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What Can I Do if My Roommate Can't or Won’t Pay Rent?

Brynn B has lived with numerous roommates in a variety of living arrangements. They've seen it all when it comes to tenancy.

Learn what your options are if your housemate is unable or unwilling to pay their share of the rent.

Learn what your options are if your housemate is unable or unwilling to pay their share of the rent.

Can't Afford Rent?

People go through ups and downs in life. Between job loss, paying off debt, medical bills, addiction, depression, family loss, car trouble, theft, lawyer fees, and the economic impacts of pandemics like COVID-19, it’s easier than ever to get in a jam financially. Unexpected living costs can easily put someone into a situation where they cannot pay rent.

According to Payscale’s data, wages remained stalled between 2006 and 2021. That means median wages declined by 9% during this period when adjusted for inflation.

From 2018 to 2019, the cost of medical care, energy, shelter, food away from home, prescription drugs, hospital services, and dairy products all went up. In 2020 alone, between February 2020 and May 2020, 14% of Americans lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to The cost of living is high in the United States, and sometimes, people don’t have enough to get by due to external factors combined with inadequate money management.

If you happen to find yourself in a situation where your roommate or someone you live with cannot afford to pay rent, and you cannot afford to pay their portion of the rent, there are a few things you will want to consider. Perhaps your roommate moved out early, broke the lease, and won’t pay the remainder of the rent. You might be wondering what your options are.

This article provides a jumping-off point as you explore your options, but you will also want to look into your local laws and ordinances, as your options may vary depending on your location. Your best bet, in most cases, is to talk to your property manager or landlord about the situation.

What to Do If Your Roommate Moves Out Early

If your roommate moves out early, you will probably be responsible for paying their share of the rent to your landlord. It’s smart to review your lease to see how much notice you and your roommate are required to give before you can actually move out.

Even if they did not give your landlord notice, you will probably still have to pay the rent in full. Alternatively, you might be able to find someone to move in their place and pay a portion of it, but that is more challenging.

Communicate well by letting your landlord know what is going on. In some cases, they might be flexible in their contract. However, they are not legally required to be flexible, and it’s possible they will still hold you accountable for the funds.

Review Your Lease and Tenant Laws in Your State/County

Unfortunately, the law is not in your favor in this situation, and it’s a terrible thing to have to go through. Because your roommate decided to move out early, that’s considered a breach of your lease contract, which gives your landlord a right to terminate the lease in its entirety.

Also, moving out without the landlord’s permission is categorized as a break in the contract—even if you’re not the one who did it—and your landlord can actually pursue the two of you in court.

You should be upfront and honest with your landlord from the very beginning once the issue presents. Landlords are sometimes forgiving and may help you find a solution, like arranging for another tenant to step in. In some cases, your landlord may let you revise your current lease.

Document Everything They Owe You Electronically

Carefully document all of the rent and bills (utilities) that your former roommate owes to you. The reason you will need to document the rent that is owed is that you may need to take your former roommate to small claims court (you are basically suing them) for what they owe. Unfortunately, this will damage your relationship and friendship permanently.

Your relationship with your roommate will likely inform the way you decide to handle the situation.

Your relationship with your roommate will likely inform the way you decide to handle the situation.

What to Do If Your Roommate Can't Pay Rent

If your roommate cannot pay rent, but they are your friend or even your partner or sibling, this can get very complicated.

If You Like Your Roommate

You can review your lease and determine if you are separately liable for their portion of rent. This will also detail if you’re responsible for the total amount in the event that your roommate can’t pay. After reviewing your lease, have a conversation with your roommate. Here are some options:

  • Explain to them how much you care for them and enjoy them, and consider hearing them out about why they are having trouble paying rent. You could even offer to help discuss finances and organize around finances together. Offer ways they can save on costs.
  • Tell them you understand it’s a challenging topic to talk about it (it can be embarrassing for people not to be able to pay rent).
  • If you want to stay roommates, you can talk about ways you two can give your landlord notice and make plans to relocate to a more affordable place together. It’s possible that you could even find a third roommate to move in and live with you until things resolve. (Keep in mind that if they cannot pay the last month’s rent, you will probably have to pay their portion. Maybe you can keep part of the security deposit in exchange.
  • If your friend is truly bad at managing money, you may want to explain that you’d like to stay friends in the nicest way possible but explain that their inability to pay bills also is hard on you and stressful. You might want a new roommate if your friend is not good at managing their money.
  • If you make more money than your roommate, maybe they can offer you the bigger room if you’re going to pay extra, or you can divide rent based on a scaled system of comparing your salaries to the total amount due. Figure out something fair, even if temporary. You can also offset what is owed by having them help with time-consuming chores or other household duties that would save you time in the long run. Maybe your roommate can do the cleaning of the household and the yard work instead of outsourcing the work.
Taking a friend to small claims court can certainly damage a relationship.

Taking a friend to small claims court can certainly damage a relationship.

If You Dislike Your Roommate

You will probably have to pay for your roommate, which is really disappointing, especially if you’re not friends or you don’t even like them. Here’s what you can do:

  • It’s very important that you keep tabs on what your roommate owes and include utilities and more. Document it on more than paper with dates. Send these reminder notices of what’s due via text or email so that there is a digital record of it.
  • Record any conversations that you have about money and dues. If you record a conversation, check with your local state laws because both parties need to consent to be recorded (some states say it’s just one party). If, in your state, only one person needs to consent to the recordings, then you can use this as proof if you need to go to court.
  • Communicate to your landlord about what is going on and see if they are flexible about your case or might consider evicting the existing roommate so that they can find another one for you to live with.
  • Document everything, as you will have to take your old roommate to small claims court to regain the money that they owe you. The best thing you can do is continue to keep good records of everything.


This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Brynn B Lewis


Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 05, 2020:

Interesting practical tips.