Cashing old checks
August 11, 2021 12:12 PM   Subscribe

Am I obligated to make good on a 13 year old check?

A previous landlord emailed me this week that he'd found a check of mine from 2008 that he'd failed to cash. Yes, 2008!

And not that it really matters, but I recall him as the type of landlord that couldn't be bothered to have things repaired in a normal manner or be in any way helpful. But I have no way now to back that up with records.

Am I obligated to pay the check now?
If not obligated, is it the right thing to do, despite my animosity?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (41 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
morally or legally?
posted by j_curiouser at 12:13 PM on August 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

I would be very tempted to pretend I never got the email.
posted by DingoMutt at 12:14 PM on August 11, 2021 [16 favorites]

13 years? No, you're free. He has to eat it. Ignore the email.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:16 PM on August 11, 2021 [31 favorites]

Morally I don't think you're obligated. Being a landlord is a business and he's bad at it. If he wasn't cashing all his checks when he got them then that's his loss. Legally I don't know but morally just ignore the email. I bet if you went to the bank & tried to put a stop order on the check they wouldn't even be able to; I'm not even sure he could even turn in a 13 year old check for cashing if he tried. If you're still using the same account, it'd be prudent to call them and find out if they'd honor this check if it showed up.
posted by bleep at 12:18 PM on August 11, 2021 [6 favorites]

I am one year one month and eleven days removed from the last rent check I ever sent, and if any previous landlord, even the most recent one, ever emailed me asking up on some old check, the explosive "lol fuuuuuuck no" coming out of my mouth would be so loud as to render the reply email meaningless.

Screw this guy and his crappy bookkeeping. Run off into the sunset emotionally free of this burden.
posted by phunniemee at 12:23 PM on August 11, 2021 [9 favorites]

Check your state but I’m sure the statutory limitation has come to pass by now. He can’t collect.

Morally I would say that both your finances and his have long since adjusted to that money not changing hands. And you obviously did not intend to withhold the money so shouldn’t feel guilty.
posted by michaelh at 12:23 PM on August 11, 2021 [7 favorites]

There might be regional differences, but Huntington Bank in the US says a personal check is good for 180 days. Literally "Personal, business, and payroll checks are good for 6 months (180 days). Some businesses have “void after 90 days” pre-printed on their checks. Most banks will honor those checks for up to 180 days and the pre-printed language is meant to encourage people to deposit or cash a check sooner than later."

180 days is fewer than 13 years, so you're good. Even the IRS wouldn't ask you about something older than 7 years, so yeah; that email goes in the Junk folder and that sender gets blocked (if you're me).
posted by adekllny at 12:23 PM on August 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

If it's a person I knew enough to know their name, shake their hand, and I knew they personally were owed the money, and I paid the money, then I would definitely pay the check!

If it's a business who's faceless and big and has lots of properties, I would tell them unfortunately the time has passed on that check and good luck with their future renters.

On the bright side, with inflation and everything, that money will cost you about 60% of what it would have cost you in 2008!
posted by bbqturtle at 12:26 PM on August 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Part of landlording is to be on top of things like this. They weren't on top of it, they lose out on the cash. This is their mistake and you should not be dragged into it from 13 years in the past. I'd pretend that I never received the email.
posted by Gray Duck at 12:29 PM on August 11, 2021 [8 favorites]

Can he prove (via bank statements from 13-years ago) that you did not actually pay your rent? Perhaps this was a duplicate, perhaps you paid via direct bank transfer of some sort.

But year - 13-years is unreasonable to expect to be able to cash a check.
posted by rozcakj at 12:33 PM on August 11, 2021 [14 favorites]

He could try and deposit the check at the bank, but it's extremely likely that his bank would refuse it. Then what he will have is a debt, since after all you presumably did owe him rent in 2008. There is a statute of limitations on debt (in New York State it's 6 years) so it is almost certainly too late for your landlord to pursue repayment at this point.

It looks like the right thing to do is to not respond to the email lest you inadvertently extend or revive the statute of limitations.
posted by goingonit at 12:34 PM on August 11, 2021 [14 favorites]

Do you still have the same bank account? I am wondering if he tried to deposit it.

If you left at the end of your lease, and he returned the deposit or you had some communication around that, then I think you've held up your side of things.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:37 PM on August 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

I would ignore the email and see what he does. Make sure you put his phone number into your contacts so you can identify and not answer any phone call he might make. Per goingonit's link, don't respond in any way lest you restart the limitations period. If he does happen to get you on the phone, don't acknowledge anything, just say you are not interested in discussing this and hang up.
posted by beagle at 12:40 PM on August 11, 2021 [13 favorites]

From your question it appears you never reconciled your account and discovered the outstanding check. If you still have the same account you probably have an undiscovered "windfall" awaiting you (i.e. a difference between your checkbook balance and your actual balance). Let your conscience be your guide, but you probably are past the statute of limitations for landlord to legally enforce the obligation on the written instrument/check. You should be able to fairly easily determine the length of that statute of limitations period with an internet search.
posted by uncaken at 12:47 PM on August 11, 2021

This may be an ask/guess thing, or maybe money is tight for him right now, but it strikes me as weird for him to contact you about this at all. If I found a thirteen year old check, I would just shred it and consider that money lost.

Legally, it’s likely the debt is void at this point (perhaps check your local laws to be sure). Morally, your responsibility was to send him the check on time, which you did. If he had lost it and asked for a replacement a few weeks later, that might be a different story, but this is ancient history.

nth-ing “feel free to ignore the email”
posted by Ryon at 12:51 PM on August 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

I think if I somehow got control of a landlord's email or records, this would be a good scam. Just scroll back a few pages and carpet bomb all his old contacts for money. Don't respond to find out, but how sure are you that it's even this person?
posted by Snijglau at 1:09 PM on August 11, 2021 [13 favorites]

Ask to see his records from 13 years ago first to prove that he didn't get paid the rent you owed back then. He might have said to you that your check never arrived (which might even have been legit, maybe it was lost in a pile) and you might have written him another check. It's unlikely that BOTH YOU AND HIM failed to notice that the rent didn't get paid that month! There is a real probability that you did pay your rent and this check is a duplicate.
posted by MiraK at 1:17 PM on August 11, 2021 [11 favorites]

No, you're not obligated, both legally and morally. You've fulfilled your duty. Banks do not have to cash a check after six months. His fault, his loss.

Thirteen years? He's having a laugh.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 1:19 PM on August 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Seems to me that the lease, the contract, ended when you adjudicated the security deposit. Why didn't landlord take the money from there if there was a balance? Ignore. He waited 13 years? Lol. If for some reason he gets through to you, tell him you need to look at your records and will get back to him in 13 years.
posted by AugustWest at 1:27 PM on August 11, 2021 [13 favorites]

You led the horse to water, and you know what they say about it from there.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:34 PM on August 11, 2021

According to this article, you're legally in the clear (assuming you're in the US). The statute of limitations on debts varies from state to state, but for this type of contractual debt, no state has a limit longer than 10 years.

Morally, it would be an extremely generous act of charity thing to make good on this debt. Only you can decide whether this landlord is worthy of such charity, but I know that I've had both good and bad landlords over almost 20 years of renting, and I would never for a moment consider any of them worthy of this sort of charity.
posted by firechicago at 1:35 PM on August 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

I wrote an old boyfriend a check for a Death Cab for Cutie concert like.... 16 years ago that he never cashed (it threw my checkbook off for AGES). If he came back to me and was like "I really need this 50 bucks" I would give it to him. I would not do the same for a landlord.
posted by jabes at 1:43 PM on August 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

I would assume he mislaid the check and required you to write a new one, at the time. It seems very unlikely he would have let you go without paying your rent.
posted by metonym at 1:59 PM on August 11, 2021 [10 favorites]

You are not morally obligated nor obligated in any other way. I say this as someone with ADHD who has lost thousands of dollars by misplacing checks I discovered years later when I was unable to cash them. Thank you for asking this question. You have a good heart. Go about your business in peace.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:05 PM on August 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

This once happened with a landlord and me, only it was like 3 months after the month in question, and it was very characteristic of me at that time not to have noticed the extra money in my account. I wrote them a new check and that was the end of it.

If a landlord now asked me about rent from 13 years ago I would be very worried that I'd written a second check back then or paid cash or had my roommate pay and then paid them back or any one of a million other ways to pay the rent, and forgotten about it over the expanse of time. I would not pay now.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:23 PM on August 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

Ignore the email and see if he does anything else.

He has no legal standing AFAIK. You paid him, he did not accept payment really.
posted by jerseygirl at 2:34 PM on August 11, 2021

If you're feeling at all weird about the moral aspect of your question, which I think you have no reason to, consider that you might have just taught him a relatively painless lesson about the importance of meticulous bookkeeping if he wants to succeed as a landlord.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 3:00 PM on August 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

From "You don’t get to keep money you owe to somebody else just because they fail to deposit a check." But I don't know if there is a statute of limitations. 13 years seems like a long time!
posted by SageTrail at 3:33 PM on August 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

A few times during my renting years a landlord has asked me to re-submit a check for that month’s rent because the first went missing (I had the receipt from the office, but it never got deposited). If one of the missing checks turned up 13 years later I’d have no idea if that was one of those or how to prove it. I don’t even remember which landlords or apartments. I would assume that something similar had happened here, or the landlord should have at least noticed when you moved out that he was short a month.
posted by Kriesa at 4:28 PM on August 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

You paid. Your obligation is done. Ignore the email.
posted by amanda at 5:22 PM on August 11, 2021

13 years??? Dear god no. If you were still living there, or perhaps within shouting range of your most recent lease, maybe. But 13 years is way way way past the statue of limitations. How do you know he didn't actually deposit it already? (I suppose they didn’t have “deposit by taking a picture” of it back then, but still).
posted by cgg at 5:35 PM on August 11, 2021

I'm kind of surprised to find I feel this way, but, I think you should pay the amount, assuming you actually never paid it the first time around and he can prove that you owe it. I think the question of whether you might have actually already paid for this rent at the time is the most important one. I wouldn't pay unless he could prove the debt was legit.

With that said...your question is basically can I keep the thing I got without paying for it because he made a mistake with the payment. I would say in general that no, you don't get to keep things for free if your payment doesn't go through, even if that isn't your fault, even if the landlord was a jerk, even if it's been a long time. You can refuse to pay on legal grounds certainly, but in my opinion if you actually owed that money and never paid it, you're only in the clear morally if you pay it, or if he chooses to forgive the debt.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:31 PM on August 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Simply having found an uncashed cheque lying around is in no way proof that rent for the period covered by that cheque was never paid. As metonym said, normal procedure would have been to ask you for a replacement weeks, not 13 years, after the cheque originally went astray.

If you happen to have access to your own bank statements for 2008 then I guess you could satisfy your own curiosity about whether one of your rent cheques from that year didn't hit your chequing account. But in any case "No, I'm not going to pay that amount again because I don't recall ever getting a rent windfall so I must have sent you a replacement cheque in 2008 after you mislaid that one" is a completely reasonable response to this demand.
posted by flabdablet at 7:31 AM on August 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

This is the behavior of a psychopath. If, 13 years ago, you hadn’t been able to make rent, this guy would have made you homeless, painted the apartment, and then rented it out again, without thinking twice about you living in your car in some parking lot. Morally? He can go to hell before I’d write another check.
posted by vocativecase at 7:42 AM on August 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

A few times during my renting years a landlord has asked me to re-submit a check for that month’s rent because the first went missing (I had the receipt from the office, but it never got deposited). If one of the missing checks turned up 13 years later I’d have no idea if that was one of those or how to prove it.

This would be the deciding factor for me, and I'm normally what most people consider extreme in terms of ethics (or "self-righteous," as I've just been called on another site by someone who also "joked" I should be killed when I said I was against lying to get a COVID booster). I would write and tell him that. If he then started harassing you, you'd be justified in blocking him.
posted by FencingGal at 7:42 AM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure banks are all that diligent about the date on a check submitted for payment. And I doubt a check that old would sail through the automated clearance system without hitting a snag along the way. It would be interesting to know what happens if they try to cash that.
posted by Flexagon at 12:37 PM on August 12, 2021

I would ignore. As others have said, there's no way to tell whether this check isn't one that got lost and was subsequently replaced by you, in which case you would be paying double for that month by honoring it. Whether or not he was good at bookkeeping, I'd want proof that the scenario he is describing where the rent went unpaid for a month actually occurred before I'd feel any sort of obligation to him, and it sounds like he wasn't especially great at keeping his books in an accurate way. As has been mentioned, this is way past the time to deal with an account imbalance both from a moral and legal standpoint.
posted by Aleyn at 3:12 PM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I used to be a responsible small-time landlord, and I'd be way too embarrassed to pull this. Maybe you wrote a 2nd check if he claimed not to receive it. His poor organization and bad business practice is not your responsibility.

You are also entitled to smirk.
posted by theora55 at 4:21 PM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Sounds like legally you are in the clear.

I don't think you are morally wrong in refusing his request irregardless of whether you paid via a different channel at the time. Statues of limitation exist for a reason (so that you don't have to save every single receipt and proof of transaction for 60+ years). Your landlord can't prove you didn't pay (and considering he's contacting you 13 years later he obviously can't even claim to remember you didn't pay) and morally I don't think you can be expected to maintain your records that far back.

Pragmatically I can't imagine any landlord cutting you a new cheque if you came to them 13 years later with a claim that you never got around to cashing a deposit return cheque.
posted by Mitheral at 7:27 AM on August 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

13 years!? How on earth does this guy even have the gall to ask you about this 13 years later is beyond me. Even the IRS will only go back like 7 and that's if there was fraud or something involved.

The only situation where I would honor this is if the check was for work performed but we're talking a landlord here. No way in hell I would respond to this email or consider it some kind of moral failing to tell him to get lost. On the contrary, I think him trying to shake you down after a decade plus is morally repugnant at best (or more likely) some kind of scam at worst.
posted by bradbane at 8:01 PM on August 13, 2021

I once forgot to invoice a client for 6 months. I decided that failing entirely to bill them made me look worse than billing so late, so I included a cover note with the invoice apologizing for my silliness.
But 13 years is off the charts stupid. I can't imagine the thought process that went into making such a request.
IF they were an old friend, and could convince me that the money was never paid, then sure I might pay it.
But otherwise I would forget it.
posted by Tunierikson at 5:11 AM on August 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

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