New landlord trying to pull one over on me?
June 29, 2009 11:15 AM   Subscribe

When I signed the lease on my apartment, I put down first month's rent, last month's rent, and security deposit. Now the building has changed hands, I'm moving out, and my brand-new landlord is telling me I need to pay last month's rent again and she'll refund it later, along with the security deposit. Does she have any right to require me to do this? New York is the state.

This spring, my former landlord decided to sell the building, and will be handing over my lease and all my deposits to the new owner in the next few days. My lease ends at the end of July, and the new owner is forcing me to move out then (she wants to move into my place). I've loved living in this apartment, and I've had a great relationship with the old landlord. Unfortunately, I'll be dealing with the new landlord for the final month of my lease.

When I originally signed the lease, I put down $500 specifically for last month's rent (in addition to the security deposit); now, some years later, my rent has gone up to $635. I was just going to send her a check for $135 to cover the difference. She tells me I have to pay last month's rent again, in full, by the first, and that she'll refund it to me with the security deposit. That sounds crazy to me, and isn't supported by anything that I can find in the lease. I've checked out the NYS Tenant's Right's Guide and Housing Issues page, but can't find anything relevant.

Does her claim have any basis in fact? Do I have to cough up the whole $635 now and wait for her to refund the $500 later? Any specific statutes you can cite would be helpful, as would any advice on how to negotiate with her.

Bonus question: based on the way she's treated me so far, I have a feeling the new owner is going to try to keep my security deposit. Is there anything I can do to protect myself?

posted by ourobouros to Law & Government (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If the Tenant's Rights Guide doesn't have the information, you should call the Attorney General's office and ask them directly. They were very helpful when I used them to help get my security deposit back from a shady landlord.

Since you suspect that your new landlord will try to keep your deposit (you're also entitled to the interest if your building has more than 6 units), start keeping records now. Try to keep communications between you in writing, or write down the details of every phone or voice conversation as soon as possible.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:23 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Security-deposit strategies are well-documented here and elsewhere, and mainly consist of documenting teh crap out of the condition of the place with photos, and making sure you don't get stuck with the full cost of things like carpet replacement.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:23 AM on June 29, 2009

Wait, so when you signed the lease you paid $1,000 in addition to your first month's rent: $500 security deposit and $500 last month's rent. So the landlord is holding $1,000 from you at that point.

Now the lease got renewed at $635, and the new landlord is still holding the original $1,000. She says she wants to be holding $1,135 instead (since your last month's rent is now $135 more), but instead of having you just pay $135 extra, she wants you to pay $635 extra and get $500 back from her at some unspecified future time? Sketchy.

Money is fungible. Just pay her the $135 and declare the last month's rent issue settled. What can your landlord say? She has your security deposit money, and now she has a full month's rent besides, at the new rate. As for making sure you don't get screwed out of your security deposit, previous commenters have covered it, I think.
posted by letourneau at 11:32 AM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

When my NYC landlord tried to hold on to the security deposit, they didn't even bother faking up a list of repair charges or anything - they just didn't mail a check and ignored me. I sent them a letter threatening to take them to Small Claims Court and they e-mailed me that they'd be mailing out a check on Friday. When that didn't show up after a month or two I sent them another letter telling them that if I didn't have a check in my hand by such and such a date I'd start the Small Claims stuff and a check arrived speedily.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:35 AM on June 29, 2009

This is not legal advice, but I agree with letourneau. I had a somewhat similar situation with a landlord at one point.

Conceptually, the landlord does not have a whole heck of a lot of control on how you pay your lease, so long as you pay in cash or a cash-substitute (some even accept credit cards). So, you could give the landlord $300 in cash and the rest in a check - because it's legal tender, they normally can't object (unless your lease says otherwise).

My perspective on this is, ASSUMING you have rock-solid documentation that the $500 was paid for last-month rent, then when you send a check for $135 you have paid the full month rent under the lease. I would think the landlord then has no recourse.

Of course, you won't make friends with the landlord this way - so I would be excrutiatingly meticulous in documenting the move-out condition of your apartment, even going so far as to request a walkthrough with as reputable and unbiased a witness present as possible.
posted by bunnycup at 11:38 AM on June 29, 2009

At the very least, the transaction for her to get last month's rent should come at the same time she relinquishes the $500 last month's rent you already paid. Why does she get to have $1165 plus the security deposit?

Tell her you will get back to her as you are talking to the state Attorney General's office about your legal rights as a tenant. That might back her off of this ridiculous demand. Did she inspect your apartment when she bought? Anything noted, by either buyer or seller, as to the condition of your apartment at the time of sale?

And as always with rental situations, take a million and a half pictures of the place. Set the date/time stamp on all of them.
posted by jerseygirl at 11:38 AM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've done some searching and it looks like she doesn't have a leg to stand on in demanding that you pay last month's rent again. Since this issue isn't specifically spelled out in the tenant's rights guide, that means it could go to YOUR benefit as well as hers.

Do you have a receipt or something that indicates that you paid the original landlord the last month's rent? Give her a copy of that plus $135 for the rent for July, and tell her (in writing) that you expect your security deposit returned in full less legitimate charges within 30 days of vacating the property. Take tons of photos when you move out and try to do a walkthrough with her when you return the keys.

If you don't receive your deposit within 30 days, start filing a rent security complaint form with the attorney general's office.

Alternatively, get it in writing from her that she will return the $500 last months rent PLUS the $500 security deposit within 30 days of your vacating the property and pay her $635 for the month of July, again take tons of photos and do a walkthrough when you move out and again if the money isn't forthcoming go through the AG office.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:39 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Good advice above. Still pursue it with the AG's office. At least open up a line of communication with someone there, so it's documented in case New Landlord pulls shenanigans with the security deposit.
posted by jerseygirl at 11:40 AM on June 29, 2009

Is it possible that during the transition between owners, the new owner wasn't informed that you'd paid last month's rent already (and thus it should just be the difference)? Or your old landlord forgot in the accounting?
posted by R343L at 11:56 AM on June 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the good advice, and especially to peanut_mcgillicuty for suggesting that I call the Attorney General's office directly. I called them up (800-771-7755) and got a human being within about three seconds (the only tricky part was that landlord/tenant problems were listed in their phone tree as "consumer issues"). He confirmed that the landlord is not entitled to a second payment of last month's rent (just the difference between the current rent and what I originally put down). He also confirmed that I should take lots of pictures (especially the inside of the fridge, stove, and bathrooms -- "That's where they always ding ya," says he) and request a walkthrough.

Thanks, all!
posted by ourobouros at 12:16 PM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

It is my understanding that if, in fact, it is specified that the $500 is for last months rent then that amount is all you have to pay for your last month of rent. You don't ahve to add the $135 to compensate for the increased rent. You have a contract that says that your last month's rent is $500 and that it is paid in full. This, by the way, is why the whole "last month rent" thing is considered out-dated and increased security is on the up-swing.
posted by Pineapplicious at 12:21 PM on June 29, 2009

I was thinking the same thing as Pineapplicious. Basically, if your landlord increases your rent you don't then do back-pay for all the months you rented at the previous rate and I would think that would include the final month's rent. Not only would I not re-pay the amount, I wouldn't pay the difference either. I mean, check if that's the issue but them's the breaks when they require last month's rent ahead of time. Unless it is specifically outlined in your contract otherwise, obviously.
posted by amanda at 2:14 PM on June 29, 2009

It is my understanding that if, in fact, it is specified that the $500 is for last months rent then that amount is all you have to pay for your last month of rent.

You're playing a word game. The rent is listed on the lease. If the current yearlong lease is for $7,620 (12 x $635), you can't say "La la, I paid $500 for last month's rent three years ago and we agreed it was 'last month's rent.' 'Last month's rent!'Therefore, my rent is $500, not $635."

Well, you can say it, but it's ridiculous.
posted by Mapes at 3:28 PM on June 29, 2009

I say this as a landlord. Some landlords are shady, she sounds like she is being sketchy on money. You are only dealing with her for a short period of time. I would think about how much I wanted that deposit back and be tempted not to give her the difference much less the whole freaking rent again. Then just forfeit the 365 dollars of the rest of the deposit.

Read your lease, some leases (and some states allow) keeping the whole deposit for a myriad of issues, just weigh hassle vs money and rest secure in the fact that most courts are not easy on landlords so going to small claims court over a trivial amount of money is something most landlords just won't do.
posted by stormygrey at 3:29 PM on June 29, 2009

Pfft...what are they gonna do, evict you? Tell her to pound sand.
posted by Pomo at 10:24 AM on June 30, 2009

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