A roommate who doesn’t pay rent on-time is more than annoying.
Getting behind on rental payments because of your roommate can lead to a bad relationship with your landlord, a bad credit report, and problems getting another rental in the future.
If your roommate is late on the rent,
• Understand your lease and who is legally responsible for rent
• Keep paying the full rent, including your roommate’s share to avoid eviction
• Talk to your roommate about solving the problem
• Talk to your landlord about changing the lease
• Evict your roommate or ask your landlord to do so.
Roommates who are late on rent sometimes pay part of their bill, leaving other roommates to cover the balance while promising to pay-up later in the month.
In some cases where each roommate pays the landlord separately, the landlord comes knocking on the door, trying to get others in the house to settle the share for the roommate who isn’t paying.
Whatever your situation, if your roommate is not responsible about paying the rent, start by looking at your lease or rental agreement to see who is legally responsible for the rent unless you are already certain.
1. Understand Your Lease and Who is Responsible for Rent Payments
If your roommate is late on rent, it’s essential to know the exact wording of your lease or rental agreement and who is legally responsible for the rent.
If you are sure about the type of rental agreement or lease you have, and you know you are responsible for your late-paying roommate’s share, skip ahead to list item number 6.
Lease vs. Rental Agreement
A lease and a rental agreement are not the same. Here’s how they differ:
Residential Property Leases
A lease is a written contract binding the renter and landlord to specific terms for the use of a residence.
Typical lease terms include the monthly rental payment amount, the rent due date, the term of the rental (for example, month by month or by the year), who the rent is paid to, who is responsible for utilities, and similar points.
Leases usually bind the tenant to a rental term longer than one month, and getting out of a lease early can be difficult and costly.
Both the landlord and renter or renters sign the lease document at the beginning of the lease period.
If all renters sign an agreement with the landlord, everyone is renting from the landlord. If only one roommate signs the lease, other roommates are effectively sub-leasing from that person.
A rental agreement may or may not be in writing. Rental contracts are often for month by month rental, meaning that either the renter or the landlord can terminate the deal with a month’s notice.
However, verbal rental agreements are still subject to state and local rental laws and regulations.
What Does the Lease Say?
Most of us have signed a legal document without reading all the fine print. If this describes you, now is the time to dig out a copy of your lease and dive into the exact wording.
If a lease exists but you don’t have a copy, ask the landlord or another roommate to give you one.
The possibilities are:
- All roommates are listed jointly.
- Only one roommate is on the lease or rental agreement.
- There is a separate lease agreement for each roommate, even though you are sharing an apartment or house.
- There is no written lease or rental agreement
Depending on your situation, you may not be legally responsible for the full rent or your roommate’s share, and your options on how to proceed are different than if you have this legal obligation.
Local state laws
Each state has its own laws covering leases and tenant laws, and there are several different types of leases and rental agreements commonly used by landlords.
Information given here is general and meant to help you sort out who has legal responsibility for rent payments if you are unsure.
Ian – I put this text in it’s own bit at the end of the section because it was too much unselling the content. Almost like it was saying ‘don’t bother to read it’ because of this issue.
However people of course need to know this and it is useful, so I have put it at the end.
I used your authority link from this this text again, by also putting it in the second paragraph in this list number 1 item so it showed where it all came from.
2. What to do if You and Your Roommate Both Signed the Lease
If you or another roommate signed a lease together or separately, look for the words ‘jointly or severally liable’ or similar wording.
‘Joint and Several Liability’ Wording in Leases
Joint and several liability wording in leases refers to who is legally responsible for rent payments and damage to the property.
Not all states have the same laws regarding joint and several liability, so it’s important to check your states laws and also to look carefully at your lease for these words.
If these laws apply in your state and your lease contains any of these phrases, it’s essential you understand what they mean if a roommate is not paying rent on time.
If your lease states you and your roommate are ‘jointly liable’, you are both equally legally responsible for the full rental payment, even if one person does not come up with his or her share.
The term ‘jointly liable’ in the lease means you are legally responsible for the timely payment of the full rent even if your roommate is late. This is true even if you write separate checks to the landlord each month.
If your lease states you are ‘severally liable,’ that means it is the landlord’s responsibility to go after the roommate who isn’t paying their share of the rent.
In this case, your roommate’s failure to pay is not likely to affect your credit rating or your living situation.
Jointly and Severally Liable
The other standard wording in leases is ‘jointly and severally liable.’ This also means you are responsible for your roommate’s share and vice versa.
But a lease with the wording ‘jointly and severally liable’ makes it easier for you to sue your roommate for back rental payments if he or she fails to pay their share, and you pay the other roommate’s share.
Other Things to Look for in Your Lease
Another sign to look for in your lease to indicate who is responsible for what share of rent is the amount of rent shown in your copy of the contract you signed.
Does your lease show your rent payment as the full rent for the apartment or house or only your share?
If your lease shows the full-payment, all roommates are most likely jointly responsible. If your lease only shows your share of the rent, likely you are not responsible for your roommate’s share of the rent.
3. What to Do if Only You Signed the Lease
If you are the only person on the rental or lease agreement, you are effectively the landlord for other roommates. Being the landlord entitles you to evict a roommate who does not pay rent on-time.
Just reminding your roommate that you have this right may be enough to get them to start making rent payments on-time.
However, you still have the legal obligation to follow tenant laws in your state, which cover the required notice you must give before evicting someone and other responsibilities required of landlords.
Be sure to research state and local tenant laws if you are subletting to a roommate who pays rent late.
4. What to Do if Only One Other Roommate Signed the Lease
If only one roommate is on the lease, and it’s not you, you are sub-letting from that person. He or she is legally responsible for the payment to the landlord. You are unlikely to have a legal obligation to pay the rent for another roommate.
If the person who signed the lease is the roommate who is paying rent late, you are most likely not responsible to the landlord directly because you are subletting. Nonetheless, your roommate’s late payments could still result in an eviction notice for everyone.
However, it’s much less likely to affect your credit rating or ability to rent in the future.
You may want to talk to the landlord directly and see if you can get a separate lease agreement in your name.
5. What to Do When there is No Written Rental Agreement
In some cases, people enter rental situations without any kind of signed document. In this case, state and local tenant/landlord laws apply, and you should research these laws for your location if this is your situation.
If none of your roommates has a written lease or rental agreement with the landlord, but you have a history of paying rent, state tenant/landlord laws also cover your rights as a tenant.
However, if your roommate is not paying rent, and there is no written rental agreement, you may want to talk directly to the landlord. Ask them to create a written rental agreement, preferably one that lists you as ‘severally liable’ for rent payments.
If one or more of your roommates is not paying rent on time, be sure you understand your lease or rental agreement and who is legally liable for the rent.
If you are confused about your legal obligations under your lease or rental agreement, seek legal assistance from a competent legal advisor familiar with tenant laws in your state.
6. Creating a Roommate Agreement with Consequences for Late Rent
As you talk to your roommate about late rent payments, consider asking them to sign a roommate agreement with you. You can easily find templates for these online.
Roommate agreements have legal validity in court, although they cannot have provisions in conflict with the lease or violation of the law.
Some roommate agreements include clauses for penalties for anyone who pays rent late.
A Roommate Agreement won’t change your obligations to pay the rent to the landlord, but it does give you more leverage to recover money from your roommate if he or she owes you for back rent payments.
Signing a roommate agreement may also make your late-paying roommate take their rental payment obligations more seriously.
7. Keep Paying the Full Rent, Even if Your Roommate is Late Paying His or Her Share
Unless your roommate is renting separately and you are not legally responsible for his share, keep paying the full rent on time, even if your roommate is late on rent.
Paying someone else’s share of rent sucks, and it isn’t fair, but it’s often the best course of action if you can’t move out or get your roommate to move.
Paying your rent late can affect your credit rating and can make it harder for you to rent in the future. A landlord can start eviction proceedings if rent is not paid or is consistently late.
Rental laws allow a landlord to deny rental to a person with a history of not paying rent or paying late, and prospective landlords can contact previous landlords to find out about your payment history.
Getting behind on your rent can make it hard or impossible to find a new rental situation. Figure out a way to make the payment on-time and then collect from your roommate later.
If you cannot come up with the full rental payment before the due date, consider contacting the landlord and explaining the problem.
Give them a firm date when you will have the payment, and try to stay on good terms with them while you sort it out with your roommate.
Doing this shows good faith on your part and may help you avoid a late-payment penalty or eviction.
If your roommate is consistently late on rent and you are both on the lease, letting the landlord know about the problem can work to your advantage.
Landlords want tenants who pay rent on-time and who take care of their property. If you are being responsible and paying rent on-time and your roommate is not, the landlord may evict the non-paying person.
Do whatever you can to protect your reputation with the landlord, including continuing to pay the full rent on-time.
8. How to Talk about Late Rental Payments with Your Roommate
It can be hard to talk about money. Many roommates with housemates who are late on the rent report situations where communication between the roommates has not been clear or easy.
For example, one roommate complained about feeling sorry for a financially strapped roommate and getting into a pattern of loaning him money short-term for pay rent and bills.
While the guy paid her back eventually, by continuing with the loans, she was enabling the late-paying roommate in his irresponsible financial habits.
Eventually, she learned to be blunt and direct with the roommate who paid rent late. She created deadlines for repayment of previous loans and declined to loan out any more money.
To her surprise, the other roommate became more responsible and started paying his share on time and stopped asking for loans and extensions to pay bills.
Talking directly and openly to your roommate may clear up the problem, as it did for this person.
9. How to Find Out Why a Roommate Pays Rent Late
When a roommate doesn’t pay rent on time, it’s likely to make you angry and resentful, making it harder to talk about the issue. You may not truly know why the person is late paying the rent, and finding out might help solve the problem.
The most common reasons for late payment of rent are:
- Lack of income
As hard as it might be, avoid getting angry or acting defensively when you talk to your roommate about the late rent payments.
Once you determine what the problem is, you can focus on a solution that works.
10. Solutions for a Forgetful Roommate who Pays Rent Late
If your roommate is forgetful about paying the rent on time, the answer may be to set up a Google alert or use an app like Splitwise to share expenses automatically.
Some payment sharing apps can be set up to deduct the payment directly from a person’s checking account. Talk to your forgetful roommate about setting up an account like this, if possible.
You can also use an old-school whiteboard or chalkboard to post reminders about rent due dates and deadlines for paying other household bills.
Another solution is to ask your forgetful roommate to write you a check in advance for her share of the rent but leave the date blank. Then, if the person is late, you have a backup check you can use to get the payment in on-time.
Let the person know that not paying rent on-time is a real problem for everyone in the household.
If your roommate is new to renting, he or she may not understand that late rent payments can quickly result in severe consequences like penalties, bad credit, or even an eviction notice.
Forgetful roommates are annoying, but with some consistent nagging and reminding, you can often train one to do better.
11. Dealing with an Irresponsible Roommate Who Pays Rent Late
Some people pay rent late because they are immature about taking care of the business of life. People like this can be any age, and they may be late on the rent even if they have the money.
It seems like they simply are not concerned about inconveniencing other people.
If this sounds like your roommate, you can nag, plead, and wring your hands and the person simply may go on paying rent late anyway.
If you can, get the person to agree to use an app that automatically takes the funds out of their account on the due date.
Or, ask the person to sign a roommate agreement with you, covering rent payment and include a penalty if someone is late. Putting the rent payment obligation in writing may help the roommate get the message that rent must be paid on-time.
A written roommate agreement can also be essential evidence later if you file a small claims suit against your roommate for back rental payments.
In many situations with an irresponsible or inconsiderate roommate, moving out or evicting the person is the only solution. Unfortunately, if you have a joint lease, you may be stuck paying their share until your rental contract is up to avoid ruining your credit.
12. What to Do When a Roommate Pays Rent Late because of Lack of Income
If your roommate is consistently paying rent late because of a lack of sufficient income, you may be able to give the person ideas and encouragement for a new income source.
A person can increase their income by:
- Working more hours at an existing job
- Getting a better paying job
- Getting a part-time job
- Starting a part-time, at-home business
- Applying for a student loan or grant
- Applying for disability
- Applying for social services such as food stamps, housing vouchers, or unemployment compensation
- Asking a parent or family member for a loan or financial gift
- Seeking assistance from a private charity
- Selling property and belongings
While not all of these options apply in every situation, there may be more options available for coming up with rent money than your roommate has considered.
Of course, you cannot make your roommate do any of these things to earn more money for rent.
However, if you present your roommate with reasonable options for improving their income, and they do not follow up, you may learn that you are dealing with an irresponsible person who you don’t want as a roommate in the future.
13. Lowering Your Rental Payment with More Roommates
Another way to deal with a roommate who is paying rent late because of financial problems is to bring in another roommate or two and lower everyone’s share of the payment. Doing this may make your financial life more comfortable as well.
Of course, whether or not you can do this depends on your lease or rental agreement, the size of your apartment, and other factors. If your rental agreement is in writing, read it carefully, and see if this option is open to you.
If your rental agreement is verbal or you’re not sure, ask the landlord directly if it’s okay to move another person into the apartment or house.
Moving in extra roommates without the permission of the landlord could lead to legal action or even eviction for everyone.
14. Talk to Your Landlord about Changing the Lease
If you have a joint lease agreement now, and one roommate is always late on rent, you may be able to get your landlord to change the lease to help out with the situation.
For example, the landlord could put everyone on a separate lease, and then the roommate who is not paying would be hearing directly from the landlord, not you, about late payments.
Or, the landlord may be willing to modify an early lease termination clause and waive fees to let the roommate move out early without penalty.
Another more extreme option is asking the landlord to evict both you and your roommate and then nullify the eviction for you and let you move back in under a new lease.
Landlords don’t have to do any of these things, but it usually doesn’t hurt to ask. If nothing else, staying on good terms and keeping your landlord current on what is going on will probably be to your advantage in the long run.
15. Documenting Your Roommate’s Late Rental Payments
Keeping documentation of your roommate’s late rent payments can help you in several ways:
- It can help you when communicating with the landlord about the problem
- You can use it when talking to your roommate about the issue
- It could serve as evidence in a small-claims lawsuit to recover back rent payments from your roommate
You can document the late or missing payments with:
- Copies of emails between you and your roommate on the subject of late rent payments
- Screenshots of your roommate’s text messages about rent
- Banks statements, canceled checks, or notices of declined Venmo payment requests
- Notes on conversations with your roommate or landlord about rental payments. (Be sure to write down the date and time you talked and what was said.)
- Written statements from your landlord or other roommates about the situation
- A copy of your Roommate Agreement and lease, showing your roommate’s rent payment obligations
Create a folder, file, or even a shoebox to keep these records together in case you need them, and keep them in a safe place.
16. Suing Your Roommate for Back Rent Payments
If your roommate owes you a significant amount of money for late or unpaid rent, filing a small claims lawsuit may get some or all of your money back.
Each state has its own rules on filing small claims lawsuits. Generally, these lawsuits are for amounts of money under $5,000 to $10,000.
If the person has no source of income currently, a small claims judgment against them may allow you to recover payment later when they do have income.
However, going to court takes time, effort, and money. Depending on how much your roommate owes you, suing the person may be a waste of time.
If you do decide to go after a roommate who owes you money for late rent, documentation of late and missing rent payments is vital when you make your case to the judge.
Start by sending your roommate a Demand Letter, requesting full payment. Include:
- The exact amount your roommate owes you
- A chronological record of missed payments
- A list of your previous requests for payment
- A deadline for when you expect payment
- Notice that you will file a lawsuit if they fail to pay
- Any other relevant information
Keep this letter impersonal and formal. Make sure it is signed and dated, and send it by ‘return receipt/signature requested’ mail to your roommate.
Do not hand-deliver the letter. You will need to show the judge a record of mailing the letter, and the person receiving it. Keep a copy of the letter, and keep all your documentation in a safe place.
Small claims lawsuits are inexpensive to file and you do not need a lawyer. A judge hears your case. There is no jury, and you usually hear quickly about the result, often at the time you present your case.
Winning the suite depends on
- Being well-prepared and focused
- Having multiple copies of all documents,
- Presenting your case clearly and straightforwardly and showing how you were harmed financially by your roommate’s failure to pay rent on-time.
If your roommate does not show up to defend himself, the judge may rule in your favor as long as you have served all required papers correctly and no one requested a postponements of the hearing.
Check with the state court where you live to research how to file a small claims lawsuit in your location.
17. Evicting a Roommate Who Misses Rent Payments
If only you signed the lease or only you have the direct verbal rental agreement with the landlord, you are effectively your roommate’s landlord. As the landlord, you have the power to evict the person if they are failing to pay you rent.
However, state laws vary, and you should research the rental and tenant laws for your state to understand your obligations if you want to evict a roommate who pays rent late.
Search the name of your state plus ‘tenant handbook’ to find information about the laws where you live. Landlords must give tenants a required amount of notice and deliver this notice in a specific way for the eviction to be legal.
Before you start eviction proceedings against a roommate who consistently pays rent late, make sure your important documents and belongings are safe, in case there is a backlash. You might want to install a deadbolt on the door of your room.
If your roommate does seek revenge after you give them the eviction notice, be sure to document all of this as well. You can use this as more evidence for the eviction or a lawsuit for damages later.
Evicting someone who does not want to go can be a lengthy process, and in the worst cases, law enforcement officers must physically remove the person from the property.
18. How to Protect Yourself From Roommates Who Pay Rent Late
Considering that being roommates with someone can make you responsible for the other person’s share of the rent, here are some ideas for avoiding the harmful effects of a roommate who pays rent late.
- When you move in together, ask the landlord if you can sign a lease, making you ‘severally liable’ for rent payments instead of ‘jointly liable.’
- Make sure you are the only person on the lease and sub-let to other roommates, so you can evict them if necessary. Be sure your rental allows sub-letting.
- Ask for a credit report from prospective roommates to learn about their bill-paying habits.
- Interview potential roommates carefully and make sure they have a steady source of income to cover rent.
- Maintain a savings account with enough money to cover several months of rent in case a roommate does not pay rent on-time.
A roommate who pays rent late is a burden. Whenever possible, protect yourself by having a lease that holds you and other roommates severally liable for rent payments. And get out of situations where a roommate is consistently flaky about paying their share.