Am I allowed to ask if my laid-off roommate can still pay his rent?

Each week,’s in-house etiquette expert, Dear Penny, tackles your recession-related stumpers.

I had an unemployed roommate once. Good god was it awkward. Never mind he was from San Francisco and took every opportunity to blame his joblessness on everything and everyone aside from himself (I should say here he was an “artist,” and refused to even look for a decent gig). As someone who’s had about ten million crummy day jobs, I had zero sympathy.  But your roommate is in a different situation: once gainfully employed, now not. Give the guy a break, wait and see what happens. If he doesn’t come to you, be proactive. I had a friend who used to finance the plane tickets for his trips around the world with big parties. He’d cobble some talented friends together—say, a band, or some actor friends—and provide a little entertainment, also some booze, some food, and charge an entrance fee. Rent parties are supposedly back, anyway.

You might wonder why I don’t just say throw him out. The reason is: it seems your roommate is generally responsible, so work with the guy. Whoever you get to replace him may well be facing a similar situation sooner or later; so why not work with the one you already know?

Dear Penny has spent years navigating the social waters of income disparity and doing odd jobs to support her comic-and-novel-writing habit. A former copywriter for Comedy Central, she teaches writing at Queensborough Community College. Send her questions at

2 Comment

  • I have an unemployed roommate as well. As far as the rent goes, he has been late pretty frequently and that is between him and the landlord (we are renting separate rooms in a 2 person apartment) so I am not being financially stiffed.

    However –
    1-he has not paid the utilities this month
    2-he does not contribute (buying detergent, soap, toilet paper, etc.)
    3-he has been using my detergent, shampoo, paper, etc.
    4-worst of all, he has accused me of not pulling my weight. now, to be honest, I have not had time lately to wash every dish and clean the bathroom. I am working 18 hour days. While the house is far from perfect, it is not repulsive either. I am comfortable with the level of cleanliness/dirtiness there is and feel that if he wants the house to sparkle, he should do it himself (I would be sacrificing my 4 hours of sleep)

    I would like to live with a med school student/air traffic controller/ or someone else that works hard and not someone that sits around staring all day at the things I don’t clean. I am not this boy’s mother or girlfriend and am not responsible for everything in the house. How do I get rid of my lazy – smokes all day in his room – hasn’t graduated from college at 24 roommate?


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