Possibly illegal rental lease
February 16, 2011 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Is it legal for a landlord to make a tenant pay an inspection fee, even though the landlord-tenant code says that the landlord must pay it?

I realize that this is something that might well vary from state to state. Still, I thought I'd ask. I'm renting an apartment in Delaware, and the city I live in levies a $300 inspection fee from the landlord every year. I was informed, however, that the landlord expects me to pay this fee; when I looked in my lease, I found out that indeed there is a clause saying that I'm responsible for all fees levied by the city to the landlord.

Now, it is definitely my fault for not reading the lease more carefully. However, by the Delaware landlord-tenant code, the landlord is responsible for all such fees paid to the city. More generally, that clause seems very sketchy to me. Is my lease legal, since it explicitly contradicts the landlord-tenant code? Is there any way for me to fight this fee? Should I see a lawyer, or is this too small an amount of money to see a lawyer about? Or should I not even bother to make a fuss over a relatively small amount of money?
posted by Frobenius Twist to Law & Government (10 answers total)
Ask the landlord for a written bill and contact the Consumer Protection Unit of the DE Attorney General. Consumer Protection Hotline: 800-220-5424 (Toll-Free) or 302-577-8600
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:52 PM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

From the reading I've done, state law trumps lease terms, at least here in California. I'd suggest giving that hotline above a ring and asking them for starters. If you can get a written bill in writing and it IS illegal, you've got plenty of ammunition to step into court with. Then again, asking for a written bill, the landlord might just pull a "uh... Nevermind, I'll handle this one." attitude. But would that be enough to close the subject? or are there other fee's he/she will be passing on to you that may be illegal?

Hotline is where you start.
posted by mr.anthony337 at 3:57 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ditto on the hotline advice. But playing devil's advocate here, do you think it would/should be illegal for a landlord to factor the cost of the inspection into your rent? Presumably not--just like the landlord likely can't charge a tenant for, say, the new roof, but he can amortize the cost of the new roof in the lease. I would not be surprised if the allocation of responsibility for the inspection cost in the law is just an invoicing mechanism, and that you signed a lease that provided your annual rent is X + $300.

Not legal advice, IANYL, and not how I hope this turns out. Good luck!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:08 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I could see it going either way. Follow the above advice and call the hotline.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:21 PM on February 16, 2011

There is usually a law that says "Landlord may pass on X fraction of Y cost onto tenant" -or- "Landlord may NOT pass on Y cost to tenant." I think it is very rare that the landlord is allowed to pass on the total cost onto the tenant. YMMV.

State law usually does trump the lease.

Yes. Call whatever hotline necessary to get clarification on this. Def double check it on the internets just to make sure you got the right info over the phone.
posted by jbenben at 4:47 PM on February 16, 2011

Great, thanks to everyone for the info! I'll call the hotline and see what happens.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 5:36 PM on February 16, 2011

An Interesting Thought: If you have to pay the inpsection fee, do you get a copy of the report?
posted by ovvl at 7:29 PM on February 16, 2011

Also, since I am rather naive about these things -- what is the purpose of getting the bill in writing?
posted by Frobenius Twist at 8:27 PM on February 16, 2011

If the landlord isn't allowed to pass that cost on to you and bill you the $300 inspection fee, asking for a written bill does two things. One, it gives you a paper trail for small claims court or a housing complaint or something. Two, it makes it less likely that you'll get charged the money, because if it's illegal he'll have to refund your money and might get into trouble in addition to that.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:09 PM on February 16, 2011

what is the purpose of getting the bill in writing?

Also prevents him from saying you were confused and he wasn't actually charging you the $300 inspection.
posted by smackfu at 9:16 AM on February 17, 2011

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