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We have a roommate who consistently does not pay her rent on time. We are all signed on one lease, and the landlord is unwilling to take her off. This month, she decided to spend 1,500 on a condo for her birthday instead of paying the $400 she owes us. The money is laying on her dresser, can we legally take $400 of it? If not, what are our options?

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    No, that is conversion or theft, the proper way to recover this money is probably small claims court. – Viktor Dec 1 '15 at 6:49
  • You can also get collections involved...credit hits are often incentive enough to settle – Pat W. Dec 1 '15 at 12:24
  • It would be counterproductive to steal one month's worth of rent, anyway. Next month, your roommate will at the very least not leave money laying around - and she'd be within her rights to file a police report and press charges as well. I imagine her roommates would become prime suspects, especially if there's no forced entry. – Patrick87 Dec 1 '15 at 13:25
  • @Patrick87 The police would not need to consider means of ingress. The fate of the missing cash could hardly be a mystery when demands for unpaid rent suddenly stop. But if the roommate truly leaves cash lying around, one might reasonably assume she left it lying there as payment for her share of the rent. – phoog Dec 1 '15 at 13:52
  • I definitely do not plan on breaking the law. I was just wondering if it would be legal, since technically it is money she owes us. I know it's very difficult to evict someone, so last night we convinced her to voluntarily leave, and will sue her for the rest of the money in small claims court – iCodeSometime Dec 1 '15 at 21:35
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This (as always) depends on jurisdiction, but usually - No, just taking the money is not legal..

In most jurisdictions, if you have a claim (the rent, in your case) against a debtor , and the debtor does not pay, you are not allowed to take any enforcement action (taking property, coercing the debtor) yourself.

Instead, you must obtain a court or administrative judgement confirming your claim. Even then, often only a court officer or the police may actually enforce payment of the debt.

This is mostly to protect the debtor from unwarranted enforcement action (such as taking more than you are owed, or collecting a disputed debt).


For example, in Germany, to enforce a debt the creditor must first obtain what is called a Vollstreckungstitel or just Titel (title) - an official document confirming that there is an outstanding claim. This is on top of any contracts already existing. A Titel is obtained either through a regular court judgment, or through an abbreviated, administrative process called Mahnverfahren (essentially, you ask the court to send the debtor a letter about your claim, and if the debtor does not file an objection, you get the Titel).

Once you have a Titel, the creditor can enforce it any time they choose (with a Titel, the statute of limiation is extended from the usual three years to 30 years). However, actual enforcement must be performed by an officer of the court (Gerichtsvollzieher). Only they may do things such as collecting the debtors property, force open doors and even imprison uncooperative debtors.

I don't know the exact situation in the USA, but I believe it is roughly similar. For example, the equivalent of a Vollstreckungstitel is a Writ of execution.

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No, it's not "legal" to take money from someone, even if it's owed...unless a court tells you it's ok.

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