How to Deal With a Roommate Who Lives at Your Place Rent-Free?

If you live with a roommate, you can run into many different problems. While some of these issues can be resolved by communicating better, not all are as simple. You may find yourself on the hook for more than you signed up for-and, potentially, more than you can afford-if your roommate cannot pay rent.

Living with a roommate is a great way to save money. However, the situation can get tricky. As such, if your roommate cannot pay rent, you are put in a tough spot and will need to act quickly. If you have to pay the full rent after living together for a couple of months, it is obviously a stressful situation and can strain your finances.

So, what are you going to do? Here are some steps you can take if your roommate fails to pay rent.

1. Talk to them about it

When a roommate fails to pay rent, the first step is to understand the situation better. It is better if you start by speaking to them politely about it. Investigate if this is a one-time slip or will it be a recurring problem. One unpaid rent payment can be forgiven; maybe your roommate has large bills, or perhaps they are between jobs. Talking to them will help you discover if they’re doing it on purpose, having budget problems, or in a financial fix. In that case, you can refer them to sites that offer financial assistance if they cannot afford rent – blog content can be a big help here. You can also ask them if they can make a partial rental payment, which will go a long way to appeasing your landlord.

2. Check for available rental assistance

Rent affordability was a concern for half of the renters in 2019, and that number may have grown since then. Now there are several rental assistance programs available to meet the needs of this growing concern. These programs offer full or partial rent subventions, along with additional resources.

People who can’t pay their rent can receive assistance from different types of programs, such as those offered by the government, non-profits, and faith-based organizations. Ensure your roommate seeks help as soon as possible, especially since it can take some time to understand these options and get them the help they need. They may also qualify for a personal loan.

3. Get in touch with your landlord

You may be able to arrange a payment plan with your roommate or extend the deadline for your total rent payment with some flexibility from your landlord.

When you learn that your roommate will not be able to pay rent, tell your landlord in writing as soon as possible, ideally before the tenant actually owes rent. The agreement needs to be in writing since you want a record of whatever solution your landlord offers. Describe the situation and offer suggestions for how to resolve the issue. Even if your landlord cannot accommodate your request, it’s never a bad idea to ask and try your luck.

4. Note the behavior of your roommate

If you think the situation with your roommate will recur, it’s better to be prepared in case you need to take legal action. 

Compile documents detailing each roommate’s responsibility for rent. You may want to know how far behind your roommate is on payments–if they’ve made partial rent payments or past-due rent payments. Document any communication you have with your roommate as well. As a result, you can show that you advised your roommate of their late rent and took steps to resolve the situation. 

If you did not archive emails, text messages, or voice memos regarding the scenario, consider doing so right away. All the data will come in handy and support your argument if you have to sue your roommate for covering their rent or getting evicted.

5. Have a look at your lease

You agree to pay your rent in full or by a set date every month in a lease. It is a legally binding contract that can land you in serious trouble if broken. However, when your roommate cannot pay rent, things may get complicated, and you might have to decide what to do based on the specifics of the contract.

Here’s what you can do:

  • As long as only your name is on the lease, you are legally responsible for making sure your rent is paid in full regardless of what you and your roommate agree upon. In this situation, you are essentially your roommate’s landlord, collecting their rent and sending it to your landlord every month. It gives you the option of evicting your roommate or replacing them with someone who can pay. It also gives you the option of filing a small claims lawsuit.
  • If both of your names are on the lease, you’re responsible for paying the rent. However, your landlord controls what happens next if you don’t pay in full. The landlord may even decide to evict you and your roommate or take you both to court for not making the payment.
  • If your name is not on the lease, the rent payment is legally your roommate’s responsibility. Therefore, whether or not you pay your roommate’s rent, it is your roommate who faces legal consequences. Do not take it lightly, though, as it can negatively affect you too if your roommate decides to take legal action.

The other roommate must work out a solution with the roommate who cannot pay rent to avoid legal complications. You both face losing your rental if neither of you takes action.

Putting legalities aside, you should always attempt to find a way to cover your roommate’s share of the rent. Your approach will depend on how you relate to your roommate and what resources are available to you. 

6. Negotiate a deal you’re comfortable with

Consider paying the rent in full yourself and putting together a payment plan so that you can get reimbursed if your roommate is unable to pay. You should write a contract identifying what you owe, how the loan will be repaid, and when it must be paid back by, and make sure they sign it.

Once you both sign this agreement, it will be legally binding. However, you’ll still be taking a risk since legal action can be quite expensive if your roommate doesn’t follow the terms. You must have faith that your roommate will pay you back and accept that it is not a guarantee.

Final Words

Being roommates with someone who refuses to take responsibility is never a pleasant experience. Often it becomes a nuisance to avoid this situation. There will always be changing finances, changing jobs, and costly life situations, but the important thing is to recognize your responsibility and act. Although you might be tempted to blame your roommate if trouble arises, the truth is, you can both get in trouble or lose the place. Since you are the one without the full payment in hand, it is better to plan a carefully planned strategy. It is a problem that requires a cool-headed solution and one that you have to resolve together.