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I co-signed on an apartment with my ex-boyfriend when I was 18 and he was 21. We broke up.

I am now 26 and it has been in collections for years. He refuses to help pay the debt. I am now stuck with the bills for the apartment and not in the financial situation to pay it off. He refuses to pay anything and I am not able to locate him.

What can be done in this situation? Is he liable for the rent? And how am I able to get him to pay?

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    Questions for you: What does your contract say? Are you "liable in solidarity", that would mean that your rent collector can collect hte rent from you and you have to see yourself for your ex-partner to pay you back. Second: Do you know where he lives? Do you know his phone number, anything? In this case you might be able to locate him. – Lucas Raphael Pianegonda Jan 22 at 7:50
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    This sounds horrible. Can you explain, how long did you in fact both live in the apartment? IE was it 1 month, 1 year, or until recently? – Fattie Jan 22 at 12:44
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    And what is the total, absolute, amount owing? – Fattie Jan 22 at 12:47
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    You should also include the tag of your country, which is important to get legal advice. – Lucas Raphael Pianegonda Jan 22 at 13:57
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    Do you mean you signed a lease? Or you purchased this apartment? – Azor Ahai Jan 22 at 18:57
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Advice based on USA style system.

Do not pay it. Do not talk to the creditor.

What you have is old debt. The debt is not still accumulating, it has stopped some years ago, and now, the debt is slowly aging out.

After 7 years, it falls off your credit report.

After some shorter amount of time, 2-6 years typically, it will become "time-barred" because it is beyond the statute of limitations for lawsuits in your state.

If you pay on, or acknowledge the debt, the clocks restart.

So don't flipping do that.

"Acknowledge" typically means in writing. Paying on a debt is the sincerest way to acknowledge a debt. Which is why we are not doing that.

Paying the debt fully.... restarts the clock and gives you 7 years of bad luck on your credit report.

Wait, what? Paying on a debt makes my credit worse, and not paying on it makes my credit better!?? What madness is this? The credit industry's madness. You signed onto this when you chose to do business with them by cosigning. It's not moral... but their house, their rules.

You have insolvency armor

Since you don't have any money (so you say), they probably will not sue you. Generally it is not worth suing over an amount below $5000-10,000 because if the "debtor" chooses to put up a smart fight, their legal expenses can be more than they can ever hope to recover. But that assumes a solvent opponent, if you're also broke, then they can't get blood from a stone, and any legal expenses are a total loss.

More likely than not, they are getting "antsy" because they can read a calendar and can see the Statute of Limitations is about to expire. They're getting more and more desperate to get you to "acknowledge the debt" so they can restart the clock. And this works. Citizens are finance-stupid to begin with, and can easily be whipped into a blind panic where they will do anything if they think that'll make the phone stop ringing.

You have all the power here, don't blow it.

But... The debt!

Again, their house, their rules.

Anyway, it's not like they're only calling you. They're calling him, too, because he is the main debtor. So forget any thought of suing your ex-boyfriend, because if these experienced collectors can't get any blood out of that stone, you sure can't! A lawsuit from you on him would just muddy the water, and worse, would acknowledge the debt, which you know definitely not to do.

Ah, right... do something.

Yes, there's always that urge to Do Something, isn't there? It's like an itch. They are inflaming the itch with their constant calls and mails, that is the point, to get you to do something, anything, on the hopes that you do something stupid from your ignorance of the system. This works. This makes bank. That's why they do it.

Well, you can tell them to Stop Calling. Under FCRA and similar law in most developed countries, they have to stop phoning you after you tell them not to. Don't you dare state anything about the debt. That's "doing something".

The plain mail letters, throw them in the trash. That's "doing something".

But really, I'm gonna frame challenge and say that your precondition of "what do I DO" is wrong, because 99.9% of this is resisting the urge to do something. Resisting is doing something.

Here's something you can positively do. Let It Go.

Do the Right Thing

The moral thing is to pay your debts as agreed, when agreed. Time is of the essence. Once you blow it, you can't use money to go un-blow it. You can't un-ring that bell, that's a conceit.

The system as-designed doesn't even want you to try. There is simply no moral way to pay money back to a company this late in the game. Doing so does great harm to you because of a side effect, and that new harm is not moral. I call this "insane" because I don't have time to write a 200,000 word book explaining all the factors and how this has been carefully honed for 400 years amongst competing interests, most of whom are in fact deeply religious. But it has.

It is a conceit that your own morality trumps all: trumps laws of the land, trumps your agreements with others, and most of all, trumps the other person's morality. That isn't morality, that's hubris. In an agreement, everone gets a say on what is moral. The industry has a standard for that.

What they want is very rational. Your original creditor wants this incident behind him. And behind you. Forgiveness isn't just Decent, it's good for business. They do not want you mired in the weight of debt for decades, because people in bankruptcy don't buy new cars or go to the theater. That is why the cutoff is 2-7 years. They want you to learn the lessons, get your feet back under you, and come back as a good customer doing profitable business with them.

And that is exactly what you should do. Remember them and select them preferentially when you are doing well.

This is rational.

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    Why do you say the boyfriend is the "main debtor"? It says "co-signed" – Azor Ahai Jan 22 at 18:59
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    "Paying the debt fully.... restarts the clock and gives you 7 years of bad luck on your credit report." Do you have a cite for that? – Acccumulation Jan 22 at 19:44
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    @Acccumulation that depends on the creditor willingly consenting to remove the mark from your credit report on exchange for payment, and you successfully holding him to his agreement, and the reporting agency not reporting it anyway. That is not automatic. He absolutely can put "R9 paid on full" or "R9 settled less than full bal" and the date is the payoff date and you are stuck with that mark for 7 years because that is the truth. – Harper Jan 22 at 20:26
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    How does this answer change if we assume OP already did acknowledge the debt in the very interaction that lead her to ask this question? – Peter Jan 23 at 9:32
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    @UKMonkey "it has been in collections for years" that would have triggered an eviction, and in the US those don't take "years". Also if she was still there with him 5 years gone, she would be asking a VERY different question, and referring to it as "my apartment" and calling herself "the tenant" not "a cosigner". – Harper Jan 23 at 17:07
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After 8 years, you should have a fundamental understanding that things will not change with this ex-boyfriend. He may not be found, and even if he is, he will not pay any portion. Dragging him through some legal process will cause you to spend money and emotional capital for something that will yield no result. It is a complete waste of time.

So really you have two choices. The first is to pay the bills. Use typical collection clearing tactics. Negotiate what you owe down, make a lump sum payment using a throw away debit card or money order, and have it in writing that the bill is satisfied. Never make payments, never give them access to your checking account. Once that is done you can move on with your life and do great things. This will be a necessary step if you want to buy a home.

The second is to ignore the collectors. From the way that you ask the question this is your option right now. If I woke up in your shoes, I would concentrate on how I can earn more money to get this debt (and any other debt) cleared. Until you have some cash, ready to pay these bills off, just earn.

This is a hurt that keeps on giving and echos into your future. The sooner you can get this behind you the better. It will be futile to get this dead beat to pay any portion of what he owes. Please learn from this mistake and try not to repeat it in the future. As gnasher said, the answer to every cosign question is "No". Also, take it a step further, never ask a loved one to cosign for you if you value the relationship.

Edit: There is another option here. You could negotiate with the creditors to remove your name from the lien. Lets say that the creditors say that the amount owed is $1,500. You can say, I will give you $300 if you remove my name from the lien. You can still try and collect from Mr. Deadbeat the full amount, but just take my name off the lien. Again make sure you get this all in writing. They might just go for some deal like that.

Additionally there is some avocation of allowing the debt to "age out". In some cases this works, but debt collectors are good at preventing this from happening. All they have to do is resell the debt to someone else and the clock starts again.
There is nothing stopping a debt collector owner from opening two companies. When debts come close to aging out, he just sells it to his other company. The portfolio does not change, nothing is lost, and the debt is never aged out.

Relying on debts aging out is a pipe dream that will never happen.

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    The legal process depends much on the circumstances. If he is absolutely broke, then it's pointless. But if he has some money it might be worth it. – Lucas Raphael Pianegonda Jan 22 at 12:18
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    @Fattie I disagree, it depends on the circumstances. And on the legal system. For example where I live, a beatiful and truely great country named switzerland, you can legally persue someone who is owning you money. You then have the option to settle this privately before you go to court. If you can prove that he own you someting which is not that difficult you can in fact seize a portion of their income until the debt is paid off. So it very much depends on the circumstances. – Lucas Raphael Pianegonda Jan 22 at 12:58
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    @Fattie: Where does it say that this is in the USA? – TonyK Jan 22 at 13:58
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    @LucasRaphaelPianegonda "you can legally persue someone who is owning you money" That's exactly what's happening here. The problem is that the asker is the one who owes money, and they are now being legally pursued by the people that it is owed to. By co-signing, they became jointly liable for the rent. The ex-boyfriend doesn't owe them anything; the two of them together owe the landlord. – anaximander Jan 22 at 14:07
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    Reselling a debt does not reset the clock. Unscrupulous debt collectors will report it to credit bureaus as if it were reset, and/or will tell the debtor that it was reset. But from a legal standpoint, it was not! And those unscrupulous collectors can get sued into oblivion. Maybe that's when the second agency comes in - when the first one gets sued, it closes shop, and the second one takes over? – stannius Jan 23 at 16:19
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Joint and several liability means they will go for the person that has the most assets or is easier to trace.

It would appear that you are way past the statute of limitations for most states (e.g. six years for New York) and unless you make any agreement with a debit collector, which starts the timeline again from that date, they shouldn't be able to pursue you any further for recovery. It will have a negative impact on your credit rating for a while, but then paying them in full would still have the same impact.

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    +1 for noticing the statute. But an agreement can be mere acknowledgement of the debt, a meeting of the minds on that subject. – Harper Jan 22 at 18:27
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    Indeed! Important to tell debt collectors to make all requests in writing and not make spur of the moment comments to them that will come back and bite you. Also important to note that when the primary debt collector gives in it will generally get passed down (sold) to the bottom-feeders in the form of an Excel sheet and they tend to blur the rules slightly :-) – gchq Jan 22 at 18:45
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The best answer I can give you from the information I have is:

1 Locate him

His address, his workplace, his phone number - those things help.

2 Get a legal advisor

Someone familiar with your local law should be consulted. I know those people are expensive but legal advice can be cheaper than paying all the rent yourself. Ask him if you can get out of the apartment contract somehow, and ask him if your ex is liable and how much he owes you. He might also be able to help you locate your ex.

3 Send him an ultimatum

Send him a letter (best with a registered letter, so he is not able to deny that he got the letter) with a neat summary of what you payed or will pay and what he is supposed to pay. Make a suggestion on what his monthly payment should be. If he starts to negotiate that would be good, so don't immediately refuse it. But don't let him screw you over. Make it absolutely clear that if he doesn't pay legal steps will be taken. Write it formally correct, be polite and send a copy to yourself which you don't open (evidence for later steps).

4 Sue him

If nothing helps, he still refuses and your legal advisor thinks you'll have a chance, then sue him. Most of the times this will do the trick and he will start to negotiate and will pay his part. If not you'll get it by force in front of a judge. Legal steps are not to be taken lightly but in a case like that it usually pays off since a few years of rent is a lot of money.

Edit: Depending on the circumstances namely the specific law, the evidence you have at hand for his debt to you and his/your financial situation this is more or less likely to work out. There is also the option of writing the hole thing off and pay the debt yourself, which I only didn't include in the initial answer because it doesn't answer the question.

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    This won't work because there is nothing in law that says a cosigner owes the other cosigner any money. The cosignatories are "joint and severally" liable. The lender can choose to recover the whole amount from one individual. Privately suing a deadbeat with no assets on the basis of, at best, a verbal agreement is likely to cost more than would be recoverable in many cases. – RedGrittyBrick Jan 22 at 13:47
  • Finding the other tenant and getting legal advice is good. Sending him an ultimatum of sorts might help, depending on exactly what it says, but the legal advice you get in step 2 should help you work that out. That last part, though... The asker signed a contract stating that they would pay if the other tenant didn't. I really doubt a lawsuit will get them out of that. – anaximander Jan 22 at 14:02
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    OP has no cause for action against the ex boyfriend, he doesn't owe her any money. What's more, suing will acknowledge the debt, restarting the statute of limitations for her and not him LOL. – Harper Jan 22 at 17:50
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    Usually, ultimatums are issued from a position of power. – Money Ann Jan 22 at 20:38
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    Not a lawyer, but I imagine that if she paid the debt, and they had a verbal agreement for him to pay all the rent, she would have a valid reason to sue him to recover that money. Of course, we all know verbal agreements are worth the paper they're printed on, unless he's stupid enough to acknowledge it. – not_a_comcast_employee Jan 23 at 20:39
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What can be done in this situation?

Three options:

1. The best plan is for you to pay the money settle1 the debt.
Some people call things like this that they've done in their own past a "stupid tax" meaning that it is a tax (something that you have to pay but don't want to) on the thing they did which they (in hindsight) think was stupid of them to do.
We all have decisions we've made which we look back on and say, "That was a bad choice!"

2. Continue as you are - don't pay them and keep being harassed.

3. If you really have both no money and no assets, you can file for bankruptcy protection.
Save up about $500 and file it - you'll be no worse off than you are now.
Note that you may not qualify for bankruptcy, or if you do the court may decide that this is a affordable debt for you and require that you pay it.

Is he liable for the rent?

Based on what you said, sounds like he is.

And how am I able to get him to pay?

Well, you can't.
Based on what you've said he has no intention of paying.

Come on! Is there really nothing I can do?

Okay, you could get a judgement against him for his share of the problem if the statute of limitations hasn't run out. You could if you had money for a lawyer, but you don't. And you'd need good records for this to work - like all your canceled checks (which you either paid to him or to the rental agent/company).


1 by "pay the money" I meant "settle the debt" (in full).
I did not say or mean to imply that she should make payments.

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    Paying the money Will restart the statute of limitations and restart the 7 year aging on her credit report. Filing for bankruptcy is unhelpful if you have no assets and won't soon, because it creates a new 10-year burn on your credit report. That's worse. For a time-barred debt, bankruptcy is probably not even possible. Also, you are repeating the trope that cosigners can sue each other. They can't. – Harper Jan 22 at 17:47
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    This answer is crazy! Definitely do not pay the debt. Check Harper's answer for some realistic, good advice. – only_pro Jan 22 at 17:54
  • @Harper You're correct, but the question was "what can be done." I saw three options and listed all three. The OP is posting questions here, so I assume one day she will have assets. While the debt may not be on her credit report any more, unless there is a statute of limitations on it (and there may not be, or it may be really long) it will still be out there for her to be sued under unless it is either settled or released by bankruptcy. – J. Chris Compton Jan 22 at 17:55
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I co-signed on an apartment with my ex-boyfriend when I was 18 and he was 21. We broke up.

That sucks. Why didn't you get rid of the apartment back then?

What can be done in this situation?

Co-signing is like saying "if he doesn't pay I promise I'll pay in his place". So the collector doesn't care whether it's you who pays or him. Their only concern is getting the money with the least effort. If it's easier to get it from you, they'll get it from you. From their point of view there is no such thing as "he is liable for half, she is liable for the other half" (unless it was specifically in the contract). The collector will not stop trying to get the money from you.

The most productive thing you can do is try really hard to find the boyfriend and convince him to pay (assuming he's not broke like you). If you find him but fail to convince him, you can pass his info to the collector and then the collector will at least be going after him as much as you. The collector might also find him on their own. I'm sure neither of you wants to foot the bill for the other person, nor does the collector want to waste their time on this indefinitely, so hopefully you can come to an agreement where you both pay your equal share and be done with the thing.

If you simply can't get a hold of the boyfriend no matter what, you are basically stuck with the entire amount. You'll just have to pay it off. If you are truly unable to, you could declare bankruptcy, in which case the bills will go away but so will your assets and credit. Bankruptcy should probably be your last resort. You could also ghost the collector like some suggest and hope they will give up. I doubt this will work - the collector pays money for the right to collect the debt. So if they gave up easily, they would go out of business.

Suing might be an option, but the biggest problem is that as I said, you agreed to all this when co-signing, so it's hard to argue there's an injustice. Maybe you feel it's unjust that he gets to disappear and leave you with the bill, but you were assumed to have considered that possibility when co-signing. But in your jurisdiction, there might nevertheless be laws that allow you to demand restitution. In some places co-habiting like this can afford you protections similar to marriage. If you want to try that, you should go to a lawyer. The lawyer will also advice on how to sue a person you can't find. He could also give you better advice on your legal liabilities regarding the bills. So you want to look for one specializing in debts and/or domestic law and see if they do free consultations.

protected by JoeTaxpayer Jan 22 at 18:53

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