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Should I continue this fight with my landlord?
October 9, 2012 8:04 PM   Subscribe

Towards the end of September, I realized that the property management company did not cash my rent check. I called the company and asked if they had received it, to which they said they had not. I feared it lost in the mail, so I called my bank to ask how much it would cost to cancel a check, which is $15. Trying to save myself some money, I went down to the office to talk to the property management company in person. The surly man at the front desk informed me that my rent was overdue, that I should cancel the lost check and write a new one. I explained to him I didn't want to have to pay for it, and could he take a new check to cover my rent and not cash the old one if it arrived? I had brought with me a letter I had written which very clearly stated the problem with my rent not being paid on time and the costs associated with cancelling a check. I detailed which check # was lost in the mail, which was the new check # and to please DO NOT CASH the lost check if it showed up. He said he would give it to the rent manager. Fast forward to a week later when both checks have been cashed. It was so much money that my account went negative and now I've been charged a bunch of fees by my credit union! Should I fight my landlord to get them to pay for these fees?

I know, I know. I should have just bit the bullet and paid the $15 to cancel the check. I've been kicking myself for days now about that. Now I'm out over $200 in fees, and after some negotiating with my credit union they waived a few of them. It's still a lot of money to me and I am FURIOUS at the property management company for cashing that lost check. It's two months of rent out of my account! I called the office and spoke to the man that I had originally left the letter with about my lost check. I explained what happened with the account going negative and he said that it's not their fault, I should have cancelled the check. I asked him what happened with him giving the letter to the rent manager? He said that does nothing and repeated that I should have cancelled the check. I pressed him and ask if I can I talk to her? He responded, "No she's not here anymore. She left. She's retired." In the span of two days, really?? I got irate, told him I was trying to work with him but he was making it impossible and can I speak to a manager? He said "No" and hung up on me! He did not pick up the phone for the rest of the day.

Over the years I've come across a lot of other problems with this management company (not responding to requests for repairs, no heat/hot water issues, inability to provide proper lease paperwork in a timely manner, inability to pay rent in any way other than mailing a check, etc.) but being unable to reach anyone is one of the biggest. I have sent emails and left voicemails, both of which go unanswered. The only way I get through to them at all is if I go there in person (and the only person I can see is the surly man who at this point knows and hates me) or call repeatedly all day long until someone picks up (usually the surly man). All of these are very thick brick walls. I've gotten very furious, and am now very exhausted. My question is this - do I continue to fight? Do I have any recourse at all? Part of me wants to keep fighting just because they give me no room to discuss or deal with problems at all, and that boils my blood more than anything. I feel like at this point they are just deleting any voicemails or emails that I send. A friend suggested deducting the fees from my rent next month, writing another letter stating the cost of their mistake and providing a bank statement highlighting the charges that came from not following through on what they said they would do. I guess I could do this, but I have a feeling they will disregard the letter, roll the unpaid amount into next month's bill and keep rolling it forward until I pay it or until I move out - and deduct it from my deposit. I've been here for years and want to keep living here. Could not paying the full amount stir up trouble? (I live in NYC.)

Or should I just consider this a very expensive and depressing lesson learned about this horrible company, try to prevent myself from putting a bag of flaming poo on their front steps, and move on with my life?
posted by cristinacristinacristina to Law & Government (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
It would be worth getting some free legal advice, but not worth paying for legal advice. So if there's a landlord/tenant clinic to attend, then do what they say to do. Otherwise, I'd let it go.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:10 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Expensive lesson learned, IMO. The guy told you to cancel your check. It's isn't really their fault.
posted by empath at 8:11 PM on October 9, 2012 [17 favorites]


cristinacristinacristina: "I detailed which check # was lost in the mail, which was the new check # and to please DO NOT CASH the lost check if it showed up."

Sorry to say, I don't think that's a reasonable expectation to hold the management company up to. Not in this town, not in this rental market. They made their position clear up front- you should have canceled the check. Standard operating procedure at most management companies is to just process every check into the appropriate account.
posted by mkultra at 8:12 PM on October 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


IANAL... I doubt you have any recourse... lesson learned... about both the rental company and the need to cancel payment on a check you do not want cashed.

Any check for which you do not stop payment is legal tender in the hands of the person you wrote it to.
posted by HuronBob at 8:12 PM on October 9, 2012


No, you shouldn't do anything. Move on. It doesn't sound like they ever committed to not cashing the check when it turned up. They have no problem to deal with here, and no need to 'work with you'. It sounds like you knew before and know even better now that this company is not a customer service style group, and you don't care and are still happy to live there. That's why they can get away with it.

You should DEFINITELY not attempt to withhold any rent for this and your friend doesn't know what he's talking about - they could evict you for that, not just roll it over into next month!
posted by jacalata at 8:13 PM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


and keep rolling it forward until I pay it or until I move out - and deduct it from my deposit.

That's if they don't take you to housing court and get you blacklisted.
posted by Jahaza at 8:14 PM on October 9, 2012


ABSOLUTELY do not withhold rent. At least in Ontario, you only have that right in very limited circumstances (iirc it's only when they haven't given you a copy of your rental agreement, and then only until they do).

If you don't have a letter from them saying that they will not cash the cheque, you're going to have to give it up. They made no (provable) agreement with you, whatever you requested of them.
posted by Lemurrhea at 8:16 PM on October 9, 2012


Did they apply the second check to the next month's rent?

Regardless, seconding looking up a landlord-tenant clinic or public interest law firm.
posted by Galen at 8:18 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would never expect a property management company to keep track of which checks to cash and which not to. If you are renting from an individual (say, renting a room from a house) that might be something I'd request, but otherwise no.

Not paying rent is grounds for eviction, which they may be happy to do since you are, in their eyes, not paying rent consistently and asking for unreasonable services. If you want to keep the apartment, just chalk it up as an expensive lesson. Even if you leave, I doubt you'd get your fees back.
posted by ethidda at 8:23 PM on October 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


It doesn't sound like they actually agreed not to cash it, right? The guy at the front desk agreed to hand your request for a favor over to the Rent Manager. The Rent Manager -- who you never spoke to, correct? -- chose to not do that favor for you. She didn't do anything wrong by not doing this favor for you. It sounds a lot like you made an expensive mistake here.
posted by brainmouse at 8:25 PM on October 9, 2012


writing another letter stating the cost of their mistake and
the mistake was not theirs, it was yours, in not cancelling the original check.
posted by spinturtle at 8:25 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I certainly wouldn`t go quietly on something like this. I`d at least contact tenants` rights or some sort of lawyer in New York and get some free advice.
posted by amodelcitizen at 8:39 PM on October 9, 2012


I am FURIOUS at the property management company for cashing that lost check

I'm sorry, but the onus is on you. You had the means to cancel the check and chose not to because you wanted to save the $15 fee. I also get the sense that you're attributing malice to the property management company for somehow deliberately cashing both checks when it doesn't seem like that's actually the case. They're a corporation. A machine. If they have a check made payable to them they are going to cash it, end of story.

I have sent emails and left voicemails, both of which go unanswered. The only way I get through to them at all is if I go there in person (and the only person I can see is the surly man who at this point knows and hates me) or call repeatedly all day long until someone picks up (usually the surly man)

If you want to keep living in your current apartment the best way forward is to stop harassing them before they get to the point that they are not willing to renew your lease. Move on, drop it, lesson learned.
posted by kate blank at 9:11 PM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


cristinacristinacristina writes "I detailed which check # was lost in the mail, which was the new check # and to please DO NOT CASH the lost check if it showed up."

This is too much to expect from any business really and certainly one that is so large and impersonal that you can't speak to the person(s) in the A/R position. You should be able to expect a refund of the overpayment (might be easier if they just applied it to your next months rent). But in the same situation I wouldn't expect the business to cover my bank fees.

PS: If was me I'd expect the credit union to reduce the fees to a single NSF charge (and it better be reasonable like less than $50) or I'd be shopping for a new banking establishment. Also you might want to consider overdraft protection. The interest charged is usually approaching usury but it is often less than the fees from bouncing even a substantial cheque. Especially if the NSF Charges reduce your account such that other cheques bounce.
posted by Mitheral at 9:22 PM on October 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is an expensive lesson learned. Let this go. IANAL, but you have no grounds to withhold rent to cover your bank fees.

If you're very concerned about this happening again or them not responding to major issues, you could go through the extra effort and cost of sending all rent and requests by registered mail or return receipt mail.

You're right to be angry, but the anger should be directed at yourself. To save $15, you failed to protect yourself properly. Don't depend on property management companies to do you favors.
posted by quince at 9:23 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eh. I've dealt with shitty landlords in NYC.

I'd consult a free legal clinic, and then I would deduct the cost of my fees from the following following month's rent (since this month and next month are paid in full) I would include a detailed letter, my original letter, bank invoices with my account number redacted, and copies of the cashed checks.

I would send this rent (fees deducted) and the whole packet certified and return receipt.

Then I would wait.

If they take you to housing court (much more than the fees you owe) the judge would make you pay the fees. At worst. You might win. Keep copies of everything you send them!

If they send you a letter saying you still owe the deducted amount equal to the fees, consult that legal clinic or tenents rights org and make a decision to pay or keep fighting.


I don't think there is any tangible harm, since you already don't like them. Sticking up for yourself might teach them not to screw with you in the future. The odds of them evicting you over this are slim indeed, since a housing judge will likely make you pay them the owed funds rather than evict you for a paltry sum, IMHE with NYC Housing Court.

IANAL!!!! Double check on everything I've advised!!!


Additionally... I live by the sword, so my advice is fairly aggressive. The amount of money you are talking about may not be worth the hassle or wrath you may incite... or it could work out in your favor since they sound lazy. Lazy landlords are pretty easy to push back against.

Were I you, I'd try my luck after dotting my i's and crossing my t's. You are not me. Do what is best for you.
posted by jbenben at 9:29 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


DO NOT GO TO HOUSING COURT. In NYC, if you do what jbenben suggests, even if you win you will be blacklisted and unable to rent an apartment. Landlords consult housing court records and do not rent to people who have had cases in housing court, regardless of outcome. It is truly a last resort.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:34 PM on October 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is one of those problems in life that, well, you spent some money after thinking you might save some money. I think you're at least ethically in the right because you gave them advance notice and they weren't owed the money yet or anything and yet they did it anyway. But in the long run? If it's not even $200? Even if there wasn't a blacklist to be concerned about, it probably wouldn't really be worth the time and hassle and chance of totally ruining your relationship with them forever in order to get this money back.
posted by gracedissolved at 9:52 PM on October 9, 2012


and then I would deduct the cost of my fees from the following following month's rent

i wouldn't do this because, given their behavior, they'd just charge you more late fees.
posted by cupcake1337 at 10:24 PM on October 9, 2012


I'm a lawyer. I don't practice landlord tenant issues, and this is not legal advice for your situation. I think jbenben's advice is cringeworthy.

Look, the guy who took your check didn't even commit to not cashing them both. If I were you, I'd focus my efforts in trying to get my bank to credit me back all the fees paid. I have had a lot of success completely reversing bank fees, and credit card fees, etc. I have had much less success dealing with landlords. So focus your efforts on a place where it's more likely to reap a reward. Stop calling your landlord and drop the issue on that front.
posted by Happydaz at 10:29 PM on October 9, 2012 [18 favorites]


Happydaz is on the right track, IMO. Large rental companies suck and don't give a damn about you because you can't leave immediately and you can't actually connect - on a human level - with the right person anyway. Banks (and especially credit unions) are different. You can speak with someone who can help you, and you can make puppy dog eyes at them, and they (ostensibly) want to keep you as a customer.

So go to the bank, tell them this story, ask them to please oh pretty pretty please waive the fees because here's enough money to get you back into the positive and oh by the way can I open a credit card so I can buy gas?
posted by TheNewWazoo at 10:42 PM on October 9, 2012


One thing to keep in mind, if you do truly want to stay living where you are, than you should probably abandon any action which would make your landlords upset. Not paying the full amount of rent that you owe may be something which allows them to evict you, or at least cause them to be even worse landlords than they are now when other issues arise.

Just pay the fees and move forward. Unfortunately this is a situation where you were in the wrong, so even if your landlords are the spawn of Satan, you aren't going to get a positive outcome from doing anything about it.
posted by markblasco at 10:46 PM on October 9, 2012


Talk to your credit union. A couple of years ago, my son accidentally overdrew his checking account by less than $5. He wasn't aware of the overdraft until he received his statement, which include more than $70 in fees. He talked to the bank and they waived all charges.
posted by she's not there at 11:22 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


IAAL, IANYL. I do creditor's rights, with some landlord/tenant.

First, this is a basic issue of the law of checks. You were wrong to think that writing a letter saying, "don't cash that my check" does anything. Once you write a check and deliver it to a payee, you have zero expectation that they will not cash the check. You could even follow them to the bank saying, "don't cash it" over and over and they would still have the right to cash it. I am sure you can imagine the consequences if someone were to buy something from you with a check and then get it free by simply saying, "don't cash the check".

The credit union has already agreed to waive some of your fees, so that is probably as far as you are going to get with them.

The landlord does not owe you the fees that your credit union charged you. Do not apply it as a setoff to your next rent. The song and dance about someone being "surly" and not doing timely repairs is absolutely irrelevant to the fact that you bounced a check. Why do you think it is a legitimate complaint that they only accept payment by check?

I do think that you are entitled to a credit for the extra rent you paid. It should be applied to the balance of your rent, and I imagine the property company has already done just that. The advice about going to housing court is bad. You are not going to have a good time. Anyone who crows, "I want my day in court!" has never been to court.
posted by Tanizaki at 4:49 AM on October 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you call the bank and ask nicely, explaining briefly that you didn't expect this to happen and the second check was written/cashed in error, they'll likely reverse the fees as a courtesy to you. (As long as you're not often overdrawn, and you don't get all ranty).

Your other problems with the building are completely irrelevant to this issue and have no bearing on it. They need to be dealt with seperately. They aren't added "ammo" against these guys, so don't build up a list of grievances. It will just stress you out. In this specific instance, you are the one who messed up, and it doesn't matter how bad they are in other ways.

In the future, if you don't want a cheque cashed, cancel the cheque. Just be happy that this lesson has been learned in a way that doesn't hurt you too much, since you're now a month ahead on your rent.

A $15 fee is better than being overdrawn.
posted by windykites at 4:51 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks to everyone for the advice. I felt I needed to get an outside opinion on this because my emotions have definitely been deterring my judgement. I am in the wrong with how I handled dealing with the lost rent check and should have known better. This is the last time I put any sort of trust in this company to do anything to help me. The next time they "lose" my check in the mail I will wait it out. I do worry that it may happen again, that they will come asking for the rent, and that I'll have to pay the $15 cancel check fee. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Thanks again!
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 6:33 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The next time they "lose" my check in the mail I will wait it out. I do worry that it may happen again, that they will come asking for the rent, and that I'll have to pay the $15 cancel check fee. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Why not drive to the office and hand them the cheque? Seems like the most fail-safe way for this not to happen again.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 6:42 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the guy in the office advised you to cancel the first check and write another, it doesn't sound like he was trying to double up on the rent or pull the wool over your eyes. Mail gets delayed. It happens. He did gave responsible advice.

I don't think the company has been untrustworthy in any way.
posted by frizz at 7:56 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Handing it over in person is not fail-safe. A big company. I rented from last year lost my check after I handed it to them in the office. They acknowledged that I gave it to them and they still expected me to cancel the check and write a new one.

Seriously? A housing blacklist? Why aren't people working to change this?
posted by thelastcamel at 9:41 AM on October 10, 2012


I do worry that it may happen again, that they will come asking for the rent, and that I'll have to pay the $15 cancel check fee.

Yes, that may happen, and if it does, you should pay the $15 fee and stop payment on the check and issue a new one. "Waiting it out" and letting your rent be late is not an appropriate solution.

If you really do not trust these people, what you should do is present your check to them in person each month and insist on a receipt from the person who you give it to. That way there is no question of it getting lost before it's received. But short of that, you have no recourse if they claim not to have received payment by the due date.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:54 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or you could send it certified mail with return receipt, but that requires a trip to the Post Office which I expect isn't any more convenient than going to the rental office. But either one would work.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:55 AM on October 10, 2012


literally the exact same thing happened to me a few years ago. suck it up and deal with it. they were under no obligation to not cash both checks, and they probably didn't even know they weren't supposed to (your note didn't make it to the person who does the books, for example). you should have paid the $15, so should i. now i walk the check to them in person the first of the month. lesson learned.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:35 AM on October 10, 2012


Seriously? A housing blacklist? Why aren't people working to change this?

Because NYC has a very low vacancy rate, landlords can be choosy about their tenants. The records of the housing court are public, and it's fairly standard for a landlord to check your name against those who've taken previous landlords to court (or who have been taken to court/evicted by a previous landlord).

The OP made an expensive mistake. If he takes the landlord to court, he will probably lose, because the law is not on his side. Tenants who have taken landlords to court, especially if they did so without the law on their side, are inherently seen as potentially problem tenants by future landlords -- and when vacancy rates are low, no landlord is going to rent to someone with a record of being a problem tenant.

It is a two-way street. Problem landlords turn up in the court records too, and tenants have every right to look them up before deciding to sign a lease. Few of them do.
posted by toxic at 11:01 AM on October 10, 2012


Seriously? A housing blacklist? Why aren't people working to change this?

People are. Here's one example:
The Housing Committee [of the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers' Guild]supports tenants’ rights and the cause of affordable housing... [The Committee] is gearing up for a civil rights action against the Office of Court Administration (OCA) for its sell-out of tenants via the so-called “Housing Court Blacklist.”
It's a relatively unknown issue, even within New York City. The only reason I know about it is because I retained a tenants' rights lawyer for an issue with a previous landlord of mine. She said that most of her clients come to her thinking that the main purpose of getting a lawyer was to go to housing court, but that her job is actually much more along the lines of doing everything possible to resolve the issue without going to court until it is the only remaining option.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:04 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


toxic, the OP is a woman.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:04 AM on October 10, 2012


...and I'm outside of my edit window. Sorry OP. s/he/she, s/his/her;
posted by toxic at 11:08 AM on October 10, 2012


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