Landlord Discovered Error in Billing, Now We Owe 10 Months of Parking Fees
May 7, 2010 2:43 PM   Subscribe

The management company at our apartment building just discovered that they had not been charging us for parking 10 months into our lease. We had been paying the rent amount and the parking amount for the first two months, but kept getting overpayment notices telling us to reduce our monthly payment, so I thought our number was in error. Now they want all 10 months paid back though they admit the error was on their end. Are we liable for the back fees even though we were told by them to lower our monthly payment? This is in Washington, DC.
posted by jules1651 to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Barring some very odd local law--yes, you have to pay whatever you agreed to pay in the contract you have with the landlord. The screwed up billing doesn't invalidate your lease.
posted by phoenixy at 2:49 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

yeah, it blows, and something similar happened to me before - but the end result is that you have a signed contract for X amount and you are liable for it. them being idiots who are bad at math doesn't absolve you.
posted by nadawi at 2:51 PM on May 7, 2010

Maybe you can work out some payment plan with them since the error was on their end?
posted by MaryDellamorte at 2:51 PM on May 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think you should really take this up with someone higher up the food chain at the property management company. Although you'll probably have to pay the full amount (and you should walk into any meeting by saying you're prepared to pay the full amount), the accounting department really screwed up, and that should be recognized.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:18 PM on May 7, 2010

They said pay less, you paid less, they were wrong, so why are you suddenly wrong?

I'd offer to settle for 50% off the term when the incorrect payments, their idea, were accepted, by them, for the use of the space.

Sort of like incorrectly marked goods in a store, they have to sell it for that until they change the pricing the customer sees.

In this case they are the store and you just paid the going; understood, per their notice to you, rate for the housing.

Be excellent if the notice you were overpaying is in writing.
posted by Freedomboy at 3:47 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Let's say the parking is $30 per month. You saved $30 per month for those ten months. After 10 months you were $300 ahead of where you should have been. Now they want the $300 that you should have paid, but did not. In the end you have not lost. So yes, you have to pay. Officially.

Where you got screwed is that you folded that $30 back into your monthly budget and adjusted your pattern of living and your expectations. Now you get hit with a $300 bill that is unexpected and, no doubt, a burden.

Freedomboy's idea is a good one. Talk to the management company. Lay out what happened, including your good faith reliance on what they told you, and see if they will take 50% to bring it current.

But they do not have to be reasonable or accommodating. If they say pay up, you gotta pay.
posted by yclipse at 5:18 PM on May 7, 2010

If I add up the numbers above, it sounds like you've been in the apartment a year. Is your lease up for renewal? If so, use that as a bargaining chip when talking to them.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:54 PM on May 7, 2010

Personally, I would argue that they waived their contract right to be paid for the parking for the duration of the time at which they instructed you to pay for it. That is, you contracted with them to pay it, then they told you not to pay it, thus waiving their right to collect from you during that time. Now they are asking you to reinstate the obligation to pay for it. I'm not sure why people above think that your landlord's own written communication can't modify the contract or waive a right or benefit he has under it. This is not legal advice, but it is certainly the way I would approach the thing.

(Of course, they may have inserted something in the lease that failure to enforce a term does not constitute waiver of the term. I would counter-argue that this is not a simple failure to enforce, in that you were specifically instructed to stop paying $x. And again, the above is not intended to be rock hard legal WIN, or even legal advice. But it would be my starting point. I would note that waiver is not "some very odd local law," it's a wide and common aspect of many areas of our legal system: contractually, procedurally, in negligence and so forth. That doesn't mean it certainly applies here, but it might be a useful concept.)
posted by bunnycup at 6:27 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is the amount at stake large enough that you want to screw up your relationship with the people who own and ultimately control the space in which you are living?
posted by dhartung at 10:07 PM on May 8, 2010

You deal with the management company, but they're operating on behalf of the property owner. So if you claim that the contract has changed then the management company will have no choice but to refer your argument to a lawyer so that they know where they stand. Or perhaps just pass it to a debt collector, but I think the lawyer is more likely. So you end up either getting evicted or wasting a lot of time in court defending your position that you don't actually owe them $300 (or however much it is). You might well win, but the uncertainty and the time taken are costs you ought to take into account.

IANAL. I recommend writing to them. Say that you had relied upon their advice to pay less and that an extra payment will be a burden, but that "without prejudice" you offer to pay the disputed amount over time. I recommend offering to pay half the monthly fee each month in addition to the amounts specified in the contract until the disputed amount is cleared, but if your lease expires soon they'll have a good reason for wanting you to pay more quickly.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:09 AM on May 10, 2010

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