Help me pay my rent!
April 28, 2007 3:11 PM   Subscribe

What to do about a landlord who is making it very difficult to pay rent?

My family and I moved into a new house about 6 weeks ago. Because of a trade we negotiated for a free month's rent, we're now coming up on our first full rent payment, due on May 1. Unfortunately, our landlord has decided to make it nearly impossible for us to submit payment, and we're very nervous that it's going to result in late fees, a summons to rent court, or a blemish on our credit.

Our home is managed by a two-person operation (the owner lives out-of-state), and until recently, the main contact there wasn't too bad to deal with, although he was a lot more eager to email about his personal life (he's a classic "over-sharer," sometimes sending me 10+ emails a day from his BlackBerry) than about issues pertaining to the house. I've been requesting a status update on our move-in repairs for over a month, and when he finally got back to me last week, he told me it would still be at least a few weeks before the repairs were even looked at, let alone completed. When I wrote back to express my surprise and to emphasize that we weren't trying to be difficult tenants, I received back a horribly condescending and snarky email with a long lecture on pre-existing condtions, the pettiness of my requests, etc.

Worst of all, though, the guy informs me that his business/life partner is now "uncomfortable" holding our postdated rent checks (by mutual agreement, we'd supplied six months' worth of rent checks, something the management company contact was thrilled about initially), and he sent them back to us certified mail. He also sent back the May rent payment in spite of the fact that it's due in a few days. In addition, he told us that their office is now open by appointment only and we have to make an appointment with "at least" 24 hours' notice in order to drop off the rent at their office (in contrast with their website, which encourages tenants to drop off rent during their business hours, which are posted on the site). Also, while he previously invited us to leave anything in care of the building concierge, he now tells us it's at our own risk to do so (as though to imply he won't get it if we do). Finally, he was thoughtful enough to remind us of his aggressive policies on late fees and court filings.

We absolutely want to pay our rent on time, but I am really at a loss for what to do. I did email him yesterday asking for an appointment on Monday to pay the rent, but of course, he didn't write back. Dropping by unannounced is chancy since the office is 45 minutes each way from our house, and I'm not convinced they'd buzz us in without an appointment under the circumstances. I've considered sending the rent payment Fed-Ex or certified mail with receipt requested, but in the event they aren't in the office to receive it, I don't know that they'll accept the delivery attempt notice and consider that before assessing late fees/notifying the credit bureau. Sadly, I don't put it past them to claim they didn't receive a check and file in court against us just to inconvenience us. It seems awfully convenient that they've suddenly refused our previously agreed-upon payment arrangements and made it more difficult to pay rent the regular way, right on the heels of this maintenance dispute.

(Oh...I did include the body of the manager's email in a message I sent to the property owner on a related issue, but he never responded. He's been nice, but hands-off since he pays this management company an exorbitant amount of money to do diddly-squat. I do plan on addressing this issue with the owner at some point, but my immediate concern is getting May's rent paid on time.)

Any ideas on how we can get this payment submitted and ensure that our rental record, credit, etc. is protected?
posted by justonegirl to Law & Government (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You don't mention a you have one? It should contain provisions for how the rent must be submitted.
posted by cabingirl at 3:50 PM on April 28, 2007

Does your lease state the manner in which rent is to be paid?

If it's non-specific, then as long as you send your rent checks certified mail, and you have proof that you did send the check with plenty of time, they're going to have a hard time making case that *you* were late because they are too lazy to accept US mail.

The situation sounds really weird.
posted by voidcontext at 3:52 PM on April 28, 2007

Cut your losses and run, if at all possible. It's not going to get any better. With renting, it's best to avoid the small landlords and stick with the large, anonymous corporations who are professional.
posted by TorontoSandy at 3:58 PM on April 28, 2007

What a strange situation. Can you take a loan out for the amount of six month's (or even a year's) rent, write a check for the whole amount, and pay off your credit bureau or bank instead of these boneheads? I assume you're locked into a year's lease but that you'll be fleeing asap once it's up, so this is a way to minimize your contact with these people. Of course, that means you have zero leverage regarding repairs or anything else.

Personally, I'd want to talk to a lawyer with some experience in tenant's rights, if only for your peace of mind.
posted by melissa may at 4:01 PM on April 28, 2007

Response by poster: We do have a lease -- it's an official-looking one, though the manager admitted he'd found it on Google. (I know, I know...)

The lease states that the rent is to be paid to Landlord at Landlord's address. The manager's website states the rent can be mailed in or dropped off at their office during "regular" business hours, which are supposed to be Monday through Friday from 11-5. However, since the email I just received said they're now open by appointment only, and it's possible he won't respond to my request for an appointment, I don't know what to do.

We're in a three-year lease and we don't want to live anywhere else -- this is our dream home and the rent is considerably less than a mortgage for the same house, plus we prefer to rent right now for several reasons. We're hoping the property owner ultimately dumps this management company since they're costing him a ton of money and doing nothing for him or us, but I can't count on that.

melissa may, I'm confused about your advice to pay off the credit bureau or bank...I don't know what this means. Could you please clarify?
posted by justonegirl at 4:08 PM on April 28, 2007

I'll echo the above: whatever drama is going on with life partners and appointments and everything else, your lease states the terms of payment. As long as you comply with your lease, that other nonsense shouldn't have any bearing.

It sounds like you've stuck up for yourself regarding the repairs and whatnot, but the rest of your comments sound like your bending to them a little bit. If all you need is a little confidence boost: you shouldn't feel like they can push you around like that. It may be annoying and expensive if you have to involve attorneys, but in the case of a tenant seeking repairs and simply paying rent, I'm confident the law is on your side. Don't feel guilty/bad/shy about using your outside voice to tell them to quit messing with you. And even though he likes to chit chat via his blackberry, he's not your friend and you don't need to be polite.

I doubt you'll be able to get out of this situation any time soon, so the best general advice I can give you for the duration of your lease is to start. documenting. everything. if you haven't already. And use snail mail in lieu of email when you can. Document every phone call, every incident with broken/failing appliances, every incident with neighbors. Be aggressive and obsessive compulsive about it. Odds are the landlord will not keep as good of records and you'll be rewarded for your competence. "Overwhelming them with information" is the key.

Good luck.
posted by Hankins at 4:08 PM on April 28, 2007

You're too quick with the followups!

It sounds like the best situation, as you stated, would be for the owner to drop the mgmt company. So that might be your opportunity to strategize. Keep a tally sheet of everything that happens between the mgmt company and you and once you have a pile of complaints, forward it to the owner and say "This is your management company. This is how they are performing." Maybe (hopefully) you'll luck out and the mgmt company will be so egregious it'll be an easy sell.

For what it's worth, one of my leases states something about "Owner/landlord considers payment submitted/accepted on the date the payment was received *or* the date the letter was canceled by the post office." If your lease has any language like that in the fine print, I'd say you could argue that mailing is completely valid. Hell, I can't imagine his "must make an appointment" policy is valid, so I would do whatever you have to in order to get the payment to his address with some sort of confirmation. And I'd request that all additional correspondence about significant issues be in writing.

(Wow, it's easy to sit back and tell you what to do while I'm totally not in your situation! Take what might work, and please throw away anything that's just useless blabbering.)

What state are you in? MD? There's probably a wealth of information online about protection for renters. And if it'll ease your mind, I'm sure you could get a free consultation from a lawyer. This stuff is never fun, and it might feel good to know you have a resource if something goes wrong.
posted by Hankins at 4:26 PM on April 28, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies so far. I went through the lease with a fine-toothed comb, and it doesn't state anything about it being OK to have the payment postmarked by the due date. It says the payment is to be made to the Landlord "on or before the due date" shown in the lease, which is the first of the month. The manager made sure to mention in his email -- the same one in which he informed he was sending back our postdated checks -- that the due date "is not based on postmarked dates," and warned me to allow adequate time for the check to be received.

I am in Maryland -- I'm in the process of trying to find information online regarding landlord/tenant law. I actually worked in property management for about 5 years, and this has me stumped.
posted by justonegirl at 4:32 PM on April 28, 2007

The lease states that the rent is to be paid to Landlord at Landlord's address. The manager's website states the rent can be mailed in...

Seconding the certified mail option. Send it in a few days in advance every month so it can be picked up at the PO if they're not in.

I had not dissimilar idiots to deal with once, and more or less pretended to be unreachable any way but by snail mail, and extremely formal with said snail mail when it was coming from me. Send it certified/FedEx/whatever, and keep copies of everything.

Any third party isn't going to buy into the mngmnt's BS. With the not dissimilar idiots, I did end up fleeing to the courthouse once to stop an eviction; it was very easy to do so with all the proof I had that I'd paid rent, on time. Still made it to that level of hassle, but.


He also sent back the May rent payment in spite of the fact that it's due in a few days.

I did eventually have to get a lawyer, and it sounds like you might want one, too. It kind of sounds like they think it'd be easier to harass you out of there than to do the repairs. If you really like the place -- lawyer up if it gets worse, I think.
posted by kmennie at 4:52 PM on April 28, 2007

Your lease is a contract. One party cannot unilaterally amend a contract, as the management company is trying to do by changing the terms of payment. If the lease says the rent can be mailed in, then personally that's what I'd do -- certified mail, of course, in a form of payment that gives you some sort of receipt or proof (personal check or money order).

Also, judges aren't stupid, and they are generally not pleased when a landlord hauls a tenant into court for a non-issue such as this. So if this does end up in court, I would not be surprised at all if the judge read the managment company the riot act for making it so difficult for you to pay them and wasting the court's time.

IANAL; I have limited experience with landlord-tenant proceedings in New York state, but none of this should be taken as legal advice.
posted by AV at 4:59 PM on April 28, 2007

It's a little unclear when they returned your post-dated checked including the 'May' check, but if they returned them all in one package, I'd think it was more of an oversight on their side than anything nefarious.

Every place I've ever rented it was sufficient to use the US mail to send in your rent though in some case you also had the option, but not the requirement, to drop off the rent in person.

FedEx this months rent to them too make sure you get it to them by the 1st, but then just use the plain ol usps afterward.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:11 PM on April 28, 2007

I tend to be cynical and suspicious, but it could be that they have decided that they no longer want you for a tenant for whatever reason. And that they are setting up a situation where they can claim non-payment of rent and legally terminate the lease. Therefore, returning your post-dated checks to you and making it extremely difficult for you to pay via these "new terms".

It will be very difficult for you to oust the management company if the owner does not want to be bothered. After all, he only wants his money and no hassles, not to provide stellar customer service to tenants. Which sucks, I know.

At this point, you can look for new living arrangements which it sounds like is not optimum for you.

If you decide to stay, you can do as other posters have suggested, send rent checks certified mail or via Fed-Ex so that there is some proof of attempt of delivery. Keep careful records of your dealings with the management company in case this ends up in a showdown. Decide that you can live without the repairs or prepare yourself for much foot dragging and/or hassle. Get to know the folks at the Tenants Rights Office in your town if there is one. (The one in Chicago can be incredibly helpful.) You might have to face staying in a house that you like but in a situation that you don't like.

I don't know if there is any answer that will guarantee that the management company or owner will live up to the original expectations of an affordable, pleasant, repaired rental situation.
posted by jeanmari at 6:07 PM on April 28, 2007

Response by poster: I feel like maybe I confused even myself with my question, but I'll try to clarify a little.

The lease doesn't specifically say you can mail the rent, but obviously that is an option under normal circumstances.

My concern is that this nutty manager guy might (a) not be in the office to accept a certified letter/FedEx document/courier/etc. and therefore will count my rent late just out of spite; and (b) will claim future rent payments are late even if they are not.

I feel like my hands are tied and I'm screwed, and maybe contacting a lawyer is my only option. However, I'm extremely reluctant to pay for legal advice about a place I haven't even lived in for 2 months!

(And, ironically, I never even insisted that the repairs be made -- they were only cosmetic items I requested be looked at, and all I ever asked for in my emails was an update/a decision.)
posted by justonegirl at 6:12 PM on April 28, 2007

Make sure you save/print out copies of the website policy as well as all correspondence emails and letters. While it's not as official as your lease, if you do get hauled to court, it's going to reflect extremely poorly on your landlord if he's informing you of important changes (to business hours, rent schedules, etc) via snarky emails.

Also, try to hunt down an office phone number. Email is especially poor for these types of communications specifically because it can be ignored, forgotten, and deleted. I think it would do you good to inform the office (when you send in your rent check) that you're no longer open to communication via email and that all information they wish to pass along to you must be sent through postal mail. Your landlord is a bit too comfortable contacting you through email, and forcing him to print it out, stamp it, and drop it in a mailbox will make him think twice about inventing new "policies" to inconvenience you.
posted by almostmanda at 6:31 PM on April 28, 2007

The lease states that the rent is to be paid to Landlord at Landlord's address.

Not to the management company, nor the landlord's representatives.

I'd send a notarized, certified, letter to your landlord, requiring a signature, not your management company.

Along with

1) The check.
2) A copy of the lease
3) The requests of the managment co: 24 hours notice, changing the terms of the delivery and the return of your checks. (basically the copy of the emails)
4) A note that you're trying to keep all of this in good faith, and holding up your end of your 3 year lease.
5) A second copy of all of this to the management company, but also included a second check, with strict instructions that they should contact the landlord and that he's received a similar letter also with a check.
6) A detailed list of the repairs that have not be attended to.

But most of all a letter (only) to your landlord indicating confusion - that the management company is acting flaky and has not complied with the contract.

You're going to need to at least consult with an MD lawyer this week. But by sending the checks, via certified, overnight mail on monday, you have complied with the letter of your lease.

Of course, from here on out, take specific notes of everything you do; if this does end in court, you'll have very specific notes (and it's likely they won't.) It's ashame, but it's possible. Note, that you'll also be able to chase after them for damage they do to your credit record, but by the time it hits that point, you're going to be looking for a new place.
posted by filmgeek at 6:33 PM on April 28, 2007

This isn't quite your situation because you have not filed a complaint, but keep this in mind about illegal retaliatory measures.

I've found this page helpful (in case you haven't come across it in your own searches). Note that at the bottom there are special rules for certain jurisdictions.
posted by Airhen at 6:37 PM on April 28, 2007

Also, try to hunt down an office phone number.

It's Maryland law that:
The landlord of a residential rental property must include in the written lease OR on a posted sign conspicuously placed on the rental property, the following information: a) the name, address and phone number of the landlord; or b) the person, if any, who is authorized to accept notice or service of process on the landlord's behalf.

If the landlord fails to provide the information in this manner, then notice or service of process can be sent by the tenant to: a) the person to whom the rent is paid; b) the address where the rent is paid; or c) the address where the tax bill is sent.

posted by Airhen at 6:41 PM on April 28, 2007

My concern is that this nutty manager guy might (a) not be in the office to accept a certified letter/FedEx document/courier/etc. and therefore will count my rent late just out of spite

I don't know for sure, but from what I can tell a court would probably consider the rent having been delivered by the due date to be on time, regardless of whether the people were there to sign for it or put it in the books. As I said above, judges aren't stupid and they're not there to make people's lives harder. If the rent makes it to the person/address stipulated in the lease by the due date (by whatever means), barring some strange extraneous circumstances, I can't imagine a judge finding against you.

...(b) will claim future rent payments are late even if they are not

That is why you keep a paper trail. Keep printouts of all emails, notes of all conversations, and most importantly, pay your rent in some way that gives you proof that it was sent, and of when it was delivered. If you pay it in person, get a receipt. If they haul you into court and say, "she never paid her rent" and you pull out a whole bunch of canceled checks and certified mail receipts showing that you did, guess who a judge is going to believe. (Hint: you.)

That said, this situation doesn't necessarily have rise to the level of bank-breaking lawyer involvement if you think a lawyer would help; a letter that basically says, "Hey, you're breaching the contract, now stop it" (or whatever is applicable to your situation) might be sufficient.

No matter what you do in the long term, though, send that rent out so it gets there on time, and get documentation. Don't let your concerns about not doing it 'properly' keep you from paying your rent on time as that will only give them ammunition if they are in fact looking to oust you.

Again, IANAL.
posted by AV at 7:11 PM on April 28, 2007

justonegirl - no matter how much you like the place, no matter how reluctant you are to pick up and move again after just doing it, you need to move if you can't come to a firm understanding with them immediately.

You're going to have to move anyways if they continue pulling that crap, so you might as well be proactive about it rather than wait to be screwed over.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:34 PM on April 28, 2007

I sincerely apologize, justonegirl -- I just spectacularly misunderstood your question. I hope you can get some resolution for this.
posted by melissa may at 9:02 PM on April 28, 2007

Hell, you DID pay them on time. They returned the payment, send that May check back, in the mail, certified. Then every month 10 days before rent due, send the next check certified. Refuse to pay late fees on the first check, as it was not late, if they litigate bring everything in and I'd be shocked if you don't come out smelling like a rose.
posted by edgeways at 10:14 PM on April 28, 2007

Since you must pay at the office, you can't pay until they give you an appointment. IANAL, but so long as you as soon as you're able, there should be no problem.

I've rented forever, that's a strange situation.
posted by Twang at 1:41 AM on April 29, 2007

AV's right. Use a mail method that gives you proof that you sent the mail on a particular date, not proof of delivery. Certified mail does this. Send the certified mail 5 business days (not counting Saturdays or Sundays!) before it's supposed to be due. Keep a xerox of the check, and keep all your cancelled checks or photostats thereof.

Mail sent to folks goes into a mailbox. It's not your responsibility to ensure that your landlord can correctly handle walking to the mailbox, opening it, and taking your rent check out without losing or destroying it. You're allowed to assume that your landlord is going to take care of those things. If he doesn't, you're not liable.

Finally, accepting post-dated rent checks is a bad idea for a landlord, for reasons we don't need to worry about here. (It's a bad idea for you too, but don't take my word for it.) Your landlord probably just found that out (on Google if history is any guide) and is now trying to extricate himself from the mistake he made.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:38 AM on April 29, 2007

After all, [the landlord] only wants his money and no hassles

Ditto this. The management company's shenanigans will tick off the landlord if they involve them not depositing your rent check in time for her to pay the mortgage (or start earning interest on the money, or whatever). The trick is making sure they can't say to her that it's your fault. That's why I think filmgeek's suggestions are so beautiful. You show you're trying to pay. You're passing the hassles of the management company on to the landlord, but only in the interest of getting her the money she's due. (This could really be your best strategy for getting them fired.)

They get nothing by dinging your credit report, so I wouldn't put that at the top of your list of fears. They might have found some incentive to evict you. So I'd closely read your city's ordinance about tenants' rights / how to evict tenants (in California, at least, it's the city not the state that passes those) and see what would give them grounds to do so.

Hopefully, they'll become resigned to having you live there, and the management company will become agreeable or get fired, and you'll have your dream rental house. Good luck.
posted by salvia at 11:15 PM on April 29, 2007

Use a mail method that gives you proof that you sent the mail on a particular date, not proof of delivery. Certified mail does this.

Certified mail provides proof of delivery, but does not necessarily provide proof of when you mailed something.
posted by oaf at 9:12 AM on April 30, 2007

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