I moved into a house and started paying rent of $110 per week however I was unaware that none of the other tenants (and hence myself) were on a contract so we were essentially squatters. The electricity bill was also in the name of another tenant living there. After a while we were evicted by the landlord as we did not have a contract. This was a surprise and disappointment at the same time since I needed a place to live and study (I am a university student).

Now 8 weeks after we were all evicted the tenant that had the electricity bill received the final bill and now expects me to pay part of it despite the fact that I wasn't even living there for 2/3 of the billing period (4 weeks of the period I was there, then got evicted and 8 weeks I was not there and the billing period is 3 months or 12 weeks). My name is not on any rent or utility contract so I'm not even sure if I am legally obliged to have to pay that money to him (it's about $50). What are my options?

2 Answers 2


I am not a lawyer; I am not your lawyer.

You do not cite a jurisdiction so this makes it very difficult to get a definitive answer. What follows is for Australia but the general principles are common law and would be applicable to other common law jurisdictions except where statues apply or case law has diverged.

In the first instance, it seems that you were not party to any arrangement to pay for the electricity. So on the face of it you are not party to any contract requiring you to pay.

Even if there was such an agreement: family, domestic, social and voluntary agreements (which this would be) are presumed not to be intended to legally bind the participants. Whether this presumption would be overturned would depend on the specific facts.

On the face of it, there is no legal obligation to pay.

Your options are:

  1. Do nothing; this puts the ball in their court, they can:
    1. Forget about it (it would then be over)
    2. Attempt to sue you with little prospect of success (which would cost them and you a lot more than $50 irrespective of who won)
    3. Do something illegal like beating you up (you really need to assess this risk)
    4. Tell everyone they know (in person and on social media) what a skiving prick you are (you could probably sue them for damages but that's not really going to happen, is it?)
  2. Pay them what they are asking
  3. Offer to pay them something less.

Option 1 is likely to break any relationship you have with the person, Option 2 is likely to preserve it and Option 3 could go either way.

Ultimately, like most legal questions, this is not about the law; it's about relationships ... broken ones mostly.

  • Re 1.2: Does a defendant incur expenses in small claims court? I've only been once (as a defendant, in the U.S.) and after a brief review of the case it basically turned into the judge explaining to the plaintiffs that the law is not whatever they happen to think is fair, and that it was odd for them to spend almost as much on filing and service as I had offered in compromise given that they had no case! Not to mention that the cost of collection even if they won (and I declined to pay gracefully) would have exceeded the amount they sought, which was in the hundreds of dollars.
    – feetwet
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 4:16
  • 2
    @feetwet Depends on the jurisdiction and how the judge feels on the day (e.g. if they had just had a fight with their spouse). Notwithstanding, time off work or study and travel expenses to attend court are real "costs" that have nothing to do with legal costs.
    – Dale M
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 4:20
  • Indeed, good points.
    – feetwet
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 4:27
  • @DaleM Yes I am in Australia and at the moment I have decided to do nothing. The person is not at all a close friend to me as I only met them when I moved in and knew them whilst I was living there. They now live in a different city/area to me ...
    – user566
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 4:27
  • @DaleM About your edit to the question: When your edit adds information not apparent in the question or its comments (like here, where the info about the OP being Australian was in a comment on an answer), it'd be nice if you could put something like "added tags based on OP's comment to answer" so reviewers can see why the info was added.
    – cpast
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 18:39

In general in the absence of a contract one has no clear legal obligation to pay for a shared service.

Note, however, that the absence of a written contract does not mean that no contract is in force: Courts have often held that oral and even implied contracts hold the same force of law as a written contract.

If you want legal advice you need to talk to a lawyer.

But if I paid someone $110 for rent who was not authorized to rent a living space, was evicted for that fraud, and hadn't explicitly agreed to pay the unauthorized renter a share of the electric bill, I would just ignore it.


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