How do I respond to a collections notice from my old landlord?
February 27, 2006 4:19 PM   Subscribe

I just got a collections notice from my old apartment complex. What do I do to make it go away?

I lived in this place for almost exactly two years. I bought a house and moved out on Jan 31. I gave notice a little late, but the property manager accepted it and approved it in writing.

Today I received a notice from a collections agency for $700. I left a message with the apartment manager and contacted the collections company, but it's after hours. The only thing the operator could tell me was that it was for not returning keys and damage to the carpet. I didn't do the post move walkthrough, mostly because I was busy with the new place and the lease said I had to give notice if I wanted to be present. I also didn't leave a forwarding address, but the complex does have my phone number. My lease says nothing about returning keys. The carpet damage could be from a couple water leaks we had that I reported to maintenance and they fixed eventually after making a dozen or so service calls. I have some of the service call tickets from this, but not all since there were lots of them and sometimes they didn't leave a ticket, or wrote it on scrap paper, paper towels, etc.

SO.... my question is, how do I make this go away? From my very biased in favor of me POV, I owe them nothing since the lease doesn't mention keys and the carpet is either covered under "normal wear and tear" (which the lease specifically mentions). In fact, want my security deposit back ($200). Tomorrow I plan to dispute the notice in writing, but beyond that, what do I do?
posted by electroboy to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In every location I have rented, the keys were legally owned by the owner of the suite. You have/had their property and didn't return it. Not likely you can do much about that.

IMO, best you can do with the carpet problem is approach them with what documentation you have and see if they accept that and drop the issue. If not, talk to a lawyer or pay the bill with the realization that a lawyer is probably going to cost you more than the bill anyway.
posted by Kickstart70 at 4:33 PM on February 27, 2006

Response by poster: I still have the keys, and could return them if that matters.
posted by electroboy at 4:35 PM on February 27, 2006

They have probably already changed the locks, and won't care.
posted by evariste at 4:37 PM on February 27, 2006

How late is "a little late?"

First off, check to see if your jurisdiction requires an itemized report of costs from landlords. For example, Illinois requires landlords to provide a tenant with an itemized report of charges within a certain time after move-out. If your landlord didn't provide you with that, then they may not be entitled to payment.

It's odd that you are hearing from a collections agency only a month after you moved out. I would expect to hear from the owner or the property manager.
posted by MrZero at 4:38 PM on February 27, 2006

Response by poster: I think the lease requires 60 days notice and I gave 45. The last two months of rent are shown on the approval letter and there's no mention of extra costs.
posted by electroboy at 4:41 PM on February 27, 2006

The "collections agency" is just a strongarm tactic. Unlikely they could force you to do anything without a court judgement, so focus on resolving the problem at the source: landlord. When you call back tomorrow, request an itemized list of charges; and politely decline to answer any questions or discuss what you did/didn't do (they've already made this adversarial, so caution is warranted). Then go down to the post office, and send the landlord a note via Certified, "confirming" the conversation. (Some CYA in case you need to go to small claims.)

In the future, always do the walkthrough and don't accept or return an apartment without a signed copy of the condition report. Makes getting back your deposit so much easier.

Any particular reason why you left a $200 deposit behind without a forwarding address? That's unusual when the tenant's anticipating a refund.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 5:11 PM on February 27, 2006

I've had an apartment owner pull this exact same thing with me. In my experience, the person you talk to in the management office is not the person who ultimately calls the shots.

I exited a lease early. I went to the manager, to arrange to pay the penalty stipulated in my lease. She said it was no big deal, and waived the fee, thanking me for being up front about it. I gave them plenty of notice and left the apartment in great shape.

6 months after I'm gone, I get a call from a collections agency. Her boss decided he did not like the deal, and sent the "debt" directly to a collection agency (they knew right where I was, including address and phone number, and made no effort to contact me). Unfortunately, my agreement was verbal, so I ended up paying them the money.
posted by teece at 5:12 PM on February 27, 2006

Q: Can you stop a debt collector from contacting you?

A: You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collector telling them to stop. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again except to say there will be no further contact or to notify you that the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action. Please note, however, that sending such a letter to a collector does not make the debt go away if you actually owe it. You could still be sued by the debt collector or your original creditor.
posted by cribcage at 6:31 PM on February 27, 2006


Q: May a debt collector continue to contact you if you believe you do not owe money?

A: A collector may not contact you if, within 30 days after you receive the written notice, you send the collection agency a letter stating you do not owe money. However, a collector can renew collection activities if you are sent proof of the debt, such as a copy of a bill for the amount owed.
posted by cribcage at 6:32 PM on February 27, 2006

Response by poster: Any particular reason why you left a $200 deposit behind without a forwarding address? That's unusual when the tenant's anticipating a refund.

No particular reason. I was working on the new place and just forgot about it. I assumed my brother had, but it turns out that he hadn't.
posted by electroboy at 6:40 PM on February 27, 2006

do nothing now

eventually, if your ex-landlord wants any money from you and you're not willing, he's going to have to take you to small claims court ... document everything you can, make sure you emphasize the "wear and tear" clause, and demand that the landlord provide documentation on the date of installation of the carpet and the two maintenance calls to fix the water leaks ... a one or two paged statement should be prepared and typed

if there's minor damage claims, or any claims, such as keys, where the evidence is on their side, don't be stubborn about those, let them go, concentrate on the main issues

in my case, we had to come back a second time because their representative was not ready with the documentation we requested on the carpet ... technically, they're supposed to have their case ready on that day (at least in michigan), but the magistrate let him slide on that ... he came back with a carpet logbook which had an obvious erasure mark, which i pointed out to the magistrate ... i think she felt that she couldn't prove it had been changed deliberately, but she had a disgusted look on her face as she ruled for plaintiff ...

but here's the important part ... they had sued for 420 or so ... by contesting it and pointing out the wear and tear clause, she prorated the damage and ruled that i only had to pay 250

it was worth spending some time on two seperate days to represent myself in small claims court for this

in michigan, i had the option as defendant to have it tried in a real court, but that wouldn't have been smart ... also, as part of the small claims jurisdiction agreement, no appeal is possible from the magistrate's ruling

rules are different in different states

bottom line - they can't take your money without a judgement and they are almost certain to take you to small claims to get it ... be there and make your case
posted by pyramid termite at 9:01 PM on February 27, 2006

I've been through something like this.

Write a polite-but-firm letter to the management company and to the apartment manager and state your case. Send this letter by registered mail. Indicate your willingness to take legal action if necessary. Request your security deposit back. Insist that they call off the collection hounds, as it was disingenious to not try to resolve this with you.

The part where you left no forwarding address is problematic, as it provided them with no means of doing the legal follow-through. Did they have ANY contact info? Was your brother contacted by them at any time? Make sure he's not been dodging notices from them. If he was, you can still clear this up, but it'll take some mea culpa from you and probably a small claims appearance.

In the end, be willing to happily settle for them getting the collections BS cleared up in exchange for your deposit. You're getting off easy for $200 if you truly left them no way to find you.
posted by desuetude at 9:44 PM on February 27, 2006

Response by poster: The management company did have my phone number, as they've called me on several occasions before we moved out. My brother definitely has not been dodging them. He was as surprised as I was when we got the notice.
posted by electroboy at 6:36 AM on February 28, 2006

Oh, sorry, you said they have your number. A letter and a willingness to go to small claims court is probably your best weapon, really. Sending this to collections instead of trying to working it out with you was shady.

If it's any comfort, landlords trying to pull crap like this always backed down after "the letter."
posted by desuetude at 7:26 AM on February 28, 2006

Response by poster: Ok, here's an update on what I've done. I've sent:

1. A certified letter to the apartment complex requesting my security deposit. (They're required to send either an itemized bill via first class mail to the last known address or return the security deposit within 45 days. If not I can sue for triple damages. )

2. A certified letter to the collections agent disputing the debt and requesting documentation.

I will send later today:

1. Copies of all correspondence to the State Collection Agency Labor and Licensing Board.

2. A registered letter telling the collections agent not to contract me, except for certain allowable circumstances.

The clerk at the post office told me that any undelivered mail is held for ten days at the central PO and should've been forwarded to my new address once they got the change of address card. That makes me think that the complex never sent the required itemized list.

Future possible actions? I've got a friend who's a lawyer. He doesn't know anything about tenant law, but letters from lawyers usually get results. Also, I've got reasonably good documentation of the water damage, so I think I should be ok.

Thanks for all the advice!
posted by electroboy at 10:55 AM on February 28, 2006

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