When You Need the Courts Involved to Resolve Conflicts with Roommates

When people are taken advantage of, it usually happens by someone you thought you could trust and depend on. So before you know it, you are struggling to get someone close to you to hold up their end of an agreement or to take some responsibility for their actions, at least.

Instances like this tend to happen in roommate relationships after a person has already moved and settled in, convinced their roomie to ask their insurer, “Can I insure my friend’s car?” (and have actually gotten insurance from it), or borrowed tons of money. 

You never see these types of people coming, but once they planted a spot in your life, they tend to take until they are unable to take anything else. Once you address their behavior or demand, they replenish what they have taken from you. They may avoid or deflect any responsibility for their behavior.

In the worst of scenarios, you may have to take a roommate like this to court. If that happens, you want to make sure you are thoroughly educated on what that process looks like.

What are the reasons to take my roommate to court?

Deciding to sue another person is not a small one and cannot be based on a petty disagreement. The reason behind suing your roommate has to be one that could stand in court. Those reasons usually revolve around unpaid rent, moving out before you two agreed they would move out, some form of assault, or getting you and other roommates evicted.

With all those circumstances, you will more than likely be suing for financial damages or reparations. According to Texas Law Help, “You can sue your roommate in justice court (small claims court),” and you will “need to prove the amount the roommate owes by showing each tenant’s contribution to the total rent payment” or in the case of assault, show proof of the assault. This rule of thumb is generally the same within each state but may vary slightly. 

Try to Resolve the Conflict Without Going to Court First

As stated, taking your roommate to court is a serious matter and should be avoided at all costs, if possible. It is a process that is time-consuming and exhausting for all parties involved. So before deciding to sue your roommate, you should try your best to first resolve conflicts with a roommate on your own without going to court.

The worst thing you want to do is to make a drastic decision and then find out that your roommate was having a hard time in life. Your roommate could have lost their job, have a family member who is severely ill, or have ended up in a sticky financial situation. 

Though your roommate should have communicated these instances with you, you do not want to go through the trouble of going to court just to find out that your roommate intended on paying you back and only needed time.

Communication can be useful and may even bring you closer to your roommate. A fair amount of conflict stems from miscommunication. However, if your roommate is unwilling to communicate with you about the problem or does not correct the problem after speaking, you may need to take steps towards evicting them, and you should take them to small claims court.

Here is a video on what to do when you need to evict your roommate.

Collecting Proof of Shared Responsibility for Rent

The main goal when renting with a roommate is not to get taken advantage of, and when that and any other effort to remedy the situation fails, you should prepare yourself for court. Some of the most vital pieces of evidence you will need in court are all proof that your roommate is responsible for a portion of rent. The documents notated below are examples of evidence that can hold up in court: 

  • Rental agreement: A rental agreement is a statement that establishes a term of the tenancy. That term could be month to month, three months, six months, or a year. These agreements also notate how much each party is responsible for paying. Though a rental agreement where both parties have signed is valuable, you may need supporting documents along with this.
  • Lease agreement: This type of document is similar to a rental agreement, but it is usually an agreement that is longer than six months. If you are co-tenants, the lease agreement specifies that both parties are jointly responsible for paying rent. This agreement can stand alone in court, but documented proof on how you two decided to split the rent is needed.
  • Roommate agreement: This agreement is usually used when the co-tenant did not sign a rental agreement or a lease with the landlord. This agreement should notate similar things stated within a rental and lease agreement and must be signed by both parties.

All three documents notated above are crucial to have a strong argument when taking your roommate to court. However, if you have none of these, documentation of text messages, emails, and any payments made by the roommate may be able to hold up in court. Aside from having the documents mentioned above, you should gather proof of all payments made by your roommate and any text/email about the unpaid rent.

Take Steps to Sue Your Roommate

Once you have gathered all necessary documents needed in court, tried communicating with your roommate about the money owed, and your roommate has made no attempt to remedy the situation, you should begin making the steps towards suing your roommate within the court.

Here are the steps for suing your roommate:

  1. Collect documents that prove your roommate is responsible for a portion of the rent and proof they have not paid their part of the rent.
  2. Send a demand letter to your roommate through the postal service that requires their signature. The demand letter should state the amount they owe, when they need to pay that amount, and that you will take them to court if they do not pay.
  3. Research what documents and payments need to be provided to your local claims court to start the process of suing if your roommate does not meet the requests within your demand letter.
  4. Avoid any contact with your roommate unless they offer to pay damages and any fees you had to pay to the court to start the process or landlord for late fees. If they refuse to pay any fees and you are not okay with forfeiting the fee amounts, do not accept the payment and continue with your proceedings with the court. With hopes, the judge will order them to pay you what they owe along with any fees acquired because of their irresponsible actions.

The Bottom Line with Renting with a Roommate

Deciding to go into any joint financial agreement with a person, even a roommate, is risky. So if you suspect that the situation is getting out of hand or heading down a path that will end with you suing, you should document every communication, all documents about your agreement, and any payments made by your roommate. You should do this with any person you have a financial deal with.