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If your roommate can’t manage his or her share of the rent, you’ve got more than an uncomfortable situation on your hands.
When both your names are on the lease, you’re both liable for the full amount owed to the landlord, and you can both be evicted if payments aren’t made in total. Your credit score may suffer in the process, too—making it difficult for you to get another apartment. Serious stuff.
Still, the first time your roomie misses a payment, you might give him a pass, says San Francisco-area financial counselor Susan Bross. “But if this happens more than once, it’s about bad decisions they’re making with their money.”
And since the situation could worsen, you’ve got to address it head on, she says. Here’s how:
OPEN GENTLY: “Can we talk about what’s going on with our rent payments?”
Your first goal is figure out why your roommate was late, so that you can determine whether missed payments will continue to be a problem in the future.
If your housemate has just started freelancing and hasn’t yet figured out how to balance expenses against an irregular income, the problem may resolve itself once she gets more settled. But if she’s got a shopping habit that eats up all her paycheck before she can get to her bills, you may have a regular headache ahead.
As you try to ascertain the situation, try your best not to come off as accusatory, says Dr. Eric Dammann, a New York City clinical psychologist and financial coach.
The last thing you want to do is put your housemate on the defensive before you’ve had a chance to discuss resolutions. And if the conversation escalates to a fight, it’ll be tougher for you to live harmoniously under the same roof going forward.
“So bring it up in the gentlest way you can,” he says.
PUT IT IN PERSPECTIVE: “I was late paying some of my other bills last month because of the missed payment.”
If your roommate’s not opening up, or if he acts like missing the deadline is no big deal, let him know how his lateness is affecting you or the rest of your roommates.
“Suggest ways in which it is a big deal,” says Dammann. “You might get through that way.”
Also, explain to him the possible consequences if his portion of the rent is not met every month (e.g. you’ll get kicked out and both end up with poor credit).
FIGURE OUT A GAME PLAN: “Let’s come up with a system so we make sure we don’t have to have these conversations again”
“If you’re not able to keep up with rent payments, I need to know so that I can go to our landlord and try to renegotiate the terms of our lease.”
If the late payments are truly only a matter of forgetfulness, try to encourage your roommate to set up a new system to avoid missing payments, so that you’re not left scrambling for money again.
The fix could be as simple as a Google alert, a gentle reminder on a whiteboard in the kitchen, or together using a site like Splitwise, that helps roomies coordinate shared expenses.
But if you find out the issue is more serious or more chronic, start by asking your roommate if he sees any possible resolution, such as asking a parent for money. No end in sight to the problems? Without being too aggressive, let your flatmate know that you’ll have to get the landlord involved in order to protect your own finances.
Then do so, stat. “Most leases can be modified,” says Brandy Peeples, a Frederick, Md. litigation attorney specializing in real estate. “If your landlord knows you’re having problems, he or she may work with you—it’s practical to go back and ask.”
You could see if your landlord will allow you to bring in an extra roommate to reduce everyone’s individual contributions. Or you could try negotiating an early termination fee that allows your roommate to pay a fine and leave the apartment.
“It’s good to keep the landlord into the loop,”says Peeples. “If you wait until after the fact, a lot of times the landlord is not going to be so forgiving.”