December 1, 2006 10:25 AM   Subscribe

I think my landlord is trying to pull a fast one. If so, what should I do about it?

I've lived in my current apartment in San Francisco for six years now. About a year after I moved in, the building was sold to a property management/real estate company that is notorious throughout the City for trying to get existing tenants to move out so that they can turn over the units and raise the rents. In fact, they have been very aggressive in trying to persuade some of the tenants in my building who have been here longer than I have to leave.

So on Wednesday I received a "Notice of Delinquency", stating that "the following rental charges are currently delinquent." There are five line item charges as follows:
Nov 1, 2006   Base Apartment Rent    21.13
Nov 1, 2006   2006 Bond Pass Through  2.72
Sep 1, 2006   Base Apartment Rent     7.61
Oct 1, 2006   Base Apartment Rent    21.13
Oct 1, 2006   2006 Bond Pass Through  2.72

I take this to mean that my rent has been increased by a total of $23.85 (21.13 + 2.72) per month as of October 1 (not sure what's up with the different figure for September). Problem is, this is the first I've heard about it! (I have no problem with the increase itself. I assume it's within the legal limit.)

The "Notice" goes on to say:

"If you have any questions or wish to dispute this notice, please contact --- ---, at (415) 555-5555. Payment at our offices at ---- ------ Street can be made only Monday through Friday 9am to 5pm, Please note we do not accept cash payments. If payment is not immediately received, legal proceedings may be instituted against you to recover possession of said premises; to declare forfeiture of the lease or rental agreement under which you occupy said premise; and to recover rents and damages together with attorney fees.

"Please be advised that habitual late payment of rent after the first day of the month is grounds for eviction under the San Francisco Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance. The acceptance of rent after the first day of the month does not constitute a waiver of the landlord's right to evict for habitual late payment of rent. You should not assume that the landlord's acceptance of rent after the first day of the month during the past or in the future means that the landlord will continue to do so. Landlord may seek to evict you for the late payment of rent regardless of its acceptance after the first day of the month on other occasions."

So I have until 5:00 PDT to figure out what to do and do it. Like I said, it's not the money. It's that if I just pay the $55.31 and the presumed new total of the rent and say nothing, it looks like I'm admitting that these are delinquent charges, when this is the first I've heard of them! Do I type up a letter stating this is the first I've heard of it, and take it with me when I pay the rent? Any better ideas? It sure feels like this is a set-up to try to evict me, and I want to proceed in the best way I can to prevent that from happening.

Thanks in advance.
posted by trip and a half to Work & Money (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: At the very least, I'd ask to see previous bills on which these charges are clearly outlined.
posted by OmieWise at 10:37 AM on December 1, 2006

Best answer: Have you contacted the person at 415 555-5555 to dispute the charge? That would be my first step.

(I'm betting they're going to claim that your rent increased in October, that they notified you, and that you've been under-paying the rent for the last 3 months. You need some sort of proof that you were never notified).

(on preview, Omiewise has a good suggesting).
posted by muddgirl at 10:39 AM on December 1, 2006

Best answer: Send them a certified letter, signature required for delivery, stating that you don't know what the fuck they're talking about. Don't send them any extra money - a bill like that is NOT an acceptable sort of statement for rent increases, which should spell out the new rent, old rent, amount of the increase, and reasons for the increase.

(What's the renewal date on your lease? Do you normally receive a bill for each month's rent? When do rent increases normally occur? How are you normally notified of increases?)

Keep the mailing receipt and the proof of delivery. You'll need it.

Of course they're trying to pull a fast one. The next step will be taking you to court and claiming that you habitually don't pay your rent on time, and therefore should be evicted. ("Your honor, the tenant hasn't paid his rent in full for September, October, November, or December.") They will have an attorney who can truthfully say this, since he is relying on documents provided by the landlord. If you don't show up to court to defend yourself, and the court only hears one side of the story, BOOM, you're out on the street.

Indeed, it may be worth it to look up the court dockets for landlord-tenant court in your area, and keep an eye on them. In many places, the landlord is the one charged with notifying you of the court case, and the landlord may be rather less than diligent about doing so.
posted by jellicle at 10:41 AM on December 1, 2006

Did you try calling the number and asking exactly what the charges are and why they're there and why, if it is in fact a rent increase, you weren't informed earlier? That would be my first step. I'd go into it assuming it's a mistake, rather than them trying to screw you, at least until you find out exactly what it means (or try to sound like that's what you're assuming anyway).

Also, if you're not able to resolve it today, I'd pay only the rent amount that you have known it to be up until today. I wouldn't pay more until you've gotten official confirmation that the rent has gone up.

But I am certainly no lawyer.
posted by lampoil at 10:44 AM on December 1, 2006

Response by poster: muddgirl: I tried to call but got a message. I left a voicemail, but no one has returned the call. Thanks for all the advice so far!
posted by trip and a half at 10:45 AM on December 1, 2006

Best answer: You should talk to the SF Tenant Union, if you have time. Hmmm, I just checked and drop-in hours are today starting at 6:30 so that may not work. If you're a member you can get counseling by phone but I'm not sure if the hours are the same. Still, might be worth a call. I've used them before and they were quite helpful.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:53 AM on December 1, 2006

If you have a solicitor you can talk to you can get them to harass the building managers for you. Though that might be costly. As jellicle points out, this certainly sounds like a scam of some sort.
posted by chunking express at 10:53 AM on December 1, 2006

Whatever you do, keep good records. Make notes of dates, times, of phone calls you make, as well as content, name of person you spoke with etc. Even when you get no reply. I'd go with sending a letter, and explain you tried to speak to someone by phone on X, Y, Z dates, but to no avail. Written records will aid you in showing good faith. Start a diary now. Write in the date you got this notice start with and the calls you've made.
posted by girlpublisher at 11:06 AM on December 1, 2006

Response by poster: otherworldlyglow: thanks! Looks like the Tenant Union is also open today from 1:30 to 4:00 pm! I'm going to head over there so I can be there when they open. Thanks again to all... I do NOT want to lose my apartment!
posted by trip and a half at 11:07 AM on December 1, 2006

Definitely sounds shady. Do you have your statements from previous months, or any sort of paper trail showing what you were billed in September, October, and November? If you have statements from them that show the lower amount, then it seems like you'd have a good case for proving that you're not delinquent.

Like others have said, you need to DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT. Note every phone call, photocopy every letter sent and received, and when you're talking to someone, get their name and other identifying information. Everything you do at this point could become part of a court proceeding later.

And if you have the cash, I'd think seriously about getting a lawyer. The real estate company will have one, and you don't want to be the odd guy out.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:20 AM on December 1, 2006

Good luck. Those tenant union folks can be a little nutty but they gave me really good advice and know all the dirt on the creepy property management companies/landlords in town. Unfortunately, there are quite a few around these parts.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:27 AM on December 1, 2006

One way or another you should get some record of your dispute so nobody can claim you didn't respond. Make a note of the date and time of every call and what messages you leave - known in the debt collection parlance as "memorializing the conversation." Hell, record em - it's not like there's a person on the other end who hasn't given consent.

If you can spare the time, write a letter that says at least "I dispute the accuracy of this," seal it in an envelope and go down and get a signature from a recipient. Pretend to be a messenger if you like.

If you're worried about this being money you really owe them and you can spare the $55 then pay it, marking the memo line with I DISPUTE THE ACCURACY OF THIS DEBT and accompany it with a letter indicating that fact and asking for documentation. Thankfully tenant law tends to be pretty good in favor of a resident and you'll likely get that money back... eventually.
posted by phearlez at 11:31 AM on December 1, 2006

Best answer: This is real dirty. Don't pay, don't even bother calling unless recorded conversations are legal and allowed as evidence in court (doubtful). I second basically everything jellicle wrote above, and in addition I recommend getting in immediate contact with a tenant's rights organization or lawyer. They've seen this sort of scam hundreds of times, and will know what legal protection you have.

No matter how this works out, though, I'd consider looking into a new place. For one thing, your situation only stands to get worse (wait until the landlord starts hiring goons to lurk in your hallway, or boards up all the vacant apartments in the building.) On the other hand, the property owner stands to make a ton of money if he can de-stabilize this apartment, possibly enough that it would be worth buying you out, possibly to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. I'm not sure if such arrangements are legal, and you'd have to be extra careful not to get screwed...ask around. It's a NY tradition but I don't know how it flies out West.

On preview, yeah, talk to the SF Tenant Union. I doubt they'll give you much help if you want to sell out to the landlord, though - I imagine they're very much invested in maintaining the level of rent-stabilized housing in the city.

Good luck!
posted by a young man in spats at 11:41 AM on December 1, 2006

I would advise not paying until you've sorted this out. Payment could potentially be construed as an acceptance of the purpose of the bill, which would basically be admitting that you have, in fact, been negligent in your rental obligations. A real SF lawyer would have to verify this, naturally.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:03 PM on December 1, 2006

Has anyone else in your building received the same type of letter?
Are you a tennent at will (monthly) or on an annual lease? When was that lease modified? Did they present you with it, did you sign it (you didn't have to do anything until the original lease expired). Just telling you you owe $$$ without proof or justification will get the laughed out of court, but don't aggrivate the situation. Document everything. Never speak when it can be written.
posted by Gungho at 12:04 PM on December 1, 2006

Response by poster: Update: I finally was able to reach --- --- on the phone. I was very clear that I had not received any notification of the rent increase, and that I was very concerned that the notice would be used as grounds to evict me, and that its very existence would sully my 26-year untarnished record as a renter in San Francisco.

As to the first point, she kept saying no, it would be "okay" and they wouldn't try to evict me. I got her to agree to allow me to attach a letter (signed by her) in their files to the effect that I didn't know about the increase and paid in full as soon as I was notified, and that I had their word that it would not be used to try to evict me. (I've arranged to meet with her later today to do that. I plan to keep a signed copy for myself.)

I'm going to go type that letter up now. I still intend to run this all by the Tenant Union before I meet with her.

Thanks again for all the help. AskMe is the bomb!
posted by trip and a half at 12:06 PM on December 1, 2006

I'd probably ask where these charges came from, too...
posted by cellphone at 1:49 PM on December 1, 2006

I didn't know about the increase and paid in full as soon as I was notified

I'm not sure why they deserve a free $55. Surely you need to be notified before any rent increase takes place.
posted by grouse at 3:54 PM on December 1, 2006

Response by poster: For those still playing along at home, here is the text of the letter I got the representative to sign:


December 1, 2006

[Company Name]
Attn: [Representative's Name]
---- ------ Street San Francisco, CA 941--

This certifies that I, trip and a half, was unaware of the increase to my Base Apartment Rent of $21.13 per month effective September, 2006 and the 2006 Bond Pass Through of $2.72 effective October, 2006 until my receipt of your "Notification of Delinquency" dated November 28, 2006 and received by me on November 29, 2006.

This further certifies that, upon receipt of the above-mentioned "Notification", I immediately contacted your offices and arranged to immediately pay the full amount due.

This further certifies that, pursuant to our telephone conversation of December 1, 2006, [Company Name] agrees that it will not use this incident nor the above-mentioned "Notification of Delinquency" in any attempt to evict me from the premises at -- ------- Street, Apt. -, San Francisco, CA.

trip and a half               [Representative's Name]
Tenant                        Representative
                              [Company Name]

I meant to ask her why no follow-up notices or reminders (or even a phone message) were issued over the course of four months, but I forgot to.

I am still seething with rage against the absolute gall of these people in fucking with peoples' lives and homes in under-handed manners like this. The building manager (actually a cool guy, a tenant himself and on 'our side' in this) told me they offered my neighbor two floors up $20,000 to relocate and he told them to go fuck themselves. Good for him!

Anyway, thanks for all the support. I may be back with another AskMe if they try any more shenanigans, which doesn't seem unlikely. I'll go mark best answer(s) now. Thanks again.
posted by trip and a half at 5:04 PM on December 1, 2006

Response by poster: Oh, to fill out a little more (sorry, I'm still pretty shaken up by all this):

I did drop by the Tenants Union (after joining online), but it was closed. Apparently the counselor scheduled for that time slot is ill. Serendipitously, though, I did meet a friendly young woman at the door who is in training to become a counselor there! Understandably, she was reluctant to give me official advice, but seemed to think that getting a signed document was a good idea. (Incidentally, she told me that the Union retains a lawyer for the sole purpose of dealing with this particular property management/real estate concern! They are the evil.)

Also, for the record, when I got to the company office, the representative gave me a "copy" of the "original notice" of the increase dated July 24, 2006. This document (which of course I had never seen before) does indeed lay out all of the pertinent reasons and regulations concerning the rent increase. (When we discussed this initial notification on the phone, the representative actually used the phrase, "...may have gotten lost in the mail..."!)

Anyway, thanks again, again, AskMeFites! I think I'll have a scotch and chill out for a while in my humble, yet wonderful home...
posted by trip and a half at 5:45 PM on December 1, 2006

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