SOUTH SOUND SIDEKICK: Roommate problems

By Volcano Staff on December 29, 2012


South Sound Sidekick series offers advice from experts living in the, well, the South Sound. It posts every Friday (sometimes on Saturday if holidays come into play). Today, The Counselor is back with the lowdown on what will happen if your roommates decide not to pay their portion of the rent.


I rent a house and have two roommates, one is not paying his share of the rent; what can I do?  Can I kick them out?

Oh my, what to do. To answer this question the counselor needs a lot more information.  Is there a renter's agreement with the landlord? Maybe a lease? If there is, then who is on that agreement really controls a lot of my answer? I am going to act like you alone have made a simple verbal agreement with the landlord.  No written agreement and no lease. If such a document was signed it would control most of your choices.

So you alone have an agreement to pay say $900 per month and you also pay all the utilities. But you have two roommates who have verbally agreed to pay you $300 each and share the utilities.

Then one stops paying, right?  Now we are getting somewhere.

The very best thing you can do is not make verbal commitments with anyone about things that concern money.  WRITE IT DOWN THEN SIGN IT.  Verbal commitments to do anything are what are known in the law as an "oral contract." Write it down and it becomes a written contract. Written contracts are much easier to enforce. If you have a written contract, it is much easier to use the court system to make everyone do what he or she is supposed to do. With an oral contract, it is a messy and expensive process to get reimbursed or to make folks do what they agreed to do.

Writing it down, also reminds people of what they promised they would do.

A contract for sharing space or living together does not have to be fancy at all and many forms are sold at office supply stores.  Even just a simple written out agreement will be of some help.

Realistically, most people won't write it down, they will just believe things will be hunky dory and that their friends will be responsible until, well, until their friends run out of money.

So now what? No written agreements, friends not paying rent, still in house ... what to do? Start writing things down. Give them a three-day notice to quit the premises or pay the rent - then sign it. Give them a copy. Write them a letter. If they still won't move out you will need to take action.

You will not be able to throw them out yourself if they have been living there and paying rent. You will have to abide by the Landlord Tenant law in Washington.  Yes, you see, you have in fact become a landlord by the act of letting people live in a place that you have rented. Contact the Washington Tenants Union; they have partners in every county and can give you solid advice.

Contact your local dispute resolution center. Both Pierce and Thurston counties have pro bono legal groups that can help with this type of situation: Tacoma Pro Bono and Thurston County Volunteer Legal Services.

The bad news is that without a written agreement it is highly unlikely you will ever see a dime from this person. Technically, you could take them to small claims court over their oral agreement to pay you money.  But your chances of actually getting any money are slim to none.

Some other things you should consider when house sharing:

If the cable, electricity, water, etc is in your name then you, and you alone, are responsible for paying those. 

If you move out, I insist you physically go down to the cable office, the PUD, the city office and cancel those things in your name.  They will remain your responsible until you cancel them.

What are you going to do to prevent this from happening? You need to communicate with your roommates. You need to WRITE THINGS DOWN.

Be responsible for yourself and protect yourself. When you move out make sure to cancel the stuff in your name.

It is little stuff, it is easy stuff and it really matters when things go bad.

Happy New Year.  Be safe out there my friends.

The Counselor

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