calm as you can manage, but don't let his drama keep you from doing what's right for you. If he's avoiding you, is he coming home at night? If so, and it comes to that, sleep in his bed. When you have him face to face just calmly state that you can tell he's embarrassed or worried, but you had to take the money out of your own pocket and need to know when he'll have what he owes.

After and/or depending on that I'd ask him when he expects to have the money for April's rent. Don't ask him if he will, because of course he'll say yes. Ask him what date he'll be able to pay that rent. If he claims he'll be able to pay on the first I'd personally then say something like this.

"If you're not going to have a problem with the money for April then I'd appreciate if it you could pay me a week before the first. I had to not pay some of my other obligations in order to cover this time so that would really help me get my finances back on track."

It's a good way to feel out how full of shit he is and I think it's reasonable for you to ask him to pay early the next time or two since he's left you hanging prior to this. Trust is earned and he needs to start earning. If the conversation is going well you can be point-blank with him that you need him to do this so you know if you need to arrange a new roommate for the following month.

You may be wise about the fact that he's on the lease and has certain rights, and it's good of you to respect those rights. But that doesn't mean you have to be his advocate - unless he states something to the contrary you're probably best off acting as if he DOES have to simply leave the first time he can't make rent. If you can get him to walk away without forcing you to get the landlord involved in an eviction, all the better for you.
posted by phearlez at 10:16 AM on March 12, 2008

I apologize that my advice to throw his stuff out and change the locks is bad, but, honestly, that is what I would do in this situation which is what his final sentence asked.

Which is why we're all pointing out that this is horrendous advice. OP: don't do this.

Give him a pay-or-quit notice and photograph him holding it. That way if he continues to flake out you can kick him out legally. If he pays up and solves his problems no harm done but at least you're covered.

This is the mistake I made with a flake roommate; I kept trying to be nice and understanding and so, when it finally came down to brass tax, I couldn't do shit about forcing them to leave because I had never given a "pay or quit" notice. Goodbye deposit.

Note: formerly responsible roommate suddenly a total flake who is having big money troubles? Sounds like drugs. Cover your ass with the pay or quit pronto.
posted by Justinian at 10:19 AM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ah, friends and money. A touchy, tough situation sometimes.

Sounds like an intervention is necessary. I'm not talking the sort of rent-a-hotel-room-and-cry-A&E-nausea-circus sort of intervention, but the three of you must come together as a unit to confront him in a calm, unemotional way. Arrange to all meet at an appointed time. First, you need to lay out your very reasonable expectations - rent in the amount of X is due on this specific day. Failure to pay X by this date is unacceptable, full stop. Then, lay out the consequences that the three of you agree upon and will, as a unit, reinforce. If he does not shape up and re-pay all the money he owes you AND pay this month's rent by this date - say, in a week or 10 days - you will have no other choice but to find another roommate and ask him to leave.

At that point, he may begin making alot of excuses and bring up that he is on the lease. I would remind him that a lease is a legally binding agreement both parties enter into. Effectively, he is not complying with the terms of the lease agreement because he's not paying his portion of the rent. Beyond that, he's putting all three of you in a real bind - if you three don't pay the full rent, the management company can come after all of you, screw with your credit, and eventually put you out of the apartment, and you all forfeit your deposit. If you do pay the rent - as you must so you can each have a roof over your head - you're that much poorer and he's leeching off of you and sullying your established relationship. Impress upon him that this is really no choice at all.

I would also have options ready that have nothing to do with his emotional state - that is not the point. He's an adult and this is a financial arrangement; people have problems all the time and still manage not to put others in a financial bind. You might suggest that he contact his parents. You might suggest that he sell off some of his belongings. You might suggest that he take on an extra part-time job. Again, it's really not your problem to sort out his life, but reasonable, caring suggestions would indicate to me, if I were on the receiving end of all of this, that my roommates cared about me enough to try and help me work all of this out. You might also remind him that it sends a pretty strong "screw you guys" message that he's going on a trip rather than paying his rent. That's taking you for granted and you're not going to put up with it. Be clear, be consistent and brief, and hold him to whatever agreement comes of the discussion. If he doesn't uphold his end of the bargain, well, start looking for another roommate and tell him he has by X date to move out. If he refuses, the three of you might start looking for another place to live and tell your management company you can't afford the rent and ask them to break the lease. If that's not possible, then I'm afraid your stuck and you need to start figuring out how to live with a real flake.

On preview: What Justinian said, too, particularly about drugs/alcohol and the pay or quit agreement.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 10:28 AM on March 12, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great help everyone! And no worries, there are no plans to move his stuff out but we are prepared to give the "pay or quit" notice and begin the search for another roommate.

Some new developments this morning: One of my roommates saw him this morning and asked about the rent, and that we completely understand if he is having financial problems but he needs to be open and up front with us about it. He said he has the money but resisted attempts to go to the bank to get it. Also said "I don't plan when I'm going to pay rent. I'll get to it when I get to it." A real winner here folks!

I talked to his GF, a long-time friend of ours, today. She said his mom usually pays his rent and she forgot to do it this month and then had some health issues. According to her, she put money in his account today so hopefully it gets taken care of.

I don't want to sound naive, and I understand where the drug theories are coming from, but I really don't think that's the case. The only differing behavior from the norm here is that he hasn't paid rent, and if the mom situation is true then that would explain it. He generally avoids uncomfortable or difficult discussions so the fact that he's avoiding us now is par for the course.
posted by PFL at 10:56 AM on March 12, 2008

PFL: I don't think "just" being a flakey momma's boy changes all that much. The important thing is that he needs to either stop flaking on the rent and own up to the problem or move outta there, as you surmise.
posted by Justinian at 2:14 PM on March 12, 2008

"I don't plan when I'm going to pay rent. I'll get to it when I get to it."? Dang. I think a quick lesson in the realities of life is due here; pay your bills on time, or get your arse severely kicked.
posted by baggers at 3:11 PM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

"I don't plan when I'm going to pay rent. I'll get to it when I get to it."

Holy fucking shit. How old is this guy -- twelve?

"OK, if you don't want to plan this, let us plan it for you. Give us your share of the rent every month on the first of the month. That's the plan."
posted by jason's_planet at 4:13 PM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: He left the cash for this month's rent in my room today. I'll talk to him about next month's rent but it looks like his girlfriend was fully informed.
posted by PFL at 4:51 PM on March 13, 2008

PFL - I suspect your friend has zero clue that he put you out a lot by not paying the rent on time. It sounds like he just expected that to be taken care of, and he was right because you did take care of it. The thing that you have most control of is how you will respond the next time this happens. Are you going to pay
a. pay the rent for him so that all is well with the lease and then internally seethe like you did this time?
b. not pay the rent for him and then internally seethe all the same?
c. not pay the rent for him and not give a hoot about it and if the landlord comes calling introduce him to your roommate
There are other options, but it might be good to lay out what your next actions will be.
posted by fantasticninety at 2:50 PM on March 15, 2008

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