I don’t want to be a jerk to my roommate who lost her job, but I need her half of the rent. What do I do? – DIGIWIZ CENTRAL

I don’t want to be a jerk to my roommate who lost her job, but I need her half of the rent. What do I do?

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For Love & Money is a biweekly column from Insider answering your relationship and money questions.This week, a reader’s roommate lost her job and can’t pay her half of the rent.Our columnist suggests covering her half for this month and creating a plan for the future.Got a question for our columnist? Write to For Love & Money using this Google form.

Dear For Love & Money,

I have shared an apartment with the same person for three years now. We met when I posted an ad on social media looking for a roommate, and we have had a friendly, respectful relationship ever since, but we never really became close friends.

Last month, she lost her job under some questionable circumstances. She had a couple of panic attacks at work and had to take days off without giving a lot of notice. Shortly after, they “restructured,” and she got laid off.

She is outraged and plans to sue for wrongful termination, and while I agree that what her ex-employers have done is shady, I still need her half of the rent. When she paid her share at the end of the month, she warned me she probably wouldn’t be able to pay for this coming month.

She assured me that she is looking for a new job and is confident that she’ll win the lawsuit and have more than enough money for rent after that, and I didn’t say much either way. Honestly, I can probably cover this month, but it will be a squeeze, and I certainly can’t cover her half the rent indefinitely.

She’s not someone I really consider a friend, so I don’t feel bad on a personal level, but I don’t want to compound anyone’s hardship after they just unfairly lost their job due to mental health issues. As the end of the month approaches, how do I tell her I can’t pay our apartment complex with money from a future settlement she may or may not receive?


Trying to Be Good Without Going Broke

Dear Trying,

Your instinct not to rely on your roommate eventually winning a lawsuit is a good one. Even if she wins, it won’t happen by the end of the month. And I hope she isn’t banking too heavily on that money yet either. Growing up on a farm, my mother always told me not to count my chickens before they hatched, and the expression is as true about money as it is about poultry.

See what experts recommend for your emergency fund »

But that’s your roommate’s journey. A better folksy saying for your journey might be, “You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.” In other words, if your roommate doesn’t have the money, she doesn’t have it.

From the sound of your letter, it seems that up until your roommate lost her job, she paid their share of the rent reliably. That’s good news, because a flaky person tends to be flaky both in and out of financial hardship.

Since your roommate hasn’t been unreliable up till now, there’s every reason to believe that your roommate will pay her share of the rent as soon as she can. However, just because she’s good for the money doesn’t mean you can’t afford it.

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You mentioned probably being able to cover their rent this month, and in the spirit of doing for others as you would have them do for you, I think you should. We’ve all been in a jam, and I think we can all agree that in those moments if even one person had cared enough to help, it would have made a world of difference. This is your chance to be that difference for your roommate.

Beyond sheer altruism, however, there’s also the question of the tacit agreement you gave when you “didn’t say much either way.” I think it’s fair to say your roommate tried to talk to you about it, and you chose to dodge the conversation. Whether you cover the full rent this month or not, you need to have that conversation with your roommate ASAP.

Get started managing your finances with a financial plan »

Neither you nor your roommate can afford to navigate this situation with assumptions in place of a map. You must create some clear guidelines. Depending on the lease agreements signed when your roommate moved in, they might already exist. If they did sign a lease, discuss the plan described in the agreement during your apartment meeting. If you have nothing in writing, use your meeting to change that.

You said you don’t want to “compound anyone’s hardship after they just unfairly lost their job due to mental health issues,” but that doesn’t mean you can afford to pay their rent for the next few months either, so maybe find other ways to help your roommate. Go over your options with her.

Perhaps unemployment will cover at least part of their share of the rent. Perhaps you can find a split that works for both of you right now, and then come up with a deadline for when that split will no longer be feasible or your roommate believes they’ll have their finances in order.

My friend owes my money, and she keeps dodging paying me »

During this meeting, be honest with your roommate about your financial limitations, and be direct about how those limitations will affect her moving forward. You need a paying roommate to afford your rent, and while you are willing to wiggle and shift to make it work with her, ultimately, you have to do what you have to do.

Reading your letter, I recognized a dissonance in you — a people pleaser who doesn’t want to kick their roommate when she’s down and a self-preserver who can only afford so much compassion without going broke. Try to remember that each of these perspectives has value. But while “not saying much either way” can feel like you’re juggling them well, the only true way to honor both these parts of yourself is by being honest and having the conversation.

Rooting for you,

For Love & Money

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