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Help! My landlord is trying to scam me!
August 11, 2009 2:29 PM   Subscribe

Help! My landlord is trying to scam me!

Okay, so, when I first signed my lease, my landlord had me sign a "rider" that basically said the following : Although the amount on the official lease is $1800, the actual rent on the apartment is $2150. However, as long as I pay my rent on-time, I get a "discount" of $350.

This is obviously a ploy to get around the rent control laws of my city. If not for the "rider," my apartment would be rent-controlled since it is under $2000 a month.

Anyway, I renewed my lease in June, and he wanted me to sign another "rider" along with it, since the original "rider" was only valid for the term of the lease. I kept putting it off, and ultimately I forgot to send in the new "rider."

Months later, he calls me and bugs me, so finally I bring it into his office.

A few days later, he calls me and tells me that my last rent check bounced, and that I need to write him a new check and pay the $350 late fee. I knew this was absurd, because I have plenty of money in my account. A quick call to my bank confirmed that my landlord never tried to cash the check, and that it never bounced.

I called him back, and he yelled at me, insisting that the check had bounced, and that he has the "bounced" check which was "returned" by my bank with stuff written on it. He threatened me with eviction if I didn't send in a new check along with the $350.

Tomorrow, I am going to the bank to get an official letter stating that they never recieved the check and that it never bounced. I called his office to say that I will be bringing in this letter, but his secretary was instructed to tell me "not to bother, since he won't be in and that I don't have an appointment." Obviously, I'm going to bring in the letter anyway and leave it with his secretary.

But I'm wondering what happens next. Over the phone, he threatened to evict me! I don't want to lose my deposit, and I don't want my credit effected. I don't even want to leave my apartment. He's obviously mad at me for taking so long to bring in the "rider," but I wonder if it's really in his interest to evict me over this, especially since I've been a good tenant and have always paid my rent on-time.

What can I do to avoid being scammed, evicted, or losing my deposit? Would his "rider" even hold up in court? Does eviction effect your credit rating? Is this worth lawyering-up over? My deposit was $1800, but I have no idea what a lawyer would cost.

I live in NYC, if that makes any difference.

If you like, you can email me privately at dontwannabescammed@gmail.com.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Call the Attorney General's office and/or 311. Now.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:35 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Drop off a copy the note from your bank and keep the original. Ask to see this bounced check. Ask if he'll go with you to a bank to confirm that this check, in fact, bounced. Basically, keep insisting on proof until he drops it all.
posted by scrutiny at 2:37 PM on August 11, 2009


Seconding that 311 suggestion too. That's a must.
posted by scrutiny at 2:38 PM on August 11, 2009


Just so you know, getting evicted in NYC is more involved than in many other cities. It's not an overnight thing. It takes quite a while, especially if are actually willing to pay your rent and live in a rent controlled building.
posted by milarepa at 2:39 PM on August 11, 2009


Yes, do not worry about eviction, it takes forever. The attorney general's office is VERY helpful. We NYers are lucky in that sense.
posted by kathrineg at 2:42 PM on August 11, 2009


Also, keep a running log of dates, times, content of every contact you've had with your landlord. Save everything and organize it. Start right now, once you get a system it will be super easy to keep it updated.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:49 PM on August 11, 2009


I would send the material by certified mail rather than dropping it off, UNLESS you get a signature from the secretary that she received it.
posted by bunnycup at 3:14 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I came in to say the exact same thing bunnycup said. Send it certified; don't drop it off. If you drop it off, there's nothing stopping her from saying she never received it. You need to send it certified mail, with a return receipt requested, , so that you have proof that they have proof that your bank thinks they're full of shit.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:19 PM on August 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


2nd sending things via certified mail so you have proof they received it.
posted by Bunglegirl at 3:38 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


How do you know that your apartment is rent-controlled?

I would speak with a lawyer who specializes in landlord-tenant law, show him your lease and other pertinent factors, and then proceed from there.

Assuming from the get-go that your landlord is scamming you seems unwarranted.
posted by dfriedman at 3:54 PM on August 11, 2009


Call Met Council at 212-979-0611 and get free tenant advice.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:34 PM on August 11, 2009


GO OUT NOW AND BUY A LOTTERY TICKET, THIS IS YOUR LUCKY DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Congratulations. Not only can you get your rent reduced to the TRUE amount (and the rent control dept has this data on file - they can give you a printed history of rent on your apartment) but you are probably also due damages triple the amount you overpaid in rent up to this point (as per the New York Department of Housing and Community Renewal.)

WooHoo!

The mitigating factor here is that you sound exceptionally naive. Why would you go into the landlord's office and drop off anything in person?? Best to keep everything in writing and stop treating your landlord like a reputable business person. And FYI - you've got a ways to go between your situation right now and staying securely in your apartment and/or collecting any damages. From now on, tho, you correspond with him via return receipt mail and make copies of everything. Keep the master copies of ALL paperwork (leases, riders, bank statements, letter to your landlord, etc.) in a secure place, not in your apartment.

Go downtown to the Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHRC) on Beaver Street. Bring all of your documentation with you and talk with them. Get their printed history on the rents for your apartment, file whatever disputes they recommend.

You'll have to take home a bunch of forms, make copies of you documentation (lease, letters, etc.) and submit all that with your complaint forms to the DHCR. This will open a file on your case and they will begin contact with your landlord.

HERE IS HIS SCAM:

He rents out the apartment and signs a lease with the legal amount listed on the lease, and he turns that lease into the DHCR yearly when he must report on the status of your unit. The rider is just between you and him AND TOTALLY AGAINST THE LAW.

Right now, he is attempting not to accept your rent so that he can evict you. Even if he serves you a 3 Day Notice to pay or quit.... it means nothing. He can not legally lock you out of your apartment until he wins a court order. That is a long time from now. You probably won't get to this point, btw.

If I were you, I would cancel the other check he refused to cash. I would then send him a cashiers check for the rent amount (minus the check cancellation fee + documentation) plus a copy of my current lease, plus a copy of that letter saying he never submitted the original check to the bank.... all in a certified and return receipt envelope.

And then I would look for a lawyer and pray daily that this landlord further harasses me by attempting an eviction. (of course, I'm a bit twisted like that:)) You see, the more your landlord harasses you on top of ripping you off in rent on a rent stabilized apartment, the bigger the penalties.

Keep records and documentation - always pretend as though you are preparing for court. The DHCR will eventually invoke penalties on landlords who break the law. A lawyer can use your documentation to negotiate a legal rent reduction, credit towards future rent, and all sorts of other goodies (hate the crappy kitchen floor? demand a new one...)

One last thing.

The DHCR is the bureaucratic agency that regulates rent control and rent stabilized apartments and oversees landlord conduct. The reason you'll eventually need an attorney is that your landlord doesn't play fair, and the only right resolution to this situation involves financial compensation and agreements that the DHCR can not negotiate for you. Thing is, you need to be prepared on both fronts if you want to live on in that apartment and see justice done. (and attorney bit will likely sort out much faster than the DHCR bit, FYI.)

I knew someone who lived rent-free in Manhattan for many years when they found themselves in similar circumstances. They worked at it, and they paid an attorney about half what they would've been paying in rent to see the issue resolved. But once their landlord figured out they couldn't be bullied, they were the envy of the neighborhood.
posted by jbenben at 5:21 PM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


BTW...

From your post, I'd say this started (the landlord refusing to accept your rent) when you neglected to give him the signed rider. I'm guessing he suspected you were "wise" to his scam. I'm sure he is very scared right now because he knows better than you exactly how deep in the shit he really is.

Also, I wonder what story he told you last year that made you think it was OK to sign a lease for one amount of money and a rider for another?

In any event, when you talk to the DHCR, don't worry about so much about signing the lease and the rider. Yes, you did something stupid! I'm sure the landlord framed the situation in a "wink wink I'm doing you a favor with this, blah blah" kinda way - just admit stupidity and tell them whatever he told you. While you shouldn't have signed anything you knew wasn't kosher, suck it up and report the guy. He deserves it. And you might get paid:))
posted by jbenben at 5:35 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


jbenben: unless I'm reading the post wrong, the OP hasn't actually been paying extra rent on a rent-controlled unit; he's been paying an amount that would ordinarily make it subject to rent control, but with a lease rate that is technically above the cutoff so those rules don't apply to the unit (right?). While the owner may be in trouble for skirting rent-control laws, it doesn't sound like the OP is due any damages (I don't live in NYC, so apologies if I'm mis-reading).

Not to discount the wacko attitude coming out of your landlord, but if you can keep a cool head, this might work out without lawyers. I don't know the particulars here, but put yourself in his shoes for a minute -- he/his boss has mortgage payments to make and a hassle trying to collect rent every month from a bunch of faceless tenants who may be losing jobs, breaking leases, behaving sketchily, and so on. In short, his is not the kind of job where he will give you the benefit of the doubt about whether or not a check bounced, and he might be used to bullying tenants to get rent paid. If you can get into an actual in-person (and non-adversarial) conversation with him, he might realize that you're right and stop making stupid threats. People get stressed when money is tight, even big evil landlords. Give it one more shot before you make it a legal battle.

(and if he is crazy, there are tons of askme threads about legal help against NYC landlords. good luck!)
posted by Chris4d at 5:46 PM on August 11, 2009


Chris4d - we're both right!

I did read the post incorrectly, thanks:)) The extra $350 is a penalty that kicks-in only if the rent is late, not something the OP paid all thru last year - OOPS!

But, if the OP has paid this $350 anytime in the past.... OP is due back each $350 X3, per the DHCR.

"If not for the "rider," my apartment would be rent-controlled since it is under $2000 a month."

In fact, my advice really doesn't change all that much concerning contacting the DHCR, keeping proper documentation, sending a cashiers check for this month's rent, and eventually finding a good lawyer.

This tenant probably does live in a rent stabilized apartment (DHCR will confirm.) The landlord DEFINITELY only reports the $1800 per month lease to the DHCR. The $350 late fee is not legal.

OP can absolutely try working it out without getting a lawyer, and I encourage that, but I think a trip to the DHCR is a MUST.

I was maybe overly concerned because a somewhat common shady landlord trick is refusing to accept rent and then threatening eviction? In a situation like that, the OP may need a good lawyer to calm his shady landlord down. Can't hurt the OP to start preparing for that possibility under the circumstances he described.

Cheers.
posted by jbenben at 6:57 PM on August 11, 2009


Here's what I think might be happening: The apartment was stabilized, and the legal rent is something like $1800. However, if the landlord can register it at $2150 and get people to live there without filing a complaint for four years, then the statute of limitations has passed and that becomes the new legal rent — and since it's over $2000 the apartment becomes de-regulated at the next vacancy.

By not actually collecting the overcharge, the landlord is hoping to keep you from complaining — and maybe avoiding the triple damages if he's caught, if technically you haven't paid extra.

Or, the apartment was controlled, and you are its first stabilized tenant. In this market the best rent he can get is $1800, but if he registers that rent, the apartment will become stabilized. If he can register it for $2150 he can de-regulate it on its next vacancy, which he'd like to be as soon as possible.

Asker, you say the "official" lease is at $1800. Is that on a stabilized or controlled lease form? You should get the rent history from the DHCR, and find out what the history of registered rents is for your apartment. If the legal rent — that is, the previous rent + the allowable vacancy increase + any vacancy bonus + 1/40 of any improvements he made — is below $2000 but the registered rent is above that, then the landlord is nominally "overcharging" you and you should file a complaint. And, yes, talk to a tenants-rights lawyer.
posted by nicwolff at 7:35 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


nicwolff - EXACTLY.

Totally forgot about the statute of limitations. It's been so long since I had any dealings with these types of things:))
posted by jbenben at 8:00 PM on August 11, 2009


IANAL.

He can't just "evict" you. He'd have to take you to court to do that, and as soon as you told the judge that you paid the rent, and he didn't cash the check, he'd get a slap on the wrist and a dismissal. (Obviously, you should document everything exhaustively.)

You'll likely win this one (again, confirm with an actual lawyer). But, you probably don't want to keep living there if you're on the landlord's sh-t list. Start making plans to find a better place, before he randomly turns off your heat during the winter. :-/
posted by Citrus at 6:55 AM on August 12, 2009


If you need a good housing attorney in NYC, mefi mail me.
posted by kimdog at 8:57 AM on August 12, 2009


An eviction does take months, and there is a LOT of paperwork involved. Keep METICULOUS records, gather all your canceled checks and write down all attempts to communicate with the landlord, times, what was said, etc.

A judge will most likely throw them out of court if you show that you have made every attempt to make the payments, have not been late, etc. IF the rider is illegal, they may not want to go to court and have that come out.... Which means they want to strongarm you out of the apartment. If at any time you fear for your safety, do NOT hesitate to get out, stay with friends or family, call the police, etc.

In California, it is illegal for the landlord to enter "your" apartment without notice except in a bona fide emergency. Not sure about NY, but hopefully similar laws exist.

Call your housing department and ask them how you might proceed in this situation.

In SoCal, an eviction requires a 3 day notice to pay rent or quit. If you pay, or attempt to pay, in that time, it's a no go. Then they have to file more paperwork, get a courtdate, get a judgement, schedule the sherriff, etc... It takes up to a year sometimes!

The letter from your bank will really help. I always use duplicate type checks, then I have a "copy" of what I wrote. NEVER EVER pay cash, and always try to get a receipt. Those will help you win in a court. If you go in and tell the judge that if they return this "marked on" check to you, you have the money owed and can pay immediately as long as the landlord can be made to accept it. Have cashier's checks or money orders ready in the amount due, and state your willingness to pay.

And don't sign any rental riders like this if you can avoid it! Good luck!
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 10:42 PM on September 14, 2009


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