How do I renew my lease when my landlord wants old late fees?
August 20, 2017 4:19 PM   Subscribe

I asked a previous question about late fees from my landlord over rent payments. I haven't paid any of the late fees yet. Now, it's time to renew the lease and, and I want to stay, and the landlord wants the full amount. How much should I offer my landlord, and how should I handle it with her?

Short recap from November: over an extended period of time I was paying rent a day or two late. My landlord never mentioned this was an issue, until eventually coming to me and saying I owed $1,400 in late fees ($200 times 7) My original question said $1,200, but I think I missed one late payment. Some answers suggested that it was absurd to ask me for this money, and I shouldn't pay, so I didn't. I didn't hear anything about this again from my landlord since last January.

It's now time to renew the lease. My landlord said I need to pay the late fees before I can renew. I want to stay, but don't want to pay an extra $1,400. Note - these late fees are all from two leases ago, e.g. not even the most recent lease period. So I already re-signed the lease once while having these late fees on my record. I don't know why she was willing to re-sign the lease before, other than that she is very disorganized.

This is NYC, and she uses an apartment broker that the landlord pays the cost of, so it would be around $1,300 cost to them to pay a broker to fill my room. Plus if I moved out, my roommates probably would too, so the total cost to the landlords would be more like $4,000 to fill the entire apartment.

I want to stay, but not pay the full amount. How much should I offer the landord? How should I phrase it? If I moved out, I think the landlord knows she wouldn't get any of the money from me. So she would eat the cost, and have to pay the broker to find a new person to live here.

I realize that I was paying the rent late, but I think waiting a full year to mention it after I had accumulated $1,400 in late fees is absurd and unfair. If I offer something less, and the landlord says no, I'll end up paying the full amount. I don't want to move, and my roommates don't either. But, I think I should offer some partial amount first, rather than the full $1,400. Thoughts? How should I handle this?
posted by davidstandaford to Home & Garden (47 answers total)
Is this the first they've mentioned forcing you to pay the fees? I would call your tenant's union (or NYC equiv) tomorrow, there may be a time-limit on collecting them.
posted by rhizome at 4:22 PM on August 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

How much will it cost you to move? Are you likely to pay more or less on rent for an equivalent place?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:30 PM on August 20, 2017

Response by poster: It's possible that they legally can't collect the fees, but they can also decide not to renew my lease. And I definitely want to stay.

So I want to figure out the best approach to pay as little as possible, while still renewing me lease.

Since I'm seeing answers about this - I don't want to move. Thanks!
posted by davidstandaford at 4:31 PM on August 20, 2017

The people at Metropolitan Council on Housing are incredibly helpful, well-informed and pro-tenant. They helped my coworker with a landlord's attempt to pull something shady. She had no clue how to proceed. With their advice she had the problem solved in two days. Their telephone hotline is open on Mondays from 1:30 to 8 pm. They also have walk-in clinics.
posted by zorseshoes at 4:42 PM on August 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

You paid the rent late 7 times, and the landlord has graciously not come after you for that debt for two years. Now she requires you to pay what you owe before she renews your lease. You know you owe this money, she knows you owe this money. The fact that she hasn't insisted on payment earlier does not mean you don't owe it anymore.

Pay her or move.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:49 PM on August 20, 2017 [33 favorites]

I do not think the landlord is exhibiting any sort of grace whatsoever attempting to strong-arm fees out of someone over payments that were late by a few dozen hours, unrelated to any actual expense the landlord could have possibly incurred, which would amount to a disgustingly usurious interest rate if calculated as though the landlord were loaning the renter the money for that number of hours.

The OP should not feel any indebtedness whatsoever to the landlord and should drive as hard a bargain as possible.
posted by XMLicious at 6:00 PM on August 20, 2017 [24 favorites]

Call the tenancy hotline in your area, which I believe is the Metropolitan Council on Housing. According to their website, a reasonable late fee is 5% of the rent. So if I couldn't get any guidance from the council, I would probably try offering her that.
posted by kjs4 at 6:11 PM on August 20, 2017

You were advised by several people to check with a lawyer or a tenants group about the legal issues before deciding not to pay. Did you do that?

By asking us what you should offer, you're basically asking people to read her mind. It seems like you could offer half and see what happens, but you chose not to pay money your lease says you owe. One person did say previously that what you do should depend on how much you want to renew your lease. If you really want to stay, you may just have to fork over the money. If I were your landlord, I wouldn't even consider less than half.
posted by FencingGal at 6:36 PM on August 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

It looks like the landlord won't let you renew the lease without handing over the late fees. So really, it comes down to how much you want to stay there. You insist that you do want to stay there, so it's pretty simple really; pay up.
posted by Jubey at 6:46 PM on August 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: You were advised by several people to check with a lawyer or a tenants group about the legal issues before deciding not to pay. Did you do that?

Yes, I called the tenant number, back in December or January. They said that no it is likely judge would ever require me to pay such high fees, and that if I didn't pay, the landlord almost certainly wouldn't come after me. Which is what happened. Now that it's time to re-sign the lease, the issue has come up again.
posted by davidstandaford at 7:04 PM on August 20, 2017

Sorry, $200 is an absurd late fee, designed to generate a windfall for the landlord, not to reflect any difficulty or expense caused by the late payment. I'm normally not a fan of weaselling out of obligations, but this is ridiculous strong-arming on the landlord's part, especially as she didn't notify you when you incurred the fee.

I assume this is not a rent-stabilized apartment, in which case there's no legal limit on late fees. You can't be evicted for nonpayment of late fees, but in theory your landlord can sue you to collect them, and you're not entitled to a renewal of the lease anyway. So your offer should reflect the fact that (a) suing you to collect the fees would cost her a goodly chunk of them, assuming a judge was totally unsympathetic to you and awarded them all, not a slam-dunk assumption, and (b) it will cost her to replace you. Basically she's trying it on to see what she can get, given her leverage. I'd offer her $300. That's $30 per late payment, plus a little extra for the inconvenience.

But, ultimately, if you're determined to stay, she has the upper hand.
posted by praemunire at 7:06 PM on August 20, 2017 [9 favorites]

After reading the previous post about this topic, I would note that $200 *is* 5% of the total rent for the unit. It is pretty standard for a lease where each tenant is equally responsible for the *total* payment, such as if one roommate didn't pay their share or moved out, the other two would still be responsible for the total payment.
posted by Autumnheart at 7:07 PM on August 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have never seen a NYC lease where the late fee exceeded $50. And usually it's $25-$30.
posted by praemunire at 7:09 PM on August 20, 2017

just like everyone expects their paycheck on payday

And when this doesn't happen, the employee doesn't get to charge the employer a late fee. The expected scrupulousness only goes one way, because the landlord-tenant and employer-employee relationships are inherently exploitative rather than relationships between equals.

Because of that inherently exploitative situation, the OP is certainly dependent upon the whim of the landlord here, but the OP should not feel that they're the ones being morally outrageous in these circumstances.
posted by XMLicious at 7:15 PM on August 20, 2017 [14 favorites]

Since the late fees seem to be unreasonable according to various criteria (one if which is that late fees generally should apply after at least 3 days of lateness), you can probably get out of paying them. But renewing the lease is another matter. The landlord is free not to renew your lease.

I would simply let the landlord know that you are happy to renew the lease at the agreed-upon rent, but only on the condition that past late fees are waived, in writing. The landlord can take it or leave it, so you need to be prepared to move if they don't agree.

Asking nicely might help. :)
posted by Vispa Teresa at 7:19 PM on August 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

They said that no it is likely judge would ever require me to pay such high fees, and that if I didn't pay, the landlord almost certainly wouldn't come after me.

There's no judge involved here, and the landlord didn't "come after" you in court. So your update has nothing to do with the current situation.

Seconding Autumnheart and FencingGal and others.
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:20 PM on August 20, 2017

the landlord has graciously not come after you for that debt for two years.

This is not grace. This is disorganization and someone deciding they could suddenly use some extra money they forgot about.

This is an unreasonable amount of time to wait before collecting, especially considering there have been lease renewals in the interim. I would use this to negotiate a lower settlement of the fees, if I paid anything at all.
posted by bkpiano at 7:28 PM on August 20, 2017 [11 favorites]

Since the late fees seem to be unreasonable according to various criteria (one if which is that late fees generally should apply after at least 3 days of lateness)

Folks should *really* go back and re-read the previous question before assuming facts not in evidence. The "day or two late" as described here is a day or two AFTER the five day grace period.

(OP this is not at all a value judgment or a suggestion that the amount of the fee is appropriate, I'm just trying to help you get answers actually relevant to your situation.)
posted by solotoro at 8:02 PM on August 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

Mod note: Autumnheart, you've made your point; Ask isn't for arguing with other answerers.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 8:03 PM on August 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

I would contact the landlord and tell them that you are offering $500 to settle all past late fees, approximately $70 (assuming 7 late payments). That $70 is double what the standard late fee is for most NYC apartments. Since you became aware of the problem, you have not been late with your rent. You do not anticipate being late ever again. You would like to stay in the apartment. The $1400 is about the cost of moving so you would have to consider it. (Do not threaten to leave if they do not waive the fee.) Will she work with you? Then, if she says no, take it or leave it, I would actually look at alternatives before accepting. If she shows any inclination to negotiate, but thinks $500 is too low, offer to split it, $700. Offer it in cash.

IF she refuses to lower it, ask if you can pay it by paying an extra $117 per month for a year. That will at least keep you more liquid.
posted by AugustWest at 8:45 PM on August 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

You are clearly liable for the $1400 if it was stated in your lease. It really doesn't matter whether you are ok with that amount if you agreed to it. If it wasn't in your lease, you owe nothing. The fact that they didn't press you to pay earlier does not release you from the liability; you're not renting from your parents. Having not paid this for a few years is not making any points in your favor with the landlord.

If the landlord doesn't think you're a reliable tenant, you have very little leverage here. I would not offer any less than $750 and I think $1000 is what it will take. But who knows? Roll the dice again, see what happens.
posted by coldhotel at 8:49 PM on August 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have been in your situation, and let me strongly recommend that you pay the full amount, ESPECIALLY in NYC, where it doesn't matter if you win in landlord tenant court, you can be blackballed just for having set foot inside it.

I have tried to be clever about bullshit fees - including a 300$ late fee for two days past when it was the company's fault. What happens is, they sit on it until they want you out, and if you don't pay it when you leave, they send it to collections, which appears on a special screener a lot of apartment companies use, which means you'll have to pay it plus interest in order to rent at a place that uses it.

It doesn't matter if you're right or wrong - what matters is not being screwed down the line on housing.
posted by corb at 9:12 PM on August 20, 2017 [8 favorites]

Might your landlord deduct late charges from your security deposit if you end the tenancy (this may be covered in your earlier question)? If so you'd be out of pocket on the late fee claim anyway.

However, corb's advice is more to the point.
posted by anadem at 9:27 PM on August 20, 2017

Withholding a damage deposit for unpaid fees is probably illegal in NYC and many entire states, even ones that aren't particularly tenant friendly. In general, damage deposit claims are either limited to property damage/cleaning from a mess the tenant leaves behind or damage and rent. There are some places where fees are considered rent (Oklahoma) and others where they are not (Florida).

Fees are not rent, so if the law limits what a damage deposit can be withheld for and does not include miscellaneous fees, they can't dock the deposit for unpaid late fees.
posted by wierdo at 1:08 AM on August 21, 2017

You weren't paying your rent "a day or two" late, you consistently paid SIX OR SEVEN days late --- the rent was due on the first of each month; you merely had a grace period after it was due but before late fees were charged.

Since you renewed the lease last year, have you been paying by the first of every month, or have you continued paying a week late? It's possible that if you have, the landlord, who is after all running a business for profit not friendship, is tired of any continued lateness and would rather be done with it and have you out of there.

If you really want to stay, pay the late fees in full: the landlord has no incentive to take a lower sum, plus I'll bet those "high" fees are spelled out in your lease --- the only sure way to avoid them in the future is to make sure all future payments are made by the first of the month. Anything the landlord would have to pay to find a replacement tenant is irrelevant.
posted by easily confused at 3:45 AM on August 21, 2017 [11 favorites]

Is it a rent-regulated lease?
posted by slkinsey at 4:37 AM on August 21, 2017

I think you have an opportunity to learn a couple of valuable lessons here that will save you considerable expense and angst for the rest of your life.

The first one is about not signing an agreement until you understand exactly what it is, and what it is not, that your signature will oblige you to do.

The second one is that advice that encourages you not to give due regard to the first one is not very good advice.
posted by flabdablet at 5:04 AM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

It takes two to tango. You can want to stay, but your landlord has to want you to stay too. And right now, it sounds like they don't.

Leave the late fees aside for a moment; they're kind of spurious. Let's say you've paid rent on time the whole time. But now your landlord's nephew wants to move to NYC, and your landlord wants to non-renew your lease so he can move into the apartment. There's nothing you can do. As much as you want to renew, the landlord does not. And so it won't renew.

It sounds like the landlord's desire to renew is conditional on your payment of the late fees. Reasonable or not, that's what it's going to take to get your landlord to agree to renew. Will they accept less than the $1400? Maybe. Make an offer and see. But they also have the right to decide not to renew even if you pay all $1400. You can't force them to renew.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:39 AM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Since you renewed the lease last year, have you been paying by the first of every month, or have you continued paying a week late?

I have not had any late fees in the entire second year of the lease.

Is it a rent-regulated lease?

posted by davidstandaford at 5:59 AM on August 21, 2017

Talk to your landlord and say you want to stay, and that if you move probably your roommates will also move, and ask if she is willing to negotiate on the fees. Could you force her to renew the lease even if you *didn't* have late fees? I'm guessing not. You're not in a strong bargaining position.

Basically, if she wants the late fees more than she wants you to stay, there's not much you can do.
posted by mskyle at 6:32 AM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

The one outcome you want to avoid is where you pay the late fee and then they don't renew the lease.

So, write that check for the late fees, but make sure the lease is signed and ready before you hand it over.

Good luck.
posted by metaseeker at 6:50 AM on August 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

It's unclear to me whether this $1,400 is payable by you only or if it will be split between yourself and your two roommates. If it's split three ways, I think it's a no-brainer to pay the $467 each. Frankly, if you want to stay there, I think it's a no-brainer to pay the $1,400. As others have pointed out, the late payment charge was substantial obligation of the lease which the landlord has the right to require you to pay.

It's also unclear whether the $1,300 rent rate under which you ran up the late payment fees was the entire rent amount or simply your 1/3 share of the rent. If the entire lease was for $1,300, you might have grounds for claiming that a late fee that is more than 15% of the monthly rent rate is excessive. Generally speaking, anything above 5% for a few days late can be considered excessive and you could challenge it in court. On the other hand, if the actual rent rate was $3,900, a late payment fee of $200 could be considered high but not excessive.

The bottom line is that you're in a tough spot here. If you really want to keep the apartment, I don't know that you have much choice but to pay the late fees. The fact that your landlord previously renewed your lease without collecting these fees doesn't mean that you don't still owe them. Even if you do have some potentially legitimate grounds on which to contest those fees, this would mean going to court. Meanwhile, while you might prevail and get a judgment reducing the amount of your outstanding debt to the landlord, this still may not entitle you to renew the lease (some of this may come down to provisions in the lease itself). You could offer to settle the outstanding late fees for some lesser amount, but the landlord has all the power here and if he wants to stick to his guns there is not much you can do about it.
posted by slkinsey at 7:31 AM on August 21, 2017

Since you renewed the lease last year, have you been paying by the first of every month, or have you continued paying a week late?

I have not had any late fees in the entire second year of the lease.

The fact that you didn't actually answer the question makes me a little concerned about your attitude in general. My guess is that you've continued to be late - just not late enough to have to pay fees. This doesn't make you a great tenant.

Here's another way to think about it. By deciding earlier not to pay because it would be very hard for her to force you and she'd have to take you to court, you've already shown your landlord that you will cause her a lot of trouble in order not to adhere to the provisions of a lease that you willingly signed. f I were her, I'd be wondering what else you're going to decide you don't have to do. I agree that you should be very sure she's going to let you renew even if you pay the late fees. It would be entirely reasonable for her to want to find someone else.
posted by FencingGal at 7:52 AM on August 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: It's a three bedroom, and rent is ~$4,000. Three roommates all pay our rent individually to the landlord, although we have a single lease for all of us. The $200 late rental fees are from times when my two roommates paid on time ,and I did not, so I am responsible for the late fee. I believe, if we move out, the landlord is going to have to pay a $4,000 broker fee to find new tenants to live here.

The fact that you didn't actually answer the question makes me a little concerned about your attitude in general.

I think I always paid on the first, but I don't have my records in front of me.
posted by davidstandaford at 8:14 AM on August 21, 2017

So, $200 is exactly 5% of a $4,000 monthly payment on your lease. I think you have to pay up and consider this a lesson learned. I don't see any way you avoid paying this and don't lose the apartment.

What is the penalty if you don't pay? Is it the case that the landlord would refuse to renew you as a signatory on the lease (presumably meaning that you would have to move out) but your roommates could find a new roommate and renew the lease, or is each room in the apartment separately leased to each roommate, or is it the case that the landlord won't renew the lease at all unless the fees are paid? If the latter is true, you have a moral (and probably legal) responsibility to your roommates to pay up.
posted by slkinsey at 9:10 AM on August 21, 2017

How much is it worth to you to not have to move? It sounds like you'd pay the full 1400 to avoid it. So, I'd offer 700. Landlord, I didn't get billed promptly for rents that were a day or 2 late, so I'm asking you to settle the obligation for 700. I'm a reliable tenant and have paid very promptly since learning of the late fee, and I think this would be a fair resolution.
posted by theora55 at 9:21 AM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

If paying the $1,400 all at once would be an insurmountable financial hardship, you could ask your landlord if she would be willing to execute a side-agreement in which you paid an extra $120 each month for a year.
posted by slkinsey at 9:40 AM on August 21, 2017

One thing to try might be to offer him/her 1/3, pointing out that only 1/3 of the rent was late, you didn't realize, as soon as you did you mended your ways yadda yadda. I'd start by saying you simply don't have it, you are on a tight budget and while you do carefully make sure you have rent, this is 15% more than your share of rent, and since 2/3 of the rent was paid on time, could she reduce it to be just 1/3 of the fee? You haven't paid late since and do want to stay on good terms with them but again, this is just really a LOT of money to you...
posted by salvia at 10:52 AM on August 21, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you for all the comments and suggestions. Does anyone have any feedback on this email? If she says no, I will offer to pay the full $1,400.

Hi [Landlord],

I would like to renew the lease for next year, but I did not expect to have the $1400 late fee balance all to be paid this month. Previously, I did not get billed promptly for rents that were a day or 2 past the expected time period, until I was informed about the total amount due. I'm asking if you can settle the obligation for half the amount, $700. Since finding out about this balance, I have been a reliable tenant and I have paid rent promptly since learning of the late fee. I think this would be a fair resolution. For the entire previous lease period, the last year, I have not had any late payments. Please let me know if this works for you, so that we can re-sign the lease.

posted by davidstandaford at 12:35 PM on August 21, 2017

I would leave out the sentence about it being "a fair resolution." If I were your landlord, I would see this as doing you a favor, since you owe the money according to the terms of the lease. I would be extremely irritated if you referred to it as "fair."
posted by FencingGal at 12:53 PM on August 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't go into that much detail. Just say "I really like living here and I'd like to renew my lease. Would you accept $700 to settle the late fee issue?" The rest is superfluous.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:26 PM on August 21, 2017 [11 favorites]

I think kevinbelt has it.
posted by FencingGal at 1:55 PM on August 21, 2017

Yes... if, as the text in the previous thread appears to show, the rent was actually due on the first of the month, misrepresenting that fact or even bringing it up so that it might turn into a dispute provides no benefit as far as negotiating tactics.

If you have zero leverage both because you're unwilling to move and because of the threat of blacklisting which corb mentions, your negotiating position is like a salesman making an ambitious "Why not?" grab at a windfall; there's simply a non-zero chance that merely by asking you might get a discount on the fees on top of what you really want, continuing to live there, which you can't jeopardize. Make a low initial bid with your best poker face on and immediately fold if she doesn't bite.
posted by XMLicious at 5:20 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, you really need to understand what your lease says, that "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’." (Emphasis added.) So don't be all "day or two past the expected time period." I think these fees are egregious and that the landlord should settle them with you, but it's just not a good look to act like "oh, they were just a day past--" the five day grace period. Okay, lecture over.

Can you do this negotiation by phone or in person? It's much easier to say no in writing.

I'm sticking by my earlier advice, that the best leverage you have is "I don't have it" and also to ask for a concession in a very sympathic and reasonable way. "I just don't have it... Since only 1/3 of the rent was late, can I please pay just 1/3 of the fee?" That would be almost $500. I'm hoping they'll say "woo hoo." If not, maybe they'll counteroffer $700. Or yeah, maybe you'll have to pay the whole thing. Personally, I'm highly skeptical that they'd be able to collect, but if your place is rent regulated and they can raise rents if you move out, I wouldn't be surprised if that's the real outcome they want. So I would be prepared to pay the whole thing if that's what it takes to stay.
posted by salvia at 7:59 PM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Definitely don't say anything like "I did not get billed promptly for rents that were a day or 2 past the expected time period", because you weren't one or two days late, you were six or seven --- your rent was due on the first of every month, and complaining about when they sent you the bill for the late payments or starting a fight about the grace period (during which the rent is already overdue but they aren't yet charging late fees) isn't going to help your cause.

I'd also cut out the part about "Since finding out about this balance," and just begin that sentence with "I have been a reliable tenant....".

Ditto cut out that "I think this would be a fair resolution" line; that's just likely to annoy landlords who think what would be "fair" would be tenants who all always pay their rent on time (i.e, by the first of every month).
posted by easily confused at 5:58 AM on August 22, 2017

Yes, I think this draft email strikes entirely the wrong tone. You want to be conciliatory, not accusatory. Do not continue to argue that you were only one or two days late. Do not continue to blame the landlord for not notifying you of obligations that were already spelled out in the lease. If anything, this is likely to cause your landlord to dig in their heels even more.

When you say you've been paying rent on time for the last year--do you really mean the 1st, or have you been paying on the 5th? If you've been paying on the 5th then you also need to drop the language about how you've been on time. Your rent is due on the 1st. The grace period is intended to give a little cushion for the occasional snafu like a check being late in the mail or an electronic payment not going through. It's not there for you to be 5 days late each and every month and the landlord probably is not all that pleased with your payment history if you are continuing to abuse the grace period in that way.

I would probably write something more like:

Dear Landlord,

I'm writing to discuss the late fees issue in hopes we can move forward and renew the lease. I do apologize for the inconvenience my late payments caused you, and I wanted to assure you that I've worked out a system [describe] to ensure that I get the rent to you on the first of the month from now on. Although I agree I owe you something for the late payments, the $200 fee each time is not a reasonable fee under applicable law [cite source]. As that source explains, a 5% late fee is considered reasonable. That would be $65 per late payment, times 7 late payments, for a total of $455. Could we round it up to $500 and call it good?
posted by mama casserole at 6:25 AM on August 22, 2017

Honestly, you say your landlord is disorganized? And she's already renewed once without getting the late fees from you? Is she generally flaky and has no contact with you (which it sounds like)? I'd be tempted to email her with something like, 'Oh yes! I have been absolutely been meaning to clear up the late fees with you, but I am waiting on my bonus check from work to get to me/an inheritance from some older relative/a payout from an insurance claim to clear...', blah blah, some vague windfall that's coming your way at some unspecified point in the very near future. And see if she buys that and let's you sign the lease in the meantime. If she's that flaky, the money is not really that important to her, and once the lease renewal nuisance is behind her, I'll bet she forgets all about the fees again for another year.
posted by aiglet at 7:34 AM on August 22, 2017

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