What to Do If a Roommate Doesn't Pay Rent?

A roommate who skips out on rent or fails to pay on time can wreak havoc on your finances and living arrangement. You can choose to continue living with a roommate who doesn't pay rent or have her move out. Whether it's wiser to work it out or get her out depends on the current lease agreement and your financial circumstances. You may have to sue a roommate to recoup other unpaid housing expenses.

You Can't Kick Out a Co-Tenant

A roommate on a written lease agreement with the landlord is a co-tenant. Only a landlord can remove a co-tenant on a month-to-month rental or long-term lease agreement. Co-tenants share joint legal rights and responsibilities for the unit, including possession of the premises and rent payments. Each co-tenant is liable for the full rent amount, even if paying unequal shares. Joint liability and rights in a co-tenant lease agreement prevent you from kicking out a nonpaying co-tenant.

Landlord Can Evict All Tenants When a Roommate Doesn't Pay

Your landlord isn't bound by your independent roommate arrangement. He can enforce the lease agreement against all co-tenants and evict you and your roommate for failing to cover the entire unit's rent. Landlords must follow state eviction laws, which require proper eviction notice, a court judgment to evict and court permission to forcibly remove residents who don't leave. You personally can't legally evict or force a roommate out for not paying rent.

Co-Tenants Responsible for Subletter's Unpaid Rent

If a co-tenant roommate rents out her use of the unit to a third party, it is known as a subtenant or sublet arrangement. A subtenant isn't on a written rental agreement with a landlord, unless the landlord authorizes the residency and adds him to the contract. The co-tenant essentially acts as landlord to the subtenant. Roommates on the landlord-tenant rental agreement ultimately must cover the rent. If the nonpaying roommate is a subtenant not on the lease, the co-tenant is financially responsible for missed payments.

Oral Agreements Also Provide Protections

A rental contract need not be in writing. A roommate by way of sublet or oral agreement has rights, too. You must give her notice to move out if she doesn't pay rent. You can't evict, lock out or forcibly remove a roommate who has an oral agreement. The landlord likely will not single out a resident who is subletting or living in the unit under an oral agreement with his tenants, either. However, the landlord can enforce his rental agreement against you and the co-tenant who subleased or made the oral agreement, since you are bound by a written lease.

Covering a Roommate's Rent to Avoid Eviction

You face eviction if a roommate fails to pay rent and you don't cover the unpaid portion. Should you pay her part, ensure repayment by drafting a promissory note and payment schedule. Also document any other unpaid household bills for which she is responsible. Written proof of your roommate's debts and her agreement to repay them comes in handy if you decide to sue her in court.

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