Is there anything I can do about multiple late rent payment fines?
November 22, 2016 5:10 PM   Subscribe

I made some late payments on my rent over the last year. I just re-signed a new lease starting in September. Now, my landlord is saying I owe $1,200 from previous late rent payments, which I was never informed about. Anything I can do about this?

I live in Brooklyn, NYC. My lease has a section about late rent payment:
8th FAILURE TO PAY RENT TIMELY: Rent is due by the first of each month. For purposes of this paragraph, payment after the 5th of each month shall be considered a ‘Late Payment’. Late Payments more than three (3) times in any twelve month period shall be deemed to be a failure to comply with a substantial obligation of this lease and be grounds for the termination of this lease and eviction of the Tenant by the Landlord.

9th LATE CHARGE: It is agreed that due to administrative inconvenience and costs incurred due to late payment of rent that Tenants agree to pay the sum of $200.00 per month in any month in which the rent is tendered after the 5th day of that month. It is further agreed, that although, Landlord is accepting $200.00 as a late charge that the Landlord is not stopped from commencing any action or proceeding with regard to Tenant's failure to pay rent timely.

This paragraph is not a waiver of the Landlord's right to collect or demand rent when it is due.
I just got notice from my landlord that I paid rent in 2016 on June 6th, March 6th, May 7th, February 6th, January 6th, and in 2015 on December 6th. This is a $200 late fee for each of those 6 months, so $1,200.

These late payments were all on the previous year long lease. I signed a new lease in September (2016). I was never notified that any of these charges were accruing.

Does my landlord have to give me timely notice about these late rent charges? Me and my two roommates signed this lease and never looked at it again, and I never heard anything from my landlord, so it never occurred to me that this was an issue.

Does it matter that it was on the old lease?

I live in Brooklyn and work at a non-profit. Any advice on pleading for sympathy and trying to get this reduced?

Obviously, don't pay rent a day late in the future. Any other advice appreciated. Thanks!
posted by davidstandaford to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How do you pay your rent? Those dates strike me as odd because most of them are weekends
Dec 6th: Sunday
Jan 6th: Wednesday
Feb 6th: Saturday
March 6th: Sunday
May 7th: Saturday
June 6th: Monday

Do you pay your rent in cash/in person and remember paying it on weekends multiple times?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 5:25 PM on November 22, 2016

A few clarifying questions:

* Did you check your records, and agree that you were late on all of those dates? When were those postmarked?
* Did your previous lease contain the term you quoted? Or is that in your new lease (it's not clear in your question).
* How much do you pay a month now?
* Is your apartment under any sort of rent control?
* Are you willing to fight the fees in court if it came down to it?
* Does your new lease agreement have increased rent?

I don't think the "i was never notified I was late" argument would help you legally in your case, since the notice that you would be responsible for these fees was in the contract you sign. You can certainly try that in a letter to your landlord and now you're aware and you're very sorry, but this now unexpected cost puts you in a difficult position financially and maybe ask for a courtesy waiver of some of the fees.

I ask if you're willing to fight it in court because you might have some basis of an argument there - you can't get evicted over fees that aren't the rent itself in NY, so you could try to wait and get sued and make your arguments about how the fees are unreasonable and weren't properly noticed to you in court.

Consider also giving your local tenant's rights organization a call. You should also carefully read the lease agreement you signed in September 2016 to make sure you understand the terms.
posted by Karaage at 5:25 PM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd confirm with some kind of housing legal aid but I think this is bogus. It's my understanding that provisions of the lease that aren't acted upon in a timely fashion can't be retroactively applied...especially when you've renewed the lease and no mention was made of the fact at that time. If there was going to be a penalty applied for each late payment, it should have happened the next month so you feel the pain and work hard not to be late the next time. It's like an unacceptable "gotcha" to pretend that there is no penalty for 12 months and then apply it for the entire term of the lease.
posted by victoriab at 5:27 PM on November 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

- Might not be legit because the dates are weird, how do you pay/prove rent was on time??
- Almost for sure they can't ask retroactively, check your jurisdiction.

Do nothing. Check your records and the current law in your jurisdiction. When you are sure of your facts, have someone help you write a response with any supporting documentation that you mail certified/return receipt.

If you actually owe the money, yes you should be very very nice and ask for leniency. But, don't go there just yet. Frankly, I think they are fucking with you. Funny they did not ask for this money prior to your lease renewal, I think it is an underhanded way to increase your rent above what is legally allowed, or maybe they are just disorganized.

Do your homework. Then reply.
posted by jbenben at 5:34 PM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for everything so far, and I appreciate any additional responses. Quick responses:

The dates I gave are right - I pay my rent online, and have a record of it.

The late fee language is in both leases.

The rent last year was $1,300. In September, with the new lease, the rent went up to $1,333.
posted by davidstandaford at 5:42 PM on November 22, 2016

Here is a piece about NYC late fees. tl;dr: not a ton they can/would do about it but depends on how much you value renewing your lease when this one's over.
posted by lalex at 5:57 PM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't live in New York, but when I had a property management company try to retroactively charge me a bunch of late fees, for dates up to 20 months previously, I just refused to pay on the basis that if they wanted me to pay, they needed to send the the bill the month after it happened. I paid the most recent one but refused all the rest.

Then they tried to say they would take my rent checks and apply them to the late fees, so I would be in arrears on rent, which is complete shenanigans since your landlord can't spend your rent on whatever they please, so I called up again and started reading state and local renters statutes over the phone to them until they backed off.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:10 PM on November 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

I'll play devils's advocate (because I'm curious, not because I like being kind of an ass), but I don't understand why you wouldn't owe the money.

It sounds like you knew when you signed the lease that you were supposed to pay them $1500 (rent +200) each month you were late, but did not do so. Now, they've noticed the error and are trying to collect. If you had shorted them $200, i.e., just paid $1100, 6 times last year and they just noticed, would you still be asking if you need to pay now, given that you didn't get a "timely" notice?

By all means, check into the suggestions above.
posted by she's not there at 6:11 PM on November 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

I am a property manager in NYC, though of course IANYPM or Landlord since I would never not inform a tenant about a late fee as it was being applied!

Anyway, here's what I would do if I were you. First I would appeal to them that you always paid by the fifth BUSINESS day of the month. The late fees granted on a Saturday and especially a Sunday really shouldn't stick. Maybe your bank takes 24 hours to post on weekends. You can say, since you never heard otherwise from them, you assumed they were posting on time. They don't HAVE to give you notice, but if they don't, it's reasonable to say that you proceeded in good faith that nothing was wrong.

When you say you signed a new lease, do you mean you renewed the old one and somewhere in the new form it says something like all terms and accounts from the original lease are upheld? Or is this a brand new lease as if you're a new tenant? If it's a renewal, then there's no old and new lease. There's just the lease.

If you want to go to war with your landlord over this, and again I am not your landlord or anything CLOSE to a lawyer, but in my experience (11 years and counting) it's really difficult for landlords to enforce late fees. Whenever I go after a tenant for not paying rent, the attorney tells me to not even bother including the late fees in the arrears because I'll never get them.

IDK, just my two cents. It all boils down to your relationship with your landlord and if you can appeal to their sense of kindness/pity/reason.
posted by silverstatue at 6:28 PM on November 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

Anecdotally: in LA I accompanied my boss to small claims court, because her landlord was garnishing her security deposit when she moved out, ostensibly for all these late fees for each month's rent, which the landlord was just now bringing up for the first time. I testified that she/me (since I was the assistant and was paying the rent) had never been notified of any late payments. The judge wasn't having any of it and the landlord got nothing.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:45 PM on November 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

You already signed your lease, right? So what's your landlord's leverage here?

Personally, I would do this:
1) Nothing.

If you hear from your landlord about this again:
2) Write a letter saying that you were not notified about these fees in a timely manner, your previous lease is now terminated and no longer in effect, and therefore you do not owe and will not be paying the fees.

If you hear from your landlord about this again:
3) Tell your landlord you will be consulting your lawyer about this. Call a lawyer.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:32 PM on November 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I really don't understand your rent payment habits at all, as described. If you're paying online, so there's no posting delay, why in the world would you be doing so late and on the weekends, especially Sunday? It's not like you were waiting for your paycheck or some other payment to be deposited--that would've happened on a weekday. If there is some bizarre extenuating circumstance, I'd try to explain it to the landlord.

(a) The landlord can't evict you for nonpayment of non-rent charges and is unlikely to pursue you in court for this amount. However, if you don't work out some kind of arrangement with him, you can expect that your lease won't be renewed next time.

(b) How do your roommates figure into all this? Were they paying on time, and you not? If so, you really ought to come to some accommodation with the landlord. Forcing everyone to move because you didn't bother to pay your rent on time is classic Shit Roommate behavior; I'd end a friendship over it. But if your roommates also weren't paying on time, there's no reason you should be bearing the whole late fee yourself.
posted by praemunire at 10:16 PM on November 22, 2016

Just as one point of information, that late fee sounds excessive: "The [late] fee should be within a certain percentage of your rent. Your landlord is always on shaky ground if the late charge exceeds 5% of the rent. That's $38 on a $750-per-month rental. Of course, if the rent is extremely late—say, ten days—a higher late fee, such as 10% of the rent, might be reasonable." -- Nolo

There's also a whole section there on what to do if you've already agreed to an outrageous late fee.
posted by salvia at 4:54 PM on August 20, 2017

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