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What Can I Do If My Roommate Won’t Pay Rent?

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So your roommate did the unthinkable and stopped paying rent. You like the person, really, but just thinking about it turns your stomach, and you’re deeply concerned about what this could do to your finances.

For starters, your landlord could notify a consumer reporting company such as RentBureau, which is owned by the credit bureau Experian, about the missed payments. And if your landlord is really upset, they could skip that step altogether and contact the credit bureaus directly. Either way, this could appear as a negative mark on your credit report. Beyond that, there’s always the chance you’ll need to rent an apartment in the future, and you never know if the landlord there will want to check a version of your credit report before you apply. (You can request your free annual credit report when you visit AnnualCreditReport.com.)

The last thing you want is for your credit to suffer, especially because of someone else’s poor decisions. So what’s a dutiful tenant to do?

When Only Your Name Is on the Lease

How you handle this situation largely depends on the lease and who’s on it, Eric Kahan, an attorney with Sperber, Denenberg, & Kahan in New York, said. If you’re the only one on the lease, “you are sort of that roommate’s landlord,” he said, “[and] you could bring an eviction proceeding against that person to have them removed from the apartment if they’re not paying what they’re supposed to pay.”

In terms of the landlord, they “can only collect from the named lessee, unless the landlord’s agreement permits collection from the subtenant or additional occupant, or [if] there is a law that allows this to happen,” Steve Wagner, a real estate attorney with Wagner Berkow in New York, said in an email.

If you don’t currently have a lease (or never had one to begin with), it’s possible to go to small claims court or housing court to “bring a holdover proceeding, which is a process to get possession of the apartment,” Kahan added. You can do it yourself, but you may want to hire an attorney to help with the paperwork.

If You’re Both on the Lease 

If both parties are on the lease, you’re both liable to the landlord for the lease and the payments, Kahan said. “A lease would typically say that you’re jointly and severally liable,” which means the landlord can collect from either of you and/or keep your security deposits.

You and your roommate may have verbally agreed to split the monthly rent, but that is not binding, so you can’t really bring an eviction proceeding. What you can do, however, is bring a civil procedure to sue for your share of the money. That won’t get the roommate out of the apartment, Kahan said, but it’s a start.

Avoiding Rental Headaches

“Just as good fences make good neighbors, a good roommate agreement makes good roommates and can save friendships,” Wagner said.

To that end, all roommate agreements should address the essentials. This means explaining who has exclusive use of which areas and/or rooms; when rent is due and how much it costs; how utilities like cable and electricity are handled; how issues like guests, drugs, parties, pets and smoking will breach the contract and prompt termination; and who’s responsible for paying the landlord.

Other things to consider, Wagner added, are what happens if one person wants to leave before the lease expires, how the security deposit will be returned and how the apartment should be left upon leaving.

If you’re ready to move, or just fantasizing about your own place, it’s important to know about your credit, and how it can affect your daily life, including your ability to secure an apartment. (You can view two of your credit scores for free, updated each month on Credit.com.)

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