Why You Shouldn't Take Your Crappy Roommate To Small Claims Court

You have problems, I have advice. This advice isn't sugar-coated -- in fact, it's sugar-free, and may even be a little bitter. Welcome to Tough Love.

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You have problems, I have advice. This advice isn't sugar-coated -- in fact, it's sugar-free, and may even be a little bitter. Welcome to Tough Love.

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This week we have a university student wondering if they should take their former roommate to court over some money they owe.

Keep in mind, I'm not a therapist or any other kind of health professional -- just a guy who's willing to tell it like it is. I simply want to give you the tools you need to enrich your damn lives. If for whatever reason you don't like my advice, feel free to file a formal complaint here. Now then, let's get on with it.

Hi Patrick,

I lived with a "friend" from high school last year which turned into a nightmare situation. She became livid with me for the smallest things -- like when I didn't replace the roll of toilet paper, or I didn't wash her cup, and so on -- and eventually moved out halfway through our lease. The utility bills were in her name but she refused to pay her part because she "didn't live there" despite signing a lease that said she would pay utilities regardless.

Long story short, I didn't pay her share of the utilities and she took the amount of HER owed share out of my security deposit. It's $60, which is reasonable enough for me to want reimbursement given that I'm a university student. I guess what I'm asking is, is this worth taking someone to small claims court for or do I just bite the bullet even though it was clearly her share?

Sincerely, Broke Uni Student

Hey Broke Uni Student,

I hope you have strong teeth, Kid, 'cause it's time to bite the bullet and move on. She may have signed a lease, but I'd be surprised if that lease actually obligates her to pay for any utilities. Assuming the utilities aren't handled through your landlord (rent and utilities are usually separate entities), I can't imagine there being a clause that says, "You have to, like, totally share the cost of utilities no matter what, or else."

If utilities are included with your rent payments, that does make what she did a bit more not-so-nice. But also, her argument is kind of... sound. She wasn't living there, so she wasn't using those utilities and driving up the cost. Whatever you're having to pay when she's not there is the cost of your utilities. I don't pay for my former roommate's utilities either -- I just pay for what I use, where I live. I'm not sure how she took money out of your security deposit to pay for her share of the utilities or whatever happened there -- that part is a little cloudy -- but honestly, it's neither here nor there. Why? Because it's $60. I probably have that much in change hiding under some couch cushions. I get it, you're broke and in school and you need every rusty cent you can snag out of the gutter, but this is just one of those bummer life lessons.

Allow me to elaborate: Say you took her to small claims court for the $60 she owes you. Right off the bat you'd have to pay court fees that are highly likely to exceed what she owes. At best, you're now going to net a very small amount, or at worst, lose more to prove a point. And those are the costs just to file. There could be other costs that pile up too, and there are limits to how much you can win anyway. Now, if she had skipped out on rent and you'd been stuck paying double rent for months on end, driving you into debt, then you might have a case. But even then, you'd probably be better off with arbitration, not small claims court. Also, you'd need to decide if interacting with her again and dealing with the stress of all this is worth whatever you'd get back anyway. I don't think it is.

Before you go, Broke Uni Student, I'd take a moment to wonder who the crappy roommate really is in this situation. Living with her may not have been a cup of tea, and skipping out on a lease is not cool to do, but you don't sound that great either. Nobody should be "livid" with someone for making an honest mistake, I'll grant you that, but not replacing the toilet paper when it's gone and not cleaning someone else's things after you use them is pretty lame -- especially if these are the kinds of things that happened repeatedly. In fact, I have an inkling you might have been too messy and disorganised for her and that's why she left? I don't know if that's true, I'm taking a wild guess, but still, check yo' self before you wreck yo' self, Kid.


That's it for this week. I probably didn't make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but sometimes what you need is some tough love. 'Til next time, figure things out for yourself.

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