Rent check 'bounced' / CA tenant question
September 12, 2018 3:41 PM   Subscribe

My landlady provided me with notification that my rent check has been withdrawn from her account and I'd like to figure out next steps. We bank at different institutions, but I've always deposited a check with her bank at my local branch and never had an issue until now.

She's charging me with a late-fee and a non-sufficient fund fee, but from best I can tell it was her bank that screwed up the transfer. I called my bank and they said they had no record of the check and it never was associated with my account. I had sufficient funds the whole time, but now she's asking for a cash payment or cashiers check into her account.

I'm not thrilled about the late fee and the NSF fee for something that I don't think is my fault, but I can eat that if it keeps her happy, we love our place and I'd pay the ~200 bucks to not piss her off and be able to sign for next year, but I'm not exactly keen on the cash or cashiers check part of this.

Any ideas on how best to proceed or ways to figure out what went wrong and not get stuck with these landlord fees?
posted by Carillon to Law & Government (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like she's running super close to the margins. This is a danger sign in a landlord -- if your rent is what's keeping her from overdrawing her account the minute your rent check is due to be deposited, then your landlord is in serious financial trouble. Are you sure you want to keep renting from her?

What does your lease say about this? If it says a missed rent payment will be penalized with the requirement to use cash or cashiers' checks from now on, then you're likely stuck with it. If it says anything about paying her penalties, then you're likely stuck with it.

Send her a copy of your deposit receipt along with a printout of your bank statement (black out any transactions that aren't in the amount of your supposed check) -- if her bank had tried to withdraw the funds from your account, then the attempt and the insufficient funds rejection and penalty would show up on your bank statement. If you can prove you deposited it, and that her bank didn't attempt to withdraw it, then you have a pretty strong case to say this was a bank screw up and you shouldn't be responsible for it.
posted by erst at 3:52 PM on September 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

Go to your bank, and have them call her bank and find out things. So naturally you'll need whatever you can of her bank info-- starting with which bank, and the name on her account, whether it's her personally account, or a property mgmt company, whatever.

This is going to be sorted out bank to bank, not with you and your LL acting as proxies for the two banks who most need to talk.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:38 PM on September 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

You say you’re in California; are you in the Bay Area? Are you somewhere that’s covered by rent control and “just cause for eviction” laws that prevent landlords from making tenants leave except under very specific circumstances? Because those things change the situation a bit, both in terms of wanting to make the landlord happy and in terms of whether “you didn’t pay your rent” could be used as a way to try to legally get you out to get higher-paying tenants in.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:41 PM on September 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

I don’t think a landlord wanting reimbursement for an NSF check is a bad sign. Their account likely got charged a fee for depositing a “bad check”. The problem is the OP did not deposit a bad check. I would start by asking what “withdrawn” means because there are many reasons for that and non sufficient funds is only one of them. Her bank should provide a code for the reversal.
Have you told her what you told us, that you believe her bank made an error? I’d offer her full payment of rent (no penalty yet) with a cashiers check and ask that she get more info from her bank about the check. If they find their error and remove her fees, you owe her nothing. If they can’t solve this, I would stop using personal checks for rent and start using money orders or cashiers checks.

Another concern here is that technically a check can be resubmitted to the same account, so try get the actual check back in your own hands.
posted by soelo at 5:30 PM on September 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would go to your bank and see if a person can sort out what actually happened.

Depending on the banks involved, you might be able to use the bill pay service at your bank to make the payments going forward, which is entirely electronic. We pay our rent with Chase's Zelle pay service, as an example. We offered that as an incentive (Los Angeles is a very intense market) when we applied for our current place.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:45 PM on September 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've always deposited a check with her bank at my local branch.


I called my bank and they said they had no record of the check and it never was associated with my account.

It sounds like you deposited the check with the nearest branch of *her* bank, and your bank hasn’t seen hide not hair of it. Do you have any sort of receipt from when you made the deposit? That would be be the key to tracing what actually happened to your check.
posted by jon1270 at 6:05 PM on September 12, 2018

Those fees sound really steep! As a landlord, I was taught to establish the late fees in the lease because otherwise the damages are hard to prove in court. What "damage" did I experience for getting the check on Day 5 and not having the check on Day 1? 4 days of interest? I'd check your lease for both of those. My late fee is $25 on Day 6 or later. I feel like I read that exorbitant fees even established in the lease were also rejected by some court. Anyway, do a little research. But if you're willing to play chicken, and especially if they're not in your lease, I might send her your bank statement showing that you always had sufficient funds and that because you had no previous notice of these high fees and new requirements and bear no responsibility for the bank error, you will not be able to pay them.

But if this payment method is unreliable, you might try a different method, like mailing her a check, or using Venmo.
posted by slidell at 8:39 PM on September 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Okay, sounds like reasonable limits are $25 for the first check bounced and $35 for the second per state law, and that (according to one news article, anyway) courts generally think a late fee of over 6 percent of your rent is excessive. Sources: 1, 2
posted by slidell at 8:50 PM on September 12, 2018

Well this being the bay area, 6% plus $35 bucks gets close to $200, though it's not quite there. Checked my lease, any returned check is subject to the NSF fee, regardless of whether it was NSF or not.

I've spoken with both banks, both refer me to the other one and say there's nothing they can do. As much as I want to giveinto the frustrating here, I think going to the mat on this one won't accomplish anything but a fleeting sense of self-righteousness, so decided to pay and move on this time.

Thanks all for your help it's not a great feeling to be screwed out of the money, but trying to keep a larger picture in mind.
posted by Carillon at 10:11 AM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

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