Altered Rent check - Memo line erased
November 23, 2009 7:08 PM   Subscribe

My rent check is being altered every month, the memo area completely blacked out. Feeling at risk, what are my options?

Hello. I am paying rent, the personal check I write every month contains a memo line reading "Rent for July 2009".

Every month my landlord completely blacks out the memo line. It may be for their own protection, but I am feeling I should do something about this.

I understand the Memo line is not enforcable, and my bank will still fill the check regardless of this obvious alternation.

The check is payable to my landlord, First and last name.

What can I do to ensure my checks will not be altered? should I go to my bank and tell them not to cash any checks that are altered? I use a carbon copy checkbook so I do have a copy of each check that was altered.

If it matters, this money is going to my parent whom I am paying a small amount for rent each month to continue living in the house.

We are currently not on good terms, but that is besides the point- I am fulfilling our agreement!

Comments? Thank you
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm assuming that your parent doesn't want to have the tax burden of a renter, so they're trying to make it look like you're not actually paying rent. I'm not sure why this matters to you since you still have a record of having paid.
posted by youcancallmeal at 7:15 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


I apologize if this sounds like a derail, but the fact that you are not on good terms with your landlord is a pretty big deal. I wouldn't feel too comfortable at home knowing I had a bad relationship with my landlord (the fact that mine is great is part of the reason I've stayed put for so long). Anyway, what I was going to write before I read that part of your question was, Why don't you ask your landlord why s/he is blacking out that portion of your rent check? Perhaps you can use this issue as a means of re-establishing a good relationship with your landlord?
posted by ohyouknow at 7:19 PM on November 23, 2009


Yeah, I'm guessing tax issues too. Can they claim you as a dependent?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:20 PM on November 23, 2009


Ok, we need to do some clarifying.

Your landlord is your parent. Looking at your profile, it looks like you're some age post-college and may have moved back into your parent(s) home after your house burned to the ground. What you don't mention is whether you have a formalized agreement (e.g., a lease) or if this is a more informal situation. Or where you're living (NY, again from your profile?). Bottom line is the situation is a lot different in some ways with a parent/family member that you're cohabitating with than a traditional landlord/renter relationship. If it bugs you that your parent is using a sharpie to mark out the memo line of your check, you could always scan the check prior to giving it to them.

But it really seems like if your situation is bad enough that you would rather ask the internet for advice on your "Landlord, First and Last name" than ask your parent if they wouldn't mind not blacking out the memo line of your rent checks (or ask them why they're doing it), you probably should be looking for alternate accomodations.
posted by arnicae at 7:21 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm with youcancallmeal. This is a non-enforcable 'comments' section to your cheque. No-one would expect you to have the final say on what ends up there. Why do you care?
posted by pompomtom at 7:21 PM on November 23, 2009


Yeah, your parent isn't reporting your rent on their taxes so they don't have to pay extra. You don't get a tax break for paying rent, so I'm not sure why it matters what the memo line says. Just because you're not on good terms doesn't mean you can't do them a small favor that doesn't cost you anything.
posted by amethysts at 7:22 PM on November 23, 2009


Perhaps I'm missing something, but can't you just ask them to stop doing that? Or if they are trying to avoid some kind of tax, you could stop writing "Rent for July 2009", and instead write "Buffalo hides for pagan ritual, July 2009", which can be your code for "Rent for July 2009".

If those solutions are not available due to circumstances, I wouldn't worry about it. The bank already takes some steps to ensure the authenticity of checks, and they're not going to take extra steps because you asked them to. If you really feel worried about it, you could pay them with a money order or a cashier's check, which will usually be just as easy to cash, and more secure for both of you.

I guess I'm just not sure what you're worried about - are you worried your parents will add extra zeros to the end of your check amount (seems a bit farfetched...)? If so, using a prepaid form of payment like a cashier's check or money order will protect you from that. Or a stack of bills.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:25 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, if you're afraid that your parent will come back and say you never paid any rent because the checks don't say "Rent" on them, then you need to find a new place to live.
posted by amethysts at 7:25 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


youcancallmeal's explanation occurred to me too, but I also wondered if the reason might be more emotional. I think there's an important back story suggested by "We are currently not on good terms, but that is besides the point- I am fulfilling our agreement!" Perhaps your parent prefers to view your arrangement as sharing/helping with expenses, helping you grow up, fulfilling a pledge to only fully support you while you're in school, etc. rather than the more mercenary (and colder) "rent." Did your parent use the term "rent" or is that mostly how you characterize it? Does this have anything to do with the fire you described in this question (which, by the way, reveals other financial and record-keeping issues between you and your parents)? To your parent, seeing the "rent" notation may even feel like a slap.

In any case, I'm struck by the indignant exclamation point in the quote I excerpted above; how's the communication between you and your parent these days? I think the real problem lies elsewhere. Even if I'm all wet about this, I don't think you have anything to worry about.
posted by carmicha at 7:31 PM on November 23, 2009


What can I do to ensure my checks will not be altered?

Nothing. You literally can not do anything to prevent your checks from being scribbled on after you have gotten rid of them. You can pay via some automatic means which will allow you to have a duplicate record of the check but it sounds like what you are doing already. You could make them sign a receipt from you but if they don't want to do this, you're still going to have to find a way to pay your "rent".

This questions seems that it is not, at all, about your checks.

It is not beside the point that your landlords are also your parents or that you have an agreement and that you are not on good terms with them. This is, in fact, the crux of the matter. I very rarely say "The question you are asking is not the one that needs answering" but this is the case. The answer to your stated question is "No." The answer to your follow-up question "Comments?" is what I said above. I'm sorry you're going through this, but there seems to be a large story behind the very small check-altering story that needs more attention.
posted by jessamyn at 7:47 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the help.

1) There is a reason I am writing the memo in that field, so there is a record of what the check is for. It is that simple. I am now aware (thanks to you) that this is being done to circumvent tax laws ... that concerns me even further!! How could I knowingly let an illegal activity continue? Do I not have a duty to report it? This fact now greatly out-weighs the "bad feeling" the alterations were giving me......... especially because, if caught, it directly affects the living situation of myself and my younger siblings since this person is the owner of our dwelling. My younger siblings do not pay rent..

2) Some of you showed concern to the fact this is my parent and we are not on good terms. So I will elaborate ... my parent is full of greed regarding money, materialism, work ethic, etc. Has been for many years. Obviously I do not approve of the decisions being made, despite the fact they are out of my control. The "not good terms" come from the fact I have distanced myself from them to voice my disapproval without arguing. I do not yet have the option of moving out, unless it is a dire emergency (I have a savings built up that I could use).

I am now under the belief my parent is circumventing tax laws in much greater ways. (There is an apartment attached to this house I do not believe has the proper permits.) But of course I have any say over the financial situation of another adult. I do have a say regarding the money I pay for a right to live in the house...

The last thing I want to do is aid tax evasion (I abide by all laws myself, tax and otherwise). so I am quite in moral bind now. Aside from the fact my check is being blanked ... any kind advising words would be appreciated regarding my situation...

THANK YOU ALL AGAIN
posted by Ryaske at 7:50 PM on November 23, 2009


My ex's cousin ratted her mother out to the IRS for similar shenanigans. I'm not saying I advise that as a tactic; their family was pretty high-drama.

You should probably start getting in gear to move out, OP.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:55 PM on November 23, 2009


You do NOT know that your parent is circumventing tax laws because YOU DID NOT ASK YOUR PARENT, you asked the internet, and some folks missed the part where the landlord is your parent. YOU NEED TO ASK. It could just as easily be because he or she is insulted that you consider it rent.

If you're in that serious a moral bind, take the money you have saved up and move out.
posted by liketitanic at 8:01 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yeah, your "landlords" don't want to pay taxes on the "rent" you're paying them, so they're scratching out your "memo", ostensibly in case they get audited. It's obvious that there's some backstory (reflected in the quotation marks around the terms in the previous sentence), though, so it's probably a little dig, the same way you writing it on the memo line may have been. Do you have a lease agreement? I don't think scratching out the memo line puts you at risk in any way, especially since you have copies of the original memo lines. Based on the unwritten backstory, I'd say let it go and maybe save your nickels for a place of your own.

On Preview: Your clarification doesn't really change my advice. You're not party to the tax evasion, if any (IANATL, but I doubt kickbacks from dependents count as income), and you don't really have any say about how your rent is used or accounted for.

I reiterate my original advice: Don't stress out about this. Let it go. It sounds like you're hanging some unrelated problems on this the memo line issue. Get out on your own and the relationship is likely to improve.
posted by maniactown at 8:02 PM on November 23, 2009


If you really want to call the IRS on your landlords, here's how. I personally wouldn't feel so obligated to report them to the feds. My advice is to figure out how to become independent and move out. I don't know the details, but it sure sounds like a situation you want to extricate yourself from ASAP.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:06 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am not a dependent , I file separately. Not in college , an adult.

It is a good idea to move out. Certainly. I suppose I have to consider this an emergency. I will let the memo line thing go.

I guess I am just concerned for the true dependents, my younger siblings. They do not have the option of moving out. I guess I just wanted to make it harder for the tax evasion to happen .. to help them stop breaking the law without getting them in trouble for it.

Yes, a lot of deep-seeded issues here. But again, I do not feel like I am the one doing anything wrong.....
posted by Ryaske at 8:09 PM on November 23, 2009


I think you have a partial grip on reality. Just seeing you overreact to people's comments here and assume that your parents are evading tax laws makes me think you're probably overreacting to what your parents are doing with the checks. If you have a problem getting along with your parents/landlord you should move out, but honestly it sounds like you're more of a problem than they are.
posted by Happydaz at 8:09 PM on November 23, 2009 [11 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that the IRS is not out looking for tiny evasions like this (I'm assuming your rent is small). And if they were, I'm pretty sure that you wouldn't be held responsible for how another adult chooses to file their own taxes. You have no clue why they are blacking out the memo line, and you do not have a duty to be wildly speculating about the reasons. For example, I had a special kind of health insurance that required me to not be claimed as a dependent by someone else. I wasn't sure if I still was being claimed as a dependent, but it didn't matter. I filed my own taxes for myself, and everyone else filed their own taxes for themselves. If there were a discrepancy, the person claiming me has the burden of proof.

You have carbons of the checks with your memo, the end.

Do NOT whip yourself up with wild justifications about your "duty" to "not be a party" to "crimes" and "tax evasions" as a wrench to throw into whatever issues you're having with your parent. This absolutely doesn't affect you at all and is none of your business.
posted by thebazilist at 8:09 PM on November 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


I guess I am just concerned for the true dependents, my younger siblings. They do not have the option of moving out. I guess I just wanted to make it harder for the tax evasion to happen .. to help them stop breaking the law without getting them in trouble for it.

Again, the tax evasion you're not 100% sure is happening? I think calling the IRS will cause bigger problems for the "true dependents" than anything your parents are presently doing.
posted by liketitanic at 8:13 PM on November 23, 2009


I would absolutely not call the IRS!! I wanted to know what would be expected of me by the neutral majority in this situation.

From the comments so far; I should sit back and let it happen, ignoring the fact that this is the only check out of the 6 or 7 monthly bills I pay that is being altered before being cashed. Honestly this is not something I expect would be OK .. which may be why i am "over-reacting" but I am OK with admitting when I am wrong.

If that^ is the consensus, then that is the advice I was asking for, and will take to heart.

I welcome any further comments, of same or contrasting opinions.

For some further detail .. I am 25 y/o in a few months. And talking with this parent about the situation is not an option I would consider. My other parent whom I do not live with (divorce) is one I speak to regularly and am on good terms with. He, as you may expect, does not have a good relationship with my live-in parent either, for similar reasons.
posted by Ryaske at 8:37 PM on November 23, 2009


I guess I am just concerned for the true dependents, my younger siblings. They do not have the option of moving out. I guess I just wanted to make it harder for the tax evasion to happen .. to help them stop breaking the law without getting them in trouble for it.

Wait, what?

If you were to report your parents to the authorities, you would only be making things worse for your siblings.

First: stand on your own two feet. Second: start kicking others in the shins.
posted by pompomtom at 8:37 PM on November 23, 2009


Just let it go and move out. You are not a happy person when you are living where you are living.
posted by Think_Long at 8:43 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Does your bank offer the checks that have a carbon beneath each check? We have those kinds of checks and it gives you an automatic record of every check.
posted by gt2 at 9:06 PM on November 23, 2009


Would it make you feel better to either pay in cash, or with a money order?
posted by ErikaB at 9:13 PM on November 23, 2009


I would absolutely not call the IRS!!

But that's what you're getting to. You want to "help them stop breaking the law" when you won't even say to your parent, "stop altering my checks, please" because your relationship is so bad? But you'd call him or her out for TAX EVASION? I can see that intervention going real well. You won't do the easy thing but you're jumping to the hard thing. Think about why you're doing that.

This is really not about your checks, it's about some family thing we don't have enough information to assist with. You need help sorting this out. Pay with a money order, while looking for a new place and a therapist you can afford.
posted by liketitanic at 9:21 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


From the comments so far; I should sit back and let it happen, ignoring the fact that this is the only check out of the 6 or 7 monthly bills I pay that is being altered before being cashed.

Is it harming you in some way? I mean, aside from fanning the emotional fire you have going on about your whole living situation?

You're getting awfully worked up about something very petty.

I wonder if your parent even actually considers it to be "rent" qua rent, or whether she/he considers it to be some sort of "grown-up responsibility tax" that arose out out of an ongoing dispute about where you are in your life versus where your parent thinks you ought to be - including your parent's insistence that she/he must not "subsidize" a lifestyle that she/he sees as insufficiently progressive.
posted by The World Famous at 9:38 PM on November 23, 2009


The last thing I want to do is aid tax evasion (I abide by all laws myself, tax and otherwise). so I am quite in moral bind now. Aside from the fact my check is being blanked ... any kind advising words would be appreciated regarding my situation...

You're being a self righteous jerk. Your "landlord," with their "greed," "materialism," and "work ethic," is letting you stay in their home (for what you admit is a small amount of rent) while you silently seethe against their beliefs and judge their morality. Your wonderful relationship with your other parent is very likely aided by the fact that you aren't living with them. Since you've had the good fortune to build up a savings, I would recommend that you move to your own place in whatever fantasy universe you believe you live in. I guarantee you that, in 10 years, you will look back at this period of time with extreme embarrassment (if you're lucky).
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:05 PM on November 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


I do have a say regarding the money I pay for a right to live in the house...

That's being nutty. You write the check, give it to them, "the money" is theirs. Isn't the check dated? Isn't that enough for you to remember what month's rent you're paying? Or do you routinely pay your rent late?
posted by mediareport at 10:10 PM on November 23, 2009


I think in some way what the OP is really asking is does the fact that it is getting blocked out mean that his or her parent is going to evict him or her.

The answer is we don't know. Only your parent does. If it is personally safe for you to consider if you can reopen communication, I would. However, if there is a history of difficulty or abuse, I would not consider it.

Likely there is some sort of legal reason unrelated to your staying there that is the cause of the blacking out of the memo field. But if you are not secure there and happy, I'd consider getting out if you have the money.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:15 PM on November 23, 2009


So you write in concerned that you might be getting screwed by your landlord and you end up convulsing with worry over the welfare of your siblings? Um. Nope. Sorry.

Answer A: The one you would get if you were renting from a standard landlord.

Yes, they could be tweaking their records in such a way as to obfuscate their source of income - for whatever reason. Who knows? It could mean a number if things. You, as a tenant of this standard landlord, probably have nothing to worry about. Record your payments as you would for any other bill and, as an added precaution, make a photocopy of your checks. Shake your head at the oddness of it, but move on. Their books aren't really your business. As long as you are paying rent in good faith, you needn't worry. If you are concerned about identity theft, consider paying by money order or cash.

Answer B: What you get when landlord is a 'parent' and your relationship is so bad that you can't deign to call said parent "mom."

Obviously, you are channeling some long held and no doubt deeply felt resentments of "parent" into this relatively small matter of the memo line of your check. You say your rent is small - so we'll assume you're paying below market. So far below market that it's worth it for a 25 year old "adult" to live in close proximity to someone s/he clearly find odious. If that's the case, you have three options.

Option 1: Continue being subsidized by someone you clearly despise and understand that "rent" is simply an euphemism for this subsidization. If that's the case, you drop the fussing over the memo line.

Option 2: Move out, because it's better for your soul to live free of people you hate. You'll be happier for it. Because you've moved, you no longer have to fuss over the memo line.

Option 3. Stay, but pay market rent as you would to any standard landlord. Review Answer A. and drop the fussing over the memo line.
posted by space_cookie at 12:10 AM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


The what in the where, now? From whence I come (east coast, U.S.), it's common, if not customary, for parents to accept an affordable "rent" from post-college-age former dependents who live at home. Rather than calling it "paying rent," though, think of it like being an adult. To me, writing "rent" in the memo field smacks of d-baggery.
posted by dreamphone at 1:22 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's also possible they are embarrassed about charging their kids rent.
posted by delmoi at 2:54 AM on November 24, 2009


I think the tax thing and what delmoi says is probably correct. They are helping you by giving you a roof to stay under, you are helping them with their expenses. Probably not an IRS issue, but they want to be safer than sorrier. And probably are peeved with the word rent.

If talking to them about isn't an option, what about just writing the date in the memo line without anything else?
posted by gjc at 3:34 AM on November 24, 2009


Property taxes for rental properties are generally at LEAST 2x regular residential taxes. Also, rentals require special zoning and separate inspections, not to mention registration in some cities. (For fair housing reasons.)

Your parent isn't really running a boarding house, they're charging you some fee to live there, semantically I wonder if it's less "rent" and more "expenses". Regardless, if they've got an accountant or a tax prep person, they are probably blanking it to avoid having to explain the situation to this financial advisor. I would NOT equate that to tax evasion, just the same as not getting all necessary permits isn't evasion either, it's just risky because the city (if there's a city there) can generally order a work stoppage and/or levy a fine and/or order a dismantling of the work that's been done. If the work is done and the materials are put away, there's really very little that code enforcement can do having not caught them in the act (unless the work goes over a property line or breaks some other covenant of city ordinance.)

FWIW, when it's a check I don't want to write, I generally put "Sexual Favors" in the memo line. I once sent one filled out in black fine point sharpie, and the memo line said "Oral Services Rendered." they still cashed it. dammit.
posted by TomMelee at 5:04 AM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


You're 25. It's time to grow up. If you are living with parent, eating parent's food, using parent's utilities, and socializing with parent's children, just about the only thing you can do to ease your worry is jump out of the nest, fall on your face, and figure out how to fly.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:01 AM on November 24, 2009


Personally, I would order some "duplicate" NCR checks, so that the copy in the checkbook retains your comment. From a pragmatic perspective, that should solve your problem. You'll have the comment when you need it, and they get to keep whatever effect that they get from redacting it.
posted by Citrus at 10:26 AM on November 24, 2009


From the question itself: "I use a carbon copy checkbook so I do have a copy of each check that was altered."
posted by The World Famous at 11:10 AM on November 24, 2009


Are you getting the physical canceled checks back, or are you looking at scanned images on a computer? If the second, highlighting sometimes turns black when scanned. Not all the time - yellow usually comes through okay - but darker colors certainly can. So there's a slim chance that you're seeing highlighting, not redaction.

So what's up with the switch from anonymous question to username and responses?
posted by dilettante at 1:17 PM on November 24, 2009


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