Michelle Nugent, a student at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, warns cash-strapped students to think twice before agreeing to live with someone just to save money on bills. That decision could cost you thousands of dollars if your roommate balks on the bill.
Nugent, 22, met two guys in class that seemed "nice," but wreaked havoc on her life for the five months they shared an apartment together, beginning in August 2001.
"Tom," 21, and his cousin "Sam," 24, had a fetish for cooking appliances. They infuriated Nugent by cooking hotdogs in the dishwasher and drying their clothes in the microwave to get the wrinkles out. She kept her dishes locked in her closet because the cousins would often use them and not wash them.
"They are absolutely the most disgusting guys," Nugent said. "I had no idea they were like that until I lived with them."
Sam dropped out of school during the apartment stay and Tom dropped out soon after Nugent finally got out of the situation by going over the landlord’s head – who was dating Sam – and giving the complex owner a complaint she wrote and had signed, notarized and letterized by a real estate attorney in the office she works.
In the letter, Nugent detailed her plight. She was often forced to keep the lights turned off because her roommates never contributed to the electric bill. One of the men also stole her golf clubs and used her toothbrush, but she was most concerned about the danger of Sam selling drugs from the apartment.
There would be a different guy on my couch every morning looking to buy drugs," said Nugent, who will be a senior this fall.
She has not pursued legal action against the two men because the attorney and court fees likely would offset the $600 the men owe her.
Brad Kosar, coordinator for the University of Iowa Tenant Landlord Association, said that all roommates should sign a legally binding agreement beforehand to make everyone aware of their financial obligations. The roommate agreement, which becomes a binding contract when all members sign it, will serve as evidence if matters must be resolved in court.
"This pretty much ensures that down the road there will be less confusion of each roommate’s financial obligations, and decrease the headaches involved with bill paying," he said.
Many utility companies will only bill a single individual at an address, Kosar said. If a roommate decides not to pay their share of the utility payment, the only option would be for the roommate paying the bill to take the non-paying roommate to small claims court, which will cost about $100 to file for a hearing, said Kosar.
"The individual filing the small claim then has the burden of proof to show that the other roommate is not paying, and without a written contract it’s pretty tough for a judge to enforce," he said.
Nugent decided to live with her best friend, "Linda," and another woman after her last fiasco because she thought she knew them well. However, Linda disappeared five months after she moved in last year.
"She told me she was going away on vacation and never came back," Nugent said. "She left me with all the bills and furniture." Linda still owes $2,000 in unpaid bills, according to her.
"I didn’t know my friends’ lifestyles," she said. "It caused so many problems. My advice is don’t have roommates basically, if you can avoid it."
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A ROOMMATE
- Do you want a really neat person?
- Do you want someone fairly quiet?
- Do they entertain house guests frequently?
- How will utilities be paid?
- How much furniture should your roommate bring?
- Do they have pets?
- Do they smoke?
- How long do they plan to stay?
- Do you want to sign a lease?
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