Will a verbal agreement hold up in court?

My ex-friend/ roomate and I verbally agreed to split the pgande bill when we moved in, so every month i paid the bill in full. When our year lease ended, I gave her the grand total of what she had owed me, $500-600 and she refused to pay me. Its almost a year later and have yet to see a dime from her. Do I bite my tongue and learn my lesson or can I actually get her to pay me what is rightfully mine?

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  • 4 years ago
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    It depends on a couple of things:

    1st - It has to meet the legal definition of a contract which has three parts: An offer, an acceptance, and consideration. The first two are easy, but the third is often confusing to people. Consideration basically means that there's both parties are gaining something from the contract. For example, if I tell you I'll come over tomorrow to wash your dishes and you say "ok" then there is definitely an offer (me coming over to wash your dishes) which you accepted but since I gain nothing from this arrangement it is not legally a contract. So if I didn't come over as promised you can't come after me for breaching the contract because there wasn't one.

    In your case, I believe this arrangement meets the definition of a contract as there was an offer to split the bill, you both accepted, and the consideration is that you both get access to the electricity provided.

    2 - You have to be able to convince a judge that the contract actually existed. This can be difficult in a he said / she said situation because there's no actual proof that you had an agreement. Unless she admits to the contract then the judge will have to determine which one of your stories is more likely. This, being a common type of arrangement between roommates, it's likely that you'll win on this part as well. Also, most courts would enforce this even if there was not agreement because you both used the electricity. That's right, sometime a contract can be created by actions without being verbal or in writing.

    3 - The contract has to be specific in scope and must be enforced. This is where you may have some trouble. First, when you made your agreement was it decided that she would pay a lump sum at the end of the lease or was she supposed to pay half the existing bill at the end of each month. If you didn't clarify when she was supposed to pay then technically she has an indefinite period of time to do so and hasn't yet breached her contract because you didn't actually say when she had to pay the money. Additionally, $500 - $600 is too vague. Courts deal in specifics not general isms. You need records of every payment you made and have to be able to provide a specific number that you can show (through your bills) that she owes. Finally, if she was supposed to make monthly payments, you didn't enforce that. Typically, if someone owes you money, you shouldn't wait more than a few months before getting the legal system involved. You could have sued her after her third missed payment and the courts would not only have awarded you the money but could have made written order for her to continue her payments on time or face other consequences (to include punitive damages at that point).

    Should you pursue this? Depends on how much you need the money. If you have to have it, then certainly pursue it. If you don't need it, then write it off to experience.

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  • 4 years ago

    A verbal agreement will not hold up in court without proof of said agreement. next time you do this. use a contract and have her sign it. then, photo copy it multiple times and hide your own copies 1 by 1 each in a different place so that you have extras incase she tries to destroy it. Also keep a copy as a picture in an encrypted folder on your computer and put the recycle bin in that folder so she cannot just drag that folder to the bin. that way if she refused to pay you, you'd be able to sue her.

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