Roommate owes me money. What do I do?
April 17, 2008 2:04 PM   Subscribe

My roommate owes me $500 in bills and will likely owe twice as much until our lease is up. I need the money. What do I do?

My roommate has paid his half of the rent every month but has not paid any bills since we moved in last year, because he was unemployed and strapped for cash. I stupidly said he could pay me when he had the money.

About two months after he got a job, I mentioned the money he owes me and how it'd be nice if he paid his half of our bills. He moaned something about student loans and said he would pay me back when he could. Fair enough. I mentioned it again weeks later -- same answer.

It's been a while and I'm looking to make a large investment. He now owes me about $500 in bills and this sum will grow (unrelated, but noteworthy -- I don't watch TV and he does constantly. I am currently funding his videogame and digital cable addiction).

I never got it in writing that he would pay his half of the bills. I had assumed stupidly that it was a given. The only proof I have is....the bills.

What do I do? And -- this is a big if but I am covering all my options -- if he never pays me, can legal action be taken?

For the record, we are cordial but we are not friends. I would not accept giving up $500-$1,000 just to have him like me.
posted by bondgirl53001 to Work & Money (24 answers total)
I am currently funding his videogame and digital cable addiction

Stop now. Today. For real. Call your cable company today and cancel all the stuff that you're not using and he's not paying for.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:08 PM on April 17, 2008 [17 favorites]

When someone owes a large and growing sum of money, the idea of paying it off can be daunting. Can you set up a payment plan? Put it in writing, definitely. Just say to him "Look dude, it's time to talk about you paying me back. Why don't we set out a schedule so you don't have to pay it all at once?"

I had a situation like this, and I wrote out a contract for how much she would pay me on each date. I got the money on time and there were no problems after that.

Since you are going to be continuing to live with him, I'd write out a separate contract (or include in that one) that he is responsible for half of the bills from now on.
posted by radioamy at 2:10 PM on April 17, 2008

Get the documentation for every bill that you paid that he did not. Come up with very real numbers, basically, lay out a bill for him. Explain to him that he needs to be paying you something from every paycheck he gets.

Student loans suck but they are not an excuse. Both my lenders have allowed me to lower the amount I am supposed to pay each month because I do not earn very much.

seconding PinkSuperhero in that whatever you don't want to pay for in regards to bills that you aren't using you need to cancel. if he wants them, he can pay for them... after he pays you for the utilities.

In the meantime, get him started on paying his half of the current bills now.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 2:17 PM on April 17, 2008

I don't understand why you even agreed to pay for half of the cable if you never watch TV, but that's another story.

Tell him that it's time to pay up, because it's starting to affect your finances. Make that clear. Ask him whether he can pay you, how much he can pay you, and get him to agree on a timetable. If he says he can pay half now, half after he gets his next paycheque, then that's probably okay. But if he seems to be giving you the runaround, cut off the cable so you don't keep accumulating those bills. Tell him that if he wants it back, he's going to have to pay for it, and that that will only happen once he's cleared his debt with you. From now on, sit down every month when you've got the bills and collect a cheque from him. Make it clear that while you were willing to help him out when he didn't have a job, now that he does, it's time to pay. If he's living beyond his means, that's his problem, not yours.

Even without a written contract, he's responsible for half the bills, but I would get it in writing from now on.

Deadbeat rommates suck, but you don't have to let it get any further.
posted by Dasein at 2:27 PM on April 17, 2008

Third cancel the cable. If he's the only one using it, then he can pay for it.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:29 PM on April 17, 2008

He's used to the status quo. Tell him you need the money to pay off credit cards. If he doesn't start paying, tell him you need to put the utilities in his name until things are evened out. He's likely to resist; stop allowing new debt to accrue, and be firm. Be all likeable about it, but keep telling him you need the money. Hey, Bob, it's so great you're working and you've had a chance to get back on your feet, but I really need to get my own debt under control. We'll need to move the cable, and electric bills to your name to get things evened out.
posted by theora55 at 2:30 PM on April 17, 2008

if he never pays me, can legal action be taken?

I will take this as proof that you never watch TV, particularly in the daytime. Yes, you can take him to small claims court. You might want to start getting something in writing.
posted by sageleaf at 2:48 PM on April 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Worst case scenario, this is precisely what small claims court is for.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:54 PM on April 17, 2008

If he really has no money, though, you will have difficulty collecting even if you win in small claims court. You might be able to garnish his wages though. Depends on what state you're in.
posted by grouse at 3:09 PM on April 17, 2008

Cancel the cable immediately.

Do you have a lease with your roommate? If not, give him a 30 days notice to vacate. It is probably cheaper for him to pay you some of what he owes than to find a new place on short notice.

If you're not willing to cancel cable or play hardball with him you don't need the money that bad.
posted by Justinian at 3:10 PM on April 17, 2008

If not, give him a 30 days notice to vacate.

I'm not sure that would be legal. It definitely wouldn't if he's not renting from you.
posted by grouse at 3:19 PM on April 17, 2008

I agree with cancelling the cable right now. I hope you are on the phone. I also hope the cable was in your name since you should be getting the credit for paying bills on time.
posted by spec80 at 3:19 PM on April 17, 2008

You could sit down and ask him what items of his his is going to sell to come up with the money. You'll be happy to put up the ad in Craig's list, etc. Tell him it is understandable to not have enough to pay loans and his back bills, and as a result he'll need to dig himself out through liquidating his assets. I'm sure he at least has a couple hundred dollars worth of stuff as a start. Tell him that the ad goes up tomorrow.
posted by qwip at 3:27 PM on April 17, 2008

Cancel the cable and sell the TV (assuming it's yours). When he makes his shocked face, explain that you needed the money.
posted by adamrice at 3:39 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bah. Ask him if he wants to move the cable to his name. If not, cancel it. Just doing it without telling him, while your right, is just going to introduce unnecessary aggravation. You could do it, but he'd see it as a dick move and be less receptive, I think, to what comes next. Figure out how much he owes in back bills, along with how much he should owe every month, and work out a payment plan with him.

It sounds like you guys don't talk much... this one can't just be a "dude... bills?" type conversation. You need to sit down and look at the numbers with him, showing him an itemized list of what he owes you. Then show him what he's going to owe every month until the lease is up. Ideally you work it so that you're paid-up fair and square when the lease expires, but if that's not the case, I'd at least try to get him to sign some kind of contract with you, acknowledging his debt to you and his intent to pay it off. Otherwise, when he moves out, there goes your money.
posted by mumkin at 4:19 PM on April 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure that would be legal. It definitely wouldn't if he's not renting from you.

You're correct; I mistakenly assumed that the roommate in question was subletting from her. But I don't see that anywhere in the question.

That complicates thing tremendously.
posted by Justinian at 5:06 PM on April 17, 2008

I also hope the cable was in your name since you should be getting the credit for paying bills on time.

Uh, well if the cable's not in your name, then the situation is even easier. Stop paying it. Eventually it will be a collection agent's job to get the money from your roommate, not yours. Of course, you'll have no TV in the mean time.

In fact, if any bills are in his name those should be paid last.
posted by meta_eli at 5:42 PM on April 17, 2008

it's easy: "you owe me $500. start paying me, or start paying a lawyer."
posted by swbarrett at 5:43 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

mouseing around like "oh it would be nice if you helped out" is not going to get you anywhere with a deadbeat. trust me. i've been through this before. oh he has student loans? does that make him special? no. it does not.
posted by swbarrett at 5:44 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't cancel the cable just because you set it up under your name though you're not using it. Do ask him to pay the complete cost of it if you really never use it, though, or else cancel it. See about getting the account transferred to his name so he's legally responsible.

Keep it cordial-like. Insist that he at least start paying his share of the current utilities now that he has a job, and something - even ten bucks a week, to pay back the past ones.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:17 PM on April 17, 2008

Argh. I feel for you - I've been in this situation before, and I hate - hate!! - having to confront people on stuff like this, especially when the stuff is specifically money they owe me. It's something I'm trying to work on in myself, though, and that being said....

You should definitely talk to your roommate about it. The sooner the better. Don't be a jerk about it and don't be a pushover either. I really like the idea of coming up with an installment plan that radioamy suggested above. Making a contract and making him sign it as well will be helpful for the future too.

Good luck!
posted by jacquilinala at 7:39 PM on April 17, 2008

Your roommate is treating the money owed to you as a lesser debt than his other ones.

You'll need to prove to them that you're willing to make it just as accountable. Ask them politely again, mentioning that it's not your responsibility to be their financial backer and that if they don't pay soon, you'll consult a lawyer.

Also, suggest that they move to an apartment they can afford.
posted by scabrous at 7:31 AM on April 18, 2008

because he was unemployed and strapped for cash. I stupidly said he could pay me when he had the money.

You're being overly-noble. The offer you made was to get him through a short-term situation, not a permanent subsidy. He's not unemployed anymore; your commitment has already been honored. It's fine to announce that the loan ends here.

He moaned something about student loans

Terrific! Pin him down on how much his monthly payment on those is. With one phone call he can get a hardship forbearance on a federal student loan. No questions asked. So he can divert the full payment to you until the $500 is repaid in fulll. If he's not willing to take that 5 minute action today, then you can safely assume he has no intention of ever paying you back. Kick his ass out as soon as possible, because he's just going continue to leech.

The only reasonable exception would be if he can show you that the loans aren't eligible (ex. privately funded). In which case, it's still appropriate to expect him to rearrange his budget priorities so that repaying his roommate comes ahead of personal luxuries and repaying the professional creditors who can much better afford the delay. Again, if he refuses to commit today to a written payment plan of any small amount, it's a really clear signal that this is never going to be repaid.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:21 AM on April 19, 2008

Oh, and don't bother making noises about consulting a lawyer. Unless he's an idiot, he has to know that's an empty threat. (a) Lawyers don't handle $500-$1k debts; that's small claims court stuff. (b) You're not going to get anywhere in court anyway without evidence of the agreement. (c) Anyone who can't afford to lose $500 obviously cannot afford to pay a couple hundred an hour for a lawyer to chase after it.

Mentioning courts and lawyers would serve no purpose here except to point out to him how little you can do about getting him to pay if he doesn't feel like it.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:32 AM on April 19, 2008

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