Join 3,375 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Tenant's rights filter: Virginia. My landlord is making a lot of unreasonable requests. What are my options, and who should I talk to?
July 12, 2012 6:03 AM   Subscribe

Tenant's rights filter: Virginia. My landlord is making unreasonable demands. What are my options, and who should I talk to?

I found a condo to rent off of Craigslist in Fairfax, VA, and moved into it with my sister last October. Up until now, our landlord has been extremely friendly and accommodating, but we decided not to renew the lease--I'm going to be commuting to Baltimore for work starting this academic year and want to be closer to the metro--and now there are problems.

First, the moving date. Our lease is up in October, and I had planned to move early in the semester for work and help my sister pay rent up through the end of the lease so that she isn't too inconvenienced. He asked us to move in August instead because he had a prospective tenant lined up and wanted to re-sign a lease for a place himself. We've tried to accommodate, and my sister has in fact already signed a lease at another place starting in August. I will hopefully also be able to find a new apartment by the date that we agreed on (over email, we have not signed anything at this point). But it's a huge cost and inconvenience to make the deadline, and he will not allow me to keep so much as an extra piece of furniture in the apartment for a couple of extra days.

The second and more distressing issue is that he recently emailed me and told me that my last two checks had arrived late in the mail, and that he wanted to charge me late fees because of this. Now, on the 6th or 7th of this month (the rent is due on the 1st) he did send me an email asking if I had mailed the rent. I said yes, and then he replied with a 'never mind, it just came today'. I thought that this was not a big deal at all, and didn't know about the previous month's rent either. But he said that since the lease stipulates that the rent must be received by the first, he is going to retroactively charge me fees.

I said (again through email, all of this communication has taken place that way) that this doesn't seem at all fair and he should have told me that he didn't get the check on time when the check failed to arrive so that I could have done something about it. He simply repeated his demands for the late fees.

These sudden changes in his attitude have made me worried that this is going to escalate further. I suspect that the tenant that he thought that he had lined up bailed on him, and now he's scrambling to try to figure out how to meet his expenses, but this is a really crappy (illegal?) way to go about it. So like the headline says, what are my rights, and who should I contact?
posted by _cave to Law & Government (24 answers total)
 
I'm not seeing anything here as unreasonable. As far as the move date is concerned, you agreed to do so (you didn't need to). Now you're obligated to vacate when you said you would.

If your lease specifies late fees if rent isn't paid by the 1st, then you owe the late fees.

Because he's been "friendly" in the past (when he had an investment in keeping a good tenant happy, doesn't mean that he'll continue to accomodate now that you're in a lame duck status. If he isn't breaking specific aspects of the lease, I don't see, based on what you've said, that you have anything to complain about.
posted by HuronBob at 6:07 AM on July 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


So like the headline says, what are my rights, and who should I contact?

Most of your "rights" in these circumstances will be spelled out in your lease. It sounds like in the past the landlord has been pretty lenient about enforcing the terms but is now coming around to enforcing them to the letter.

He's allowed to do that.

In fact, most leases have a specific provision that says "Failure to enforce the terms of this lease at some point does not prevent us from enforcing them later." It's called a "non-waiver clause," and almost all professionally-drafted contracts have them.

As far as the moving date, you've signed a lease until October. Assuming you pay rent, he's going to have a hard time forcing you to leave early.

As far as the late fees, if they're specified in the terms of the lease, you have to pay them. The fact that he didn't immediately say he was going to doesn't matter.

Read your lease. Odds are really good that everything you need to know is spelled out in there.
posted by valkyryn at 6:10 AM on July 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm a landlord in Virginia. I wouldn't personally do things the same way, but the comment above about being a lame duck tenant is spot on. Nothing here sounds like a violation of the lease.

I would say that given the change in demeanor, start talking now about expectations for move out and establish an understanding about what is needed to get your full deposit back. Ideally you should plan a walk through that gives you some time to remedy any issues yourself if you so choose rather than having it deducted from the deposit.
posted by dgran at 6:26 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


He asked us to move in August instead because he had a prospective tenant lined up and wanted to re-sign a lease for a place himself. We've tried to accommodate, and my sister has in fact already signed a lease at another place starting in August. I will hopefully also be able to find a new apartment by the date that we agreed on (over email, we have not signed anything at this point).

Did you agree to definitely move out by his preferred date, or was it contingent on your finding a place? If he wants something from you that you haven't already obligated yourself to giving him, then you can use that as leverage to get what you want. Negotiate.
posted by jon1270 at 6:46 AM on July 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


How much are the late fees? Are late fees defined in your lease, or does it just say "you must pay rent by the first of the month?"

As far as the moving date, he asked you to move, you agreed to do so, and you did it in writing. I don't understand why you would do that if this was at a great cost to you, but if your sister has already signed a lease for a new place, I'm not sure I understand what you want here - is it to stay in the apartment until you find a new one, but possibly not through your lease?

I'd consult with your local tenant rights organization but I agree that nothing here sounds illegal or particularly unreasonable on the landlord's side.
posted by sm1tten at 7:04 AM on July 12, 2012


It doesn't sound like he's doing anything unreasonable.

and he will not allow me to keep so much as an extra piece of furniture in the apartment for a couple of extra days

If you were moving in to a place, would you want someone else's stuff in there, even for a couple of days? He's already got a tenant lined up to move in, he needs you and all your stuff out before that date. You agreed, in writing, to move out by a specific date, its not unreasonable of him to hold you to that.

What date did you mail your cheques? If they didn't arrive until the 6th or 7th of the month then either they were delayed in being delivered or you didn't mail them in time for them to arrive by the 1st. If your lease says you have to pay late fees for not paying on time it wouldn't have been unreasonable for him to charge you every single time it was late.

From his perspective, maybe he thinks you're the unreasonable one.
He has a tenant lined up, you agree in writing to move out on a certain date so he can bag this tenant and not be out of pocket, he may have even signed a lease with the new tenant already and now you're trying to negotiate not fully moving out by the agreed upon date. Then the rent is a week late, he lets it slide, stuff happens but then the next month its a week late again so he enforces his right to charge late fees.

What does your lease say about late fees? If it doesn't say anything then maybe you have some grounds to complain but otherwise nothing he's doing is illegal and certainly not unreasonable.
posted by missmagenta at 7:16 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


It probably depends on the state landlord-tenant laws, but where I live (not Virginia), the state law says that a landlord's behavior may modify the lease.

So for example the lease may stipulate that rent is due on the 1st and anything after that is subject to a late fee. But if a landlord has customarily accepted rent after the due date without charging a late fee, then the landlord by "pattern and practice" has changed the rental agreement, and cannot arbitrarily decide to start charging for rent after the due date.

I would check the Virginia landlord-tenant law to see anything like that is included.
posted by mcmile at 7:27 AM on July 12, 2012


Well, if he goes by the lease, the fees are going to be charged from the second day of the calender month--11 days * 20 = $220. Which wouldn't be terrible normally, but moving on short notice has made it very difficult.

My emails about the moving date were equivocal--to be precise, I said that I would try to move on the 12th, but that since the current tenants of the place I want to move to are going to be vacating their apartment during the same time I might not be able to do it. So I don't think that I definitely agreed to move on the 12th.

It sounds like the best thing that I can do is try to figure out some way to pay the late fee, physically put my next month's pro-rated rent in his parents' mailbox--I guess I should document the fact that I did it, because I mailed the two checks on time to begin with--and get out of the apartment as soon as possible. It seems really shady that I don't have any way to verify the charges that he is imposing are actually correct and had no way to fix the problem at the time it occurred. It's not like I have some office where I can physically deposit the check at.
posted by _cave at 7:28 AM on July 12, 2012


You could pay the next month's rent via USPS certified mail so you will have confirmation of the date it was delivered.
posted by jshort at 7:40 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


For an extra $2.95, you can send the checks via "Certified Mail" through the post office. This will require the recipient to sign for the envelope and the postal service will keep a record of delivery on file and provide you with a copy of it.

Although it's kind of a pain to spend three bucks to pay your rent, it is likely to show your landlord that you mean business, in addition to proving when your rent arrives.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 7:42 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't pay the late fees just yet... just did a little research and it looks like late payment of rent is grounds for eviction in Virginia, its possible he's concerned that you're not going to move out by the 12th and is laying the groundwork to evict you to make sure you're gone in time. (although there may not be time for that now)

Do you have any proof of postage for your cheques? Ask to see the post marks on the envelopes the cheques were sent in. (also try to find out what legal proof is required to show the rent was late). Do you know what date he cashed your cheque last month? He may have messed up - if he cashed it during the grace period, you have proof that your rent wasn't 'late'.
posted by missmagenta at 7:45 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


_cave

Your landlord seems to be getting worse and worse. I'm with you - I think he's behaving incredibly poorly.

I would say to email him back today and state that the lease is up in October and that is your current move out date. Tell him that if you find your will be able to definitely move out earlier you will let him know. You will have to be prepared to pay the lease until October if he is unable to find a tenant, but you said you were, so that's not a big deal.

When it comes to the late payment, ask him to either email photographs of or return you the envelopes you sent the checks in - typically the postmark date is what landlords are supposed to use for late fees. A tenant is supposed to submit payment by a certain date, but they can't be held responsible for Postal Service cock-ups.

When I mailed checks I would always send rent certified so I could personally check the received by date, but that was an extra five bucks every month :/
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 7:46 AM on July 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


(er, I sent my checks with delivery confirmation)
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 7:46 AM on July 12, 2012


er, what happens if the recipient isn't home to sign for certified mail? Is there a record of attempted delivery?
posted by jon1270 at 7:47 AM on July 12, 2012


I did mean delivery confirmation, so you can waive a signature.... but when I've shipped with signature required, delivery attempts were also recorded. The basic idea it to make sure your attempt to send the rent on time is recorded.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 7:51 AM on July 12, 2012


Assuming his main goal is to get you out by the 12th so he can get his new tenant in, one thing you could possibly try, assuming your relationship has been cordial up until this point, apologise for the cheques arriving late although you did post them by x date and explain that you've found a new place but it wont be ready until at least the 13th and if you can't keep your stuff at the apartment then you'll have to pay for it to be stored and you wont be able to afford that if he insists on enforcing the late fee. (In other words you tell him you can't either pay the late fees or move out on the 12th but you can't afford to do both - and add that if he insists on the late fees then you're going to need to see the post marks on the envelopes - if he can't prove it to you then he can't prove it to a judge either).
posted by missmagenta at 8:05 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


er, what happens if the recipient isn't home to sign for certified mail? Is there a record of attempted delivery?
posted by jon1270 at 10:47 AM on July 12 [+] [!]


Then a little package slip is left on the door stating that the person needs to go to the post office to retrieve the parcel/certified letter, etc.
posted by zizzle at 8:22 AM on July 12, 2012


Actually, you could request a copy of the post-marked envelopes as a kind of reverse-receipt for the late charges. If the post-mark is at least 2 business days prior to the 1st, you could push back on him about the charges.
posted by batmonkey at 8:38 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


it seems to me he's charging you for two months worth of late fees, and that's not right. otherwise he could not say anything while you rack up the fees. he has to tell you right away that you're late so you can fix the problem. doing it retroactively indicates he's using it to pad profits.

if he's hitting you with late fees he has to tell you when you incur them--so when the first late check came, he needed to tell you about it immediately, otherwise you wouldn't know to change your procedure, which resulted in a second late fee.

the late fees assigned seem pretty stiff. guessing he's been ripped off already. make sure local laws don't mandate a grace period--some places do. and if you do pay the late fees--just pay the ones associated with the last month. and verify that he didn't get them in time via your bank.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 10:13 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


You are caving in too easily!!

Please update the thread. Let us know if you requested copies of the envelopes from him.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 10:21 AM on July 12, 2012


this link might prove useful: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/consumer/tenant/

looks like you can file a complaint there which will launch a mediation effort. i bet they can help you.

it looks like there aren't any restrictions on his late fees. however they seem to be pretty unreasonable, especially if mail is the only way you can pay rent.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 10:34 AM on July 12, 2012


I call the number listed on the Fairfax County website and spoke to a mediator there. She agreed with those of you above who said that the landlord had to provide the postage date on the envelop as proof of the late rent, and that would be the source of information for assessing late fees. So I sent him an email to this effect and said that I would be more comfortable using the mediation services provided by the county (I'm a resident) to go forward here. I am never, ever going to use regular mail for rent checks again, and I'll just go with whatever the mediators say about the case.
posted by _cave at 11:20 AM on July 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am never, ever going to use regular mail for rent checks again

I have my checking account with PNC, and use their online bill payment system to send rent checks. Payment is sent automatically for free, I get email notification of when it goes out, and PNC guarantees the check will arrive on time.
posted by jon1270 at 12:04 PM on July 12, 2012


Good for you! I'm so glad you called in a mediator and are following up on your rights!

I think the real issues got lost in your initial Ask, and I'm going to caution you about being emotional and putting salient facts, like the fact that the landlord was asking for late fees without initially notifying you the rent was truly late - after the drama of how you agreed to leave early. Lead with your strengths in the mediation. The fact that you are accommodating his request to end the lease early makes him look like a HUGE jerk when you add it at the end. REALLY.

Best of luck!!
posted by jbenben at 12:19 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older Is it possible to be allergic ...   |  What well-known and interestin... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.