pay rent or quit
July 29, 2011 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Los Angeles slumlordfilter: management company cashed our check for the usual rent amount last week (verified w bank), management company left us a "pay rent or quit" notice yesterday claiming we were short on rent and must pay within 3 days, calls to management company have led the voice mail box of the bookkeeper who has yet to pick up the phone or call us back. We're on day 2 and it's a Friday. Given they actually received rent in full, how worried should we be that they'll f us over even though this is entirely their own error?

It's a rent controlled apartment and we are month to month. That they have no system in place to catch these sorts of errors is a whole other issue that concerns me.
posted by mandymanwasregistered to Law & Government (24 answers total)
My non-lawyer advice: document everything, keep attempting to contact them, and ignore the eviction notices. Send a certified letter if you have an address.

Basically, I don't think they can evict you without taking you to court. You have your bank statement that they received payment, and a history of making a good faith effort to contact them. They don't have anything apparently other than sloppy records.

Devil's Advocate: I'm not familiar with rent controlled apartments, but isn't a minor yearly increase sometimes allowed? Could it be that they increased your rent and forgot to tell you, and that's why you're short? But in any case, you couldn't have known that since they're not answering their phone.
posted by sbutler at 2:06 PM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

The marshals don't show up after 3 days--the landlord has to take you to court, and get a judgement, and so on and so on. LA renters rights.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:09 PM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: The letter claims we were $26 short when the bank shows they got the full amount.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:10 PM on July 29, 2011

CES Tenant's Rights Clinic.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:11 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also start by writing a letter with a copy of the bank statement showing the full amount paid. It should be courteous and direct and include the bank statement as an exhibit. Black out anything you don't want them to see.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:13 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

They didn't magically raise your rent by $26, right? That sounds like a small enough amount that that's what they're trying to pull. Seconding tenants rights.
posted by Gucky at 2:21 PM on July 29, 2011

Response by poster: To clarify: the letter says the total for our rent is the total we paid. They are claiming we wrote a check for $26 less than that amount. There is no disagreement between us about how much our monthly rent is. The disagreement is in how much they claim we paid them, for which we have bank records to show otherwise.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:24 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ex:
Management: your rent is $100 dollars, you paid $74 dollars, you owe us $26 dollars in the next 3 days
Us: We checked our bank statement and you cashed our check for $100 dollars
Management: We're looking into it
[crickets, tumbleweeds]
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:27 PM on July 29, 2011

Depends on what you mean by "f you over". The odds on you being successfully evicted are practically nil if you have proof of what you paid, and you do. They could initiate the process and make you jump through hoops, though, but they'd have to be morons to do that.
posted by Justinian at 2:29 PM on July 29, 2011

Part of "document everything" (good advice from above) includes keeping a diary of your contact attempts (dates, times, methods) and keeping a hardcopy of the cancelled check plus the letter they sent. Also, visiting the management company during business hours might be a good way to get this cleared up quickly.
posted by davejay at 2:55 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Have you tried going to the office in person? Bring all of your documentation with you. Voicemails are easy to ignore or miss; going there in person will force them to deal with the issue right away.
posted by kitty teeth at 3:11 PM on July 29, 2011

Follow up in writing (stating your case firmly but politely), accompanied by documentation (e.g., a copy of the cancelled check or the bank statement). Since it's Friday I would go to the management office in person and present your letter and documentation; if that's impossible, send it today (priority mail) with delivery confirmation.

Even if they wanted to go through with evicting you, they can't do anything till Monday at the earliest anyway (because the third day of a 3-day notice has to be a business day), at which point their next step is to go to court to file for your eviction. But since you actually have proof that you are not in violation of the lease, they'd be doing this (at their own expense) for no good reason.

I suspect that this is just a case of management company incompetence, and once you present them with documentation that proves you paid your rent correctly, the issue will dissolve.
posted by scody at 3:15 PM on July 29, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the advice. I'm still really frustrated, but am freaking out a little bit less. It seems like we may have to schlep out to Canoga Park (a 24 mile drive!) to sort this out tomorrow morning in person.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:27 PM on July 29, 2011

Don't necessarily take the management office too seriously. It is very well part of their "normal business practice" to start eviction proceedings the moment they don't get a full rental check. It may sound excessive, but that's about the only thing they can do given the numerous legal requirements for dealing with someone who is actually trying to cheat the management office. It may sound ominous, but the "pay rent or leave" notice is just them ensuring that if you really are trying to cheat them, that they don't waste time in the eviction process.
posted by saeculorum at 3:45 PM on July 29, 2011

Believe it or not I have paid official entities (I think it was a phone bill) before and they have cashed the check for less than the amount I wrote on the check, the bank cashed it at the lower amount instead of the amount written on the check, and then the official entity later told them I was short on the amount I paid to them.
posted by dgeiser13 at 4:07 PM on July 29, 2011

It seems like we may have to schlep out to Canoga Park (a 24 mile drive!) to sort this out tomorrow morning in person.

You don't have to. I mean, it's probably the simplest way to get this behind you, but in the end, they aren't going to be able to evict you because you paid the rent. I'd probably send a certified letter before I drove 48 mi to sort something out.
posted by grouse at 4:14 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, don't schlep 24 miles for nothing; just call them Monday morning and - this is key - casually mention you spoke with a lawyer and you and your lawyer are both very confused as to what the issue is, since you have clear evidence from your bank that they cashed the check for the full amount of rent.

It's *amazing* what the casual mention of a lawyer will do to get your message heard at the landlord's office. Seriously. Don't threaten, just casually mention the lawyer you spoke with is confused about what's going on, and you'd like some clarification.
posted by mediareport at 5:30 PM on July 29, 2011

Response by poster: I know they can't evict us, but they could start proceedings, or so it seems. Doesn't that sort of thing go on our records tenants? I guess that's the sort of thing I meant by fucking us over.

Unless the bank kept the $26 and change for themselves (since it's gone from our account), this seems like it was an accounting error on the management company's part. Given that they've sent out a 3 day notice letter and then blown us off when we attempted to straighten this out, I'm bracing myself for the worst case scenario.

My personal lawyer (aka my father) talked me into faxing the relevant bank info to them and not worry about it, so um I can do one of those things :p
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:34 PM on July 29, 2011

Management: We're looking into it

Wait, did someone at the office actually tell you that? On 2nd read, it looks like you talked to someone at the management company, who then sent you to the bookkeeper's voicemail. Is that what happened?

I think you should take a few deep breaths and stop worrying. Fax them the info over the weekend (mention in the fax that it's being sent on instructions from your family lawyer), then call them Monday morning to confirm they received the fax and verify that everything's fine. Then enjoy your weekend while telling the story of your idiot landlord to pals over a few beers.
posted by mediareport at 5:44 PM on July 29, 2011

Don't rule out just giving them the $26 if it will save all this hassle.
posted by Noumenon at 5:57 PM on July 29, 2011

Can't your bank give you a copy of both sides of the check? And then fax it to their office. There's no "permanent record" unless they ding your credit rating, which they can't do, and even if they started proceedings, which will cost them $$ and take time, unless it goes to court and a judgement is handed down, there's no record against you.
But if you wrote a check--get a copy and show 'em.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:02 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh my goodness. Feel free to relax!

(former) LA landlord here. The three day notice doesn't mean much unless you are egregiously in error with provable violations and you owe heaps of money. No one is taking you to court or f'ing with you for a mere $26. It's not going on your credit score, it will not be reported to future landlords (more on that at the end*) it is not going into any sort of permanent file.

It's an accounting error. You do not have to go to conoga park or get mad at them. Really.

Just write that polite letter with a copy of your bank statement included (black out account numbers and such.)

- My guess here is they mixed your business up with another unit. It happens! Just mail, email, or fax them the proof. Done.

Btw, let's say you didn't respond to the first notice... For $26 they are only going to drop another 3 day notice to pay or quit on your door. That's it. No judge would ever evict you for $26, plus it would take at least 4 weeks and a fair amount of money to take you to court in the first place... So nope. You are fairly untouchable. It's OK.

* Keep a copy of all this for your records, but I highly doubt they will report this forward. If you have cheap rent, they want your unit back. If another landlord calls them to verify your tenancy, you are sure to get glowing reviews because they want you to get that new apartment and move! Just keep a copy and move on to something happier.
posted by jbenben at 8:32 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oops! I meant to write "move onto something happier in your mind." I'm not suggesting that you move apartments or anything like that.
posted by jbenben at 8:38 PM on July 29, 2011

Is your lease for a fixed period like six months or a year? Have you been there more than that period? Could $26 conceivably be the difference (or some attempt to calculate the difference) between the number of weeks rent you have paid (eg 26 or 52), and the rent due for the entire lease period (eg 6 months or a year).

There is a one or two day difference between a year, and 52 weeks.

I'm not in LA, but landlords here do sometimes forget to explicitly bill for that spare half-day, day, or two days at the end of each six or twelve months, and then subsequently claim the tenant is in arrears.
posted by Ahab at 11:03 PM on July 29, 2011

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