What Happened When My Best Friend Didn’t Pay Our Rent

Last month, I got evicted, but it’s probably not for any of the reasons you would think. No, I didn’t forget to pay rent. No, I didn’t have five people living in my apartment illegally, and no, I didn’t commit some other egregious offense against my leasing company. In fact, I didn’t technically do anything wrong.

I suppose you could say that it all began months ago when I allowed my best friend and her family to move in with me. Or perhaps it began even before that, when I broke up with my boyfriend and decided to live with roommates at all. Or…well…I could go on and on searching for the beginning, for the first decision that led me here. But, for the sake of time, we’ll skip over almost all of that. Almost.

September 21st

I take a few minutes on my lunch break to call my apartment office and pay my half of our rent for October. This is the last time I will be paying rent towards the apartment I’ve been living in for over a year now. My lease is set to be up October 23rd, and I have a place lined up on the 10th, giving me time to get moved out and take care of anything that might need to be done. 

With my rent paid over a week early and my new apartment deposit already paid, I feel like I’m on top of this whole adulthood thing. I even have a few hundred left over. A good day, all in all.

October 1st

I ask my roommate if they’ve gotten around to rent yet. I’m told that they’re going to be late. This scares me a little, as we’d been warned four months prior that we could not be late again — for a while, our apartment’s inhabitants were on a first-name basis with the office because of how frequently we called to tell them that rent would be late. After putting up with this for six months, they’d finally had enough. We were told that next time we were late…well, suffice it to say that it wouldn’t be pretty.

I ask my roommates if they’ve spoken to the office about it, discover they haven’t, and do it myself, ensuring that we’ll be okay.

I feel a tiny twinge of annoyance, remembering just a few days prior, when my roommate gushed about the ring her husband had surprised her with, a part of me wonders if that was the rent money they don’t have. I don’t ask.

October 7th

My roommates, along with their baby, dog, cat, and smoking habit, move out. Before they leave, I’m told that rent would be just a little later, but for sure within the week. I believe them. I email the office again to let them know and continue packing.

October 20th

I’ve moved. My new place is lovely, from the old hardwood floors, to the built-in shelving, to the ancient keyholes in every door. On the train to work, I text my old roommate, asking if rent has been paid. “Not yet, probably this Sunday.” I ask again if they’ve talked to the office and was met with vague assurance. For a few minutes, I sit and worry. Rent is now two weeks late. How many more days until an eviction notice is slapped on the door that none of us walk through anymore?

I call my mom and let my worries tumble out of my mouth. The tough no-nonsense woman that she is reminds me that I haven’t been evicted, and simply suggests to keep checking in with my old roommates to ensure it gets done.

I don’t follow her advice. After all, they’ve always paid before. It’ll be okay.

October 21st

4:00pm

I sit at the wooden bar on the second floor of my favorite coffee shop. Sudden realization hits me and I text my old friend, “I just realized I’d never found out if rent was paid.”

A few moments later I’m met with a response; “I’ll check with my husband when I get home, it should be though.”

We discuss our plans to meet up the next day to clean the carpets and patch the walls of the old place, to get ready for the walkthrough. Things are good.

5:00pm

I’ve just finished writing five articles. I’ve updated my website’s homepage. As I celebrate in my head, my phone dings. 

It’s my roommate’s husband. 

“Don’t worry about the walkthrough, they’ve already filed the eviction papers. I couldn’t pay the rent and still can’t, but I’ll get to it as soon as I can.”

I stare at my phone in shock.

Don’t worry. The text says don’t worry

My heart is pounding. I wonder if everyone in the cafe can hear it. Do they see my hands shaking? Can they feel the pit in my stomach? 

I call my mom. I don’t know how I get the words out, but I do. At the end of the call, she says, “JoAnn, don’t let this get you down. You’ve been doing so well. This isn’t your fault. Don’t throw in the towel because of this.”

Deep down I know she’s right. My freelance writing has expanded. I got a promotion. I’m living alone. I’m at a healthy weight. I remember to take my meds. I know she’s right. I know it, but I can’t feel it.

I stumble home, the 20 minute walk a blur, and spend the next day curled up in bed. 

*****

It is about a week later. Since receiving that text message, I have had one fight with my old roommate and received approximately six phone calls from my old building. Sometimes I wonder why they couldn’t have called before. 

The total charges applied to us, after all is said and done, come to $2,290.45. In a few weeks, more will be added.

I worry. 

If I had had a safety net, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. If I had texted her more often. If I had called the office myself. I should’ve called the office myself. And still, as I write this, five feet away from where I first received the text message that will follow me for years to come, I can feel it. The words sit like a stone in my chest. Don’t worry.

I sent my roommate the summary of move-out charges. She replied only with “WTF,” and when I sent back a text with a little more detail, helping her understand what had taken me a while to figure out myself, I received no reply. In a day or so, I’ll be reaching out again to discuss how we’ll split the cost. I’m hoping she sees the fairness in my plan. 

I fear that I won’t be able to rent anywhere new for a long time. I had plans to move to Oregon to live near my family next winter…Will I even be able to find a place? Why bother paying an application fee when I’ll be rejected the second they see the tick next to the question about my eviction history? Will any number of letters from my old roommate and my current landlord even matter when it gets down to it? And my credit score that I’ve worked so hard to raise (up 80 whole points in the last year!) — I still do not know how much it will suffer, and I dread the day that I find out.

I know that there are some lessons to be learned here: Have a safety net. Be vigilant about rent payments. Don’t let trust blind you from reason. Ask questions. Do the work yourself. And I am grateful for what I have learned. Or at least, I am trying to be. 

JoAnn is a 20-year-old living in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her favorite thing to do is sleep, but if you’re interviewing her she’ll probably say that she loves reading more than anything (which is almost true). Someday she plans to (not) retire running a 24-hour bookstore in Newport, OR, which she would argue is the best town on earth.

Image via Unsplash

  • laura

    I’m a little confused — so you paid your half of your final month’s rent, but your best friend + husband never paid their half? Why did the management company even bother evicting you at that point, if there were only a few days left on the lease by the time they filed the paperwork? And what are those charges you mentioned near the end — are they normal move-out charges, or extra fees related to the eviction, or what?

    • If I’m honest, I have no idea when the eviction stuff went through, and I agree, it seems silly to bother with it at that point. None of us even lived in the apartment by the time that all happened. And I can see how the charges would be confusing, the best answer I can give is all of the above. it combines unpaid rent, move out charges and damages charges (which we couldn’t even witness because of the eviction… normally you have to sign off on the final walkthrough so they can’t overcharge you), late charges, etc. They even tacked on a decent amount of money for some lightbulbs that “went missing” when my roommates moved out. And then by now they’ll have added even more, since the charges have gone to some debt collectors that really love calling me while I’m at work.

      • laura

        Yikes — that sounds really confusing and stressful. Best of luck getting everything sorted out.

  • That’s awful. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this mess. It seems like because everyone was moving out, rent was no longer a priority for your friend and her family. While this is obviously not your fault at all, I hope it doesn’t set you back too much. Good luck, and try to enjoy the new apartment. It sounds like you deserve it, with all of the hard work you’re putting into other elements of your life right now, too.

    • Thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot 🙂

  • You may need to consider small claims court to get your share of the fees. I know, “but they’re my friends…” but no good friend does that to you. Thankfully, you’ll be able to provide records that show you consistently paid on time. Filing may seem like a giant hassle, but it may be what you need to do to protect your credit going forward. I’m so sorry this happened to you. Hang in there, keep pushing forward.

    • Miss Meg

      This is a really good point- because “they’re your friends” too, but didn’t hesitate to leave you out to dry financially. You really didn’t deserve this unfortunate turn but you can get out of it. Good luck!

    • Jay0623

      Seconding this! They may call themselves your “friends,” but they used you. They put you in a horrible position, didn’t think it’s a big deal at all, and now you need to protect yourself. You have the documentation that you’ve paid your share of the rent and upheld your half of the bargain, and at the very least you should be able to make sure you’re not shouldering the financial burden of their poor decision-making.

    • Honestly, the issue with small claims court isn’t in that they’re my “friends”… which at this point she is no longer my friend, and I never really liked her husband much… It’s that they have a very young baby, and I can take care of myself financially, but that baby can’t. So it’s not worth it to me to put them in a financially unstable position. I know that small claims court would be a viable option, but I’ve seen them struggle to keep him fed as is. I’m trying to figure out what it looks like to try to repair my situation without negatively affecting that kid. Which sucks because anything that hurts the parents hurts him

      • Theresa Rankine

        I recall u mentioned her husband bought her a new ring that they couldn’t afford they weren’t thinking responsible this is a problem u got the raw end of the stick in this situation and your still thinking about them when they dont care about what happens to u you need to take them to court work out a payment plan and let them figure out how to budget their lives and u move forward with yours this coming from a divorced single mom of 4 they will make it it will be hard but they are adult s and adults have to take responsibility for their actions

      • You can work with them in the court filing to create a reasonable payment plan, as low as $50 a month. They can come up with that by doing some side hustle with Wag or Ubereats if their regular income isn’t enough. They need to be accountable for their actions and treat paying their fair share as the priority it is. You’re a considerate person and you will eventually be rewarded for being one. Just not by these folks.

      • HL

        It sounds harsh, but it is their responsibility to take care of their kid, not yours. As others suggested, the courts can work out a payment plan with them, or they can sell that ring they bought, etc. In the long run it will do more good for the baby if his parents learn to be responsible.

        You are a kind and noble person for helping out a friend in a pinch, but honestly it sounds like these people are flat out taking advantage of you now. Please put your foot down and do everything you can to make sure they pay their fair share. Your needs matter too, and you don’t deserve to have your financial future screwed up over this.

        Just sucks. Good luck. I really hope things turn around for you.

      • Clytamnestra Dunge

        It’s nice of you to want to protect the baby. But i fear that instead of really helping this family you are just enabling them in their selfdestructive believe that they can get away with anything as long as they can shove a baby in someone’s face.

        it would be a different matter without the ring or tabaco or assorted zoo: if the story was a lot more like ‘i believe they honestly wanted to keep up their end of the deal, but lacked funds through little fault of their own’ then you should let it go instead of kicking someone who is down.

  • Alexis

    I’m so sorry this happened to you. The thing that shines through is that you have integrity and decency and no-one can take that away from you. As your ‘friend’ and her husband aptly demonstrate, these qualities are more rare than we think. Don’t shy away from pushing them to contribute, even if they don’t cover the entire amount they owe, something is better than nothing. And keep records of all communication between you and your friend, screenshot the texts etc so you can demonstrate to debt collectors and the building management company that they acknowledge they were responsible for it. I know that might not mean much on a strict assessment if it’s your name only on the lease but you never know – people can surprise you sometimes.

  • Kay

    Honestly, the minute they said they’d be late with rent, I’d have paid their half. That way, they owe *you* money, and you don’t have late fees (and obvious in this case an eviction).

    When you sign a lease with someone, you’re equally responsible. Looks like you learned this lesson the hard way.

    • I mention in the article that I did not have a financial cushion. I couldn’t pay their half. I’d just paid another rent and a half for my new apartment.

  • Summer

    Ugh, this situation sucks and I’m sorry you’re dealing with it. I’ve done the whole “help a friend who’s a little down on their luck” thing before and got screwed as well, though in my case I owned the house so it was just a matter of me never seeing any money after our agreed upon period of generosity ended. It is extremely frustrating to watch someone who isn’t shelling out for expenses regularly coming home with shopping bags and takeout while talking about their plans to meet other friends for drinks the next evening. Lesson learned for sure. I do hope you’re no longer friends with these people and I hope you’re not shy about letting them understand the impact of the situation they’ve put you in. Baby or not, they need to realize what they’ve done and say a hell of a lot more than just “don’t worry.” If you haven’t already, I’d compile a trail of evidence to back up your story, to easily prove that YOU paid on time, regularly followed up with these assholes, etc. This may help you to talk your way through a potentially hesitant landlord in the future.

    • Clytamnestra Dunge

      i’m unclear on the situation: was she just buying take-out for herself, or was she trying to contribute to your fridge? did you ever specify how much you expected her to pay?

  • Rosabella Alvarez-Calderon

    I think the biggest lesson learned is the one about friendship and money. First, making money a taboo subject between friends has devastating consequences. Second, the person is not your friend and I doubt that she ever was. Even if you are on financial dire straits, real friends don’t put their their friends on financial hot water because of their irresponsibility and unwillingness to be honest about the true state of their finances.

  • seattleminimalist

    I am sorry that this happened to you! I hope things work out for your benefit in the end. I can only imagine how difficult and stressful it must be to have to deal with this all by yourself. While what you are doing is very kind and noble, your former friend/room mates did not think about taking care of you at all and never had your back.

    As the others have said, it is time for you to draw the line and protect yourself and your future financial and housing prospects. It is unfortunate that they have a child that will be affected, however, their child isn’t the only valuable person in this situation. You, your time, and your resources matter as well–so if it can be worked out in a small claims court, do it. It will teach them a lesson to be responsible parents and teach them how to be mature and not take advantage of kind people who have an honest heart and want to help out.

    Hugs to you and I’m sending you good luck vibes~

  • Anon

    Don’t worry about not being able to get a place. In most cases, you’ll just have to pay a bigger security deposit. It’s really not the end of the world.