Rental House Headaches
February 4, 2011 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Can my landlord require that I mail rent checks to a USPS Post Office Box instead of delivering them in person or sending them Certified Mail with Signature Confirmation?

All the standard YANAL type of stuff here...

First off, this is in Texas. We're renting a house through a property management company and our contact there has been a complete jerk about the rent checks and has claimed to not receive them on time, charging us a total of $145 in late fees in the first two months.

Our lease states that the checks are to be mailed to a PO box address. We've mailed the checks from the same post office where the box is located, but the "landlord" has claimed that he hasn't received them on time. We have no way of knowing when the checks were delivered and we would like to either deliver them in person or get delivery confirmation, but he is unwilling to provide us with an alternate address and claims that he is not required to do so because our lease stipulates the address for the checks to be mailed.

Are we being unreasonable or do we have a right to receipt of payment for rent?

For reference, here is the text out of the lease, which is a standard Texas Association of Relators lease:

C. Place of Payment: Unless this lease provides otherwise, Tenant will remit all amounts due to Landlord under this lease to the following person or entity at the place stated and make all payments payable to the named person or entity. Landlord may later designate, in writing, another person or place to which Tenant must remit amounts due under this lease.

Name: Evil Property Management Co. Inc.
Address: PO BOX 1111
City, TX 11111
posted by ElDiabloConQueso to Law & Government (21 answers total)
You can send certified mail to a post office box, and I think this is exactly what you should be doing right now.
posted by saeculorum at 12:54 PM on February 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Your landlord is correct that he can designate the manner in which rent is paid (this is even part of the "standard" Texas Apartment Association lease, complete with checkboxes). In Texas, the lease controls the relationship almost completely, with minimal overrides or prohibitions in state law. However, I know of no rule* that specifies how the mail is to be delivered, so you are likely safe* in using certified mail or any other product the USPS provides. (I, for example, send my rent checks via Priority Mail, but not for the reason of delivery confirmation)

Editorial: What gets my goat is that most leases specify that the rent is to be mailed, but, one or two paragraphs away, also say something like "the mailbox is not an agent for Landlord, and rent is not considered timely received unless actually received by Landlord on or before the specified day." Given a provision like that, and the problems you've already experienced, I would definitely resort to certified mail, or at least USPS priority envelopes with delivery confirmation attached.

* I'm a tenant, just like you, who has extensively researched landlord-tenant laws and rules in Texas, but I am not a lawyer and may have missed something.
posted by fireoyster at 12:55 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can send registered mail with signature confirmation or return receipt to a PO Box.
posted by Jahaza at 12:55 PM on February 4, 2011

Can't answer the legal question, but have you considered certified mail as an alternative to signature confirmation?

Certified Mail provides proof of mailing at the time of mailing and date and time of delivery or attempted delivery. A delivery record is maintained by the USPS. Certified Mail is available with First-Class Mail and Priority Mail. For an additional fee, Certified Mail may be combined with restricted delivery or return receipt.
posted by jon1270 at 12:55 PM on February 4, 2011

jon1270 is right. You want proof of the attempted delivery. Otherwise he could just wait a week before opening his PO Box and you'd be in trouble.
posted by alms at 1:04 PM on February 4, 2011

Do the dates on the cashed cheques confirm what the landlord is claiming? Aren't your cancelled cheques considered your receipt for payment? As alms said, he could be sitting on them - or he could be lying even more!
posted by peagood at 1:11 PM on February 4, 2011

I don't know anything about the particulars of Texas tenant law, but usually these disputes don't actually come down to what's legal so much as what's worth the respective parties' time and money, and it's pretty much never worth it to a landlord to lose paying tenants. At any point, you can simply tell the landlord that you're not recognizing to any complaints about late rent checks until he gives you an address where you can get confirmation of delivery. You could even tell him that if he won't give you a more reliable place to send your rent checks, he can come pick up the rent himself.

He might raise a fus, but it will never be worth the hassle + cost of trying to legally enforce that stipulation of the lease.
posted by patnasty at 1:12 PM on February 4, 2011

@patnasty - That's essentially what I did this afternoon. Here is his response to my request for an address where I can get delivery confirmation:

This is going to deteriorate, I see... LOL. Our executed lease rules our actions.
We're not required to provide you with any special delivery options, nor will we. Follow your lease carefully. Issue closed.

Nice guy, huh?
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 1:40 PM on February 4, 2011

patnasty: "He might raise a fus, but it will never be worth the hassle + cost of trying to legally enforce that stipulation of the lease."

You do not want to play chicken with a landlord in Texas. Our landlord-tenant laws are skewed so heavily in favor of the landlord, and I would not want to go in front of a(n elected justice of the peace) judge (who is not required to have any legal background to be elected) with the argument that "he keeps saying I'm late so I'm not paying until he stop saying I'm late." Even with the required filings in JP court, a person can be booted within 21 days, and--even if the tenant successfully defends the suit--the filing becomes part of the things that places like Tenant Tracker look at when providing a report to a future landlord.

It's a real crappy situation, and is a big part of why organizations like all the ones listed here (and which should be consulted with a problem like this) keep very busy all year long.
posted by fireoyster at 1:40 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can't say anything about the legality of what the landlord is demanding, but it's actually pretty easy and cheap to get delivery confirmation, even when mailing to a PO box. I would recommend using delivery confirmation on your rent checks. You have to mail them from the post office desk instead of tossing it in a mail box, which is a pain, but it's cheap - less than $2 I think. It's the bright green label. There's a number on it that you can enter into the USPS website for tracking, it will show the date of shipping and delivery, including any attempted deliveries. Print out this page, and save it along with your half of the delivery confirmation label (which will have a postmark) and a copy of your check.

If you want the person who's picking up the mail to sign for it, you can use certified mail plus return receipt, which costs $5.10 plus the regular postage. The recipient will get a note in their box telling them they have certified mail to sign for - if they don't pick it up, it's logged as an attempted delivery. After 3 (usually) attempts, the envelope will be returned to you marked as "unable to deliver" with the dates of attempts. The attempted dates are also logged on the tracking information available on their website. Same thing - print this page once it's been delivered (or returned to you) and save it with your label and a copy of the check.

Hope that helps! The landlord sounds like a complete ass.
posted by Safiya at 1:54 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure Certified Mail with Return Receipt is the way to go here. It can to go a PO Box, and will give you a receipt of mailing and delivery, with dates. Follows the lease carefully. Issue closed.

Sorry, couldn't help myself.
posted by The Michael The at 1:55 PM on February 4, 2011

Your landlord, like many, is a dick. So send the check to him at the post office certified mail. Try and send it early so as not to be an issue. I know money can be tight so that's not always possible. If you're sending it from the same post office as the landlord's PO Box, it will almost always be in the landlord's box the next delivery day. The only time it wouldn't would be is if it got stuck on another letter and ended up Kansas first, or the post office employee put it in the wrong box.

If the landlord is playing games where the 1st falls on day there's no mail service and you're being dinged for that, that's another story where you might have leverage. If the check is in his PO Box and he didn't feel like going to the Post Office on the weekend, and there's a holiday on Monday then that's his problem. However, you think he's a dick now, wait until you make a case of it.

I'd start looking for a new place to live. I hate dicks like that. And when he asks why you give notice, mention his saying that you've been lying to him about when you've been paying the rent. Unless you live in the world's best rental home and there's nothing comparable elsewhere, there's going to be another play to rent with a less dickish landlord.
posted by birdherder at 2:12 PM on February 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is there any option to deliver in person? I would be going with that.

If there's a problem in the post office, perhaps involve the postal inspector, you can make a claim that deliveries are having a problem.

Perhaps hire a process server or even an attorney's office to do the delivery of the rent. I'm serious here, this person is unserious, unprofessional, and thinks he or she has all the power in this relationship. This person is not respectful of you or your time. Honestly I'd be inclined to hire someone to wait at the PO boxes for whoever checks the box and see when it gets checked -- if this is a year lease, gathering intel on exactly what kind of assholes you're dealing with is important. Not so you can be an asshole back, you always want to try and be decent and professional, even if you're dealing with a jerk.

Because landlords can very well make trouble. So what is the process when the toilet overflows? When there's a leak in the ceiling? If the landlord is a jerk about these things there's a real problem. If they're unresponsive, that ends up de facto falling to you, and if you don't have a mechanism for reimbursements then there can be a ton of pain there.

Read up on tenant's rights.

Best of luck. Bad landlords make my blood boil, which I'm sure colors my advice.
posted by artlung at 2:14 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a Texas landlord. He can absolutely refuse to provide an alternate address. There's not much that supersedes the letter of your lease in Texas.

I also have tenants mail their rent, though not to a PO box. I find it pretty fishy that he doesn't base his determination of late rent on the postmark date and I can't think of any real reason not to. You can and should send it certified mail or with delivery confirmation to the PO box.

About the snippet you pasted: I don't know nearly enough to defend this guy, but I learned quickly that it pays to be very careful about doing any favors for tenants beyond the letter of the lease. People quickly get to feeling entitled to special treatment and it spirals. The firm, "Read your lease. End of discussion." is really the only thing to say about things like this, so don't take that particular bit personally.

People above are right. At this level it's all hassle avoidance. It's a huge expensive pain to evict someone or take them to small claims court, and it's no guarantee you'll get your money even if you (you being the landlord) win. However, you (the tenant) will almost certainly lose if it escalates to that. Not only because, as noted, Texas law and politics favor the landlord but also because he will know the law better than you and probably have a lawyer.
posted by cmoj at 2:14 PM on February 4, 2011

Oh! I missed that this guy is just your property manager. Your conflation of him and your landlord (if that's what's going on) is exactly why he only wants things delivered to the PO box and not in person. Just send it certified.
posted by cmoj at 2:18 PM on February 4, 2011

I'd check with the post office about the same/next-day presumption you have: while it'd seem fantastically inefficient prima facie for them to send your mail out to a central processing facility, it may actually be most efficient for them, all things considered.

(That is, I'm guessing that it'd be far more labour-intensive for them to verify the address on every single envelope before sending it out, just to determine whether it's supposed to remain at the same post office, given that there are infinitely fewer of those letters than those going much much further away.)
posted by astrochimp at 4:10 PM on February 4, 2011

So a question, then: are you just dropping these in a drop-box, or are you mailing them with an employee, specifically mentioning that they're going to a PO box in the same building?
posted by astrochimp at 4:11 PM on February 4, 2011

Adding to the confirmation solution. Also: Is the company the actual owner of the property? I have no idea if this is good advice (and it probably isn't) but if it were me I'd want the actual owner of the property to know that I was thinking of leaving because their management company was extorting money from me and generally being a dick. Note this only works if you're otherwise exemplary tenants and/or the rental market is soft.

Also, my wife (who paid our rent when we were renting) ALWAYS mailed it by the 20th. If you can move your pay date forward, do that, too. Confirmation combined with rent that was mailed a full week+ before the end of the month should end this.

I'm not sure what you can do if you get delivery confirmation and the guy says "tough shit, your rent is really $75 a month more than we said because we're always going to charge you a late fee because our state's laws were written by douchebags." Guess that's a bridge to cross when you get to it.
posted by maxwelton at 9:52 PM on February 4, 2011

Have you considered paying online with your bank? The way it works with my bank (Chase), you enter the mailing address and date you want payment to arrive, and they tell you how many days they need to guarantee on-time delivery. If it arrives late they cover the late fees and/or other charges.

If he continues charging late fees it then becomes the bank's problem to deal with, plus you avoid having to pay the extra USPS delivery confirmation fees and the hassle of standing in line at the PO. Added bonus: You can pay rent in your jammies, or wearing your Here's your money, Jerky! t-shirt.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:05 AM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Certified mail to a P.O. Box works, it isn't dated on when it's deposited in the PO Box, it's dated on when the person signs for the mail (they usually leave a card in the box which the person has to redeem and sign for).

Another option: post-dated cheques. He can't cash them in advance and if you move you can void them. No big deal, would only cost more if you do move before the cheques have all been cashed.
posted by furtive at 9:37 AM on February 5, 2011

post-dated cheques. He can't cash them in advance

He absolutely can cash them as soon as he has them in hand.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:46 PM on February 5, 2011

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