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Suppose that several people share an apartment in Massachusetts. Suppose that the utility bills for that appartment were in the name of one resident, A, and A collected shares of the amounts due from otehr residents. Suppose further that A spent a significant amount of the money on A's own personal expenses, leading to a debt to the various utilities amounting to about $1600.

A has since closed the account in A's name and another redsident has taken over.

A is making payments toward the outstanding debt.

Suppose one of the other residents is threatening to take A to court. Is there anything A can do to be protected given that money is getting paid back regardless? If it does go to court, what can A expect to happen?

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    I'm not clear on the "we ended up" part of this. It seems they gave YOU the money for utilities and YOU spent it elsewhere. So from what you have said, YOU are responsible.
    – jwh20
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 16:24
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    With respect to small claims court. What is their complaint against you? Are they damaged in some way?
    – jwh20
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 16:25

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It would seem that A owes a debt to the utility company for unpaid bills, and is making payments in some amount on that debt. Arguably, A also owes a debt to the other residents for having taken their money for the purpose of paying utility bills, and then using it for A's own personal expenses instead. It is possible that the unpaid utility bills may have endangered the credit rating of the other residents, but if the accounts were solely in A's name, that seems unlikely.

One of the other residents could file a court case asking for repayment of the sums paid to A but not properly transmitted to the utility. But if A and the utility (or utilities, if more than one is involved) has entered into a payment agreement accepted by the utility, and A is paying in accordance with that agreement, it is hard to see where another resident, say B, has been damaged. B has received the utility services for which B paid, and the utility company is not demanding payment from B for the bills issued while the account was in A's name. Probably B's credit rating was not adversely affected, because the account was not in B's name.

Unless some of the facts above are incorrect, or B can show some other form of harm that B has suffered at A's hands, it seems likely that any case would result in a decision for A, or an early dismissal of the claim. If there are facts not mentioned above, and B can show some actual harm, then B may get a judgement. But since it seems that A may have little available money, such a judgement may be of limited value to B even if B gets it.

B might do well to consult a lawyer before bringing such a case.

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  • One harm, if there is one, would be the risk of utility shutoff for non-payment, but the limited available facts suggest that this probably isn't going to happen. Another would be that a utility bill in arrears, even if there is a payment plan, is a default under the lease that if not timely cured after a notice of default is provided by the landlord, could lead to the eviction of everyone in the apartment (again, something that hasn't happened yet, but could happen).
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 21:40

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