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I rented out a room in my apartment to a roommate for four months. While rent was paid in full (as it was due at the beginning of the month) my former roommate owes their share of one month worth of bills and will likely end up owing two as it doesn't look like they intend to pay. I have not received the bills for July yet as there's a delay of a few weeks for one and a bit less than a month for the other.

I have a signed contract in which they agreed to pay, though it was not professionally drafted. I have received payments for two months of utilities in the past, one of which I have an electronic record of (though it was combined with their rent).

The problem (though it is strange to classify it as such) is that the debt owed is fairly small - a bit less than $100 currently. It will likely end up being a bit less than $200 if, as seems likely, both sets of bills are left unpaid. While not inconsequential, it's too small a sum to justify the expense and effort of hiring a lawyer and potentially even going to court.

What should I do in this situation?

I am prepared to accept a well reasoned answer for "nothing". It is still a relatively small loss to me in comparison to the gain of splitting the rent and a couple of the utility bills for those months.

Is it pragmatic for me to seek legal advice from a professional, despite the small debt? I don't want to waste anyone's time with a free consulation if I know that there's no realistic chance I will hire them and I don't want to hire someone for $100+ over such a small sum.

Is there some other way I can encourage my former roommate to pay without suing or harassing them?

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    If they're using your Wi-Fi, change the password, and don't tell them the new one until they pay up, or you come to an equitable agreement. – mkennedy Aug 6 '16 at 23:18
  • To clarify, this is my former roommate. They've moved out. The reason for this problem is that there's a delay of the bills so they're paying about two months behind. – user8644 Aug 6 '16 at 23:50
  • Since the bills for utilities are 2 months? "late", did you make them pay utilities the first two months (even though those utility bills were for months they didn't live there)? – Sumurai8 Aug 7 '16 at 9:43
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    @sumurai8 No, for the first couple months they just didn't owe the utility bills. Though they did pay for a few days when they weren't here on the first one since it was a little out of sync when they moved in with the agreement that they wouldn't have to pay a portion of the August one which would include the last few days of July. It fluctuates quite a bit (e.g. the bills were ~ $350 one month before they moved in and a bit more than $150 for most months they were here) and I didn't know exactly what it would be so that wasn't really practical. – user8644 Aug 7 '16 at 13:17
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Small claims court was created for such matters. There is the possibility of a fee waiver, and if you prevail, you could get some of your costs covered (though there are other hoops to jump through if you need enforcement). A formal letter (written by you) stating that you intend to seek a legal judgment against him/her in the amount owed might be sufficient motivation for the person to pay what is owed.

  • This is helpful information so I'm giving it a +1. I'm not sure I'm willing to make the time investment and risk the monetary investment (looks like it's $75 just to file, though that's not as bad as I thought). It's possible my former roommate is just unable to afford it (they were late on rent for the last month), or would hope it would go away which would leave me out $275 or needing to go to still more trouble. I suspect this may be the most correct answer though so if no better alternative comes along I will mark it as correct in a few days. Thanks for your response. – user8644 Aug 7 '16 at 0:03
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    @user8644 you can threaten to take someone to small claims court without actually filing first. Assuming the other person isn't totally irrational avoiding the hassle of having to show up at court/etc will often convince them to be more cooperative and either pay what they owe up front or attempt to negotiate a payment plan if they don't have enough money to do so all at once. – Dan Neely Aug 7 '16 at 0:50
  • @DanNeely I'll wait at least until I know the full amount but I may do that, thanks. – user8644 Aug 7 '16 at 13:17

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