As a single mom, I’ve had quite a few run-ins with Landlords over the years, and the struggle is always in understanding and figuring out what your rights are when the Landlord is trying to strong-arm you or extort more money from you.To be frank, I’m sick of these guys I’m currently dealing with. The first offense was about two years ago, when my heel got caught in the doorway of my son’s room as the door was being shut. It caused a minor dent at the bottom of the door; one that could easily have been fixed by wood putty and some paint.
However, my Landlord chose instead, to replace the entire door; an unrequested service, for which, he charged me $170; what he called the “industry standard.” What bugged me more was that the son-of-a-biscuit kept the old door, which like I said, could easily be fixed and, I’m sure, he reused it elsewhere, charging someone else for a new door too. If I paid for a new door, the old door belongs to me, not him!
So last December, in the busyness of the season, I made an error on the check I wrote for that month’s rent. It was late, I was away from home, and did not have my rental portion on my person, to verify if the amount was correct. It had just recently been changed by HUD, so I still had the previous amount in my head. In my efforts to ensure the rent was submitted on time, I wrote out the check with the wrong amount, and put it the drop box for the Landlord the night of 11/30, and then caught the error two days later on 12/2. I immediately called the Landlord and left a message stating that I was unsure whether or not I had written the correct amount on the check, and wanted to verify it.
I requested that the Landlord contact me and let me know either way, if the check amount was correct; and if not, what was the difference outstanding, so that I could immediately give them another check to cover this error. No one responded. Mind you, I wasn’t sure if the check was wrong. I know what my checkbook stated, but I didn’t know if I had written the same on the check, or if I had written the check correctly, and simply erred in my checkbook. Since no one had contacted me, I sent an email with the same message on 12/5, and then I waited. Again, no one responded.
Those first two dates, were the only dates I definitely documented. I did call several more times leaving the same message, but I didn’t document those dates, and regardless, no response was ever given during the entire month of December. So I began to think that maybe I had just made an error in my checkbook. I kept looking for a rent payment of the normal amount being processed in my bank, but didn’t see any.
The Landlord, who had also tried to run a game on me with regard to an additional stipulation he had placed in the lease; failed to provide the lease for my review and signing until 5 days before it was due. He claimed in the lease that I was agreeing to it, because it involved an expense he was supposed to incur for days vacated for extermination that he was trying to push off onto me. He then emailed my case worker and falsely claiming difficulties with my email, which is an Outlook account with a Hotmail extension, so that he could justify not contacting me sooner, and have her email me to tell me about signing the lease.
He also tried to tell me at one point per his convenience, that he’s an IT tech, and that his server doesn’t receive emails from “free” email services. He stated that I’m “getting what I pay for.” His attempts to fabricate these issues started back in 2013. When I checked all my email communications with him, there were apparently no issues until about November of that year. He claimed to have changed his server close to that timeframe.
However, when I took his email extension (the part after @ and including the .net) and put it into the address bar, it pulled up his site. Funny thing is, the very front page of his site lists all the free email services which are good to use, my Hotmail account included.
But I didn’t stop there. I went to WHOIS.com and looked up that same name.net, and it pulled up info on who the server host was…GODADDY.com. So I went to GODADDY, and what did their first page show me? It lists their services, and what email service was listed there? Microsoft Office 365. When I clicked on that, it showed Q & A about Outlook…the exact same email service I have my Hotmail extension through.
But, I went a step further. I contacted a GODADDY tech who ran his email extension, the .net through their Outlook system, and confirmed that there was no problem with their system receiving any emails from GODADDY’S Outlook program or any extension listed within Outlook.
Lastly, I did a GOOGLE search to find out the timeframe of the Outlook takeover of the Hotmail accounts. It was about 6 months prior to the beginning of this fabrication by the Landlords about problems with my emails. Microsoft Outlook took over Hotmail in May of 2013, and the Landlords began complaining about issues with my email in November of that same year. You’d think an IT tech would have known this. It was all just a ploy to enable them to pick and choose what maintenance requests and messages they wanted to answer or acknowledge.
I thought that we would end up in court, so I gathered all this information, just in case. The Landlord finally contacted me on 1/12, but his message was only about the lease agreement. At that time, I was not taking calls due to illness. I did respond and leave him at least 2 messages, again requesting the information about the December rent. Each time he called and left me a message, he was intentionally vague, only stating that there was a discrepancy, but not giving me the amount as requested.
When I recovered, I spoke to him on 1/17, and finally on that date, he indicated the shortage; a month and a half later. He acted like he did me a favor, claiming that he waived the late fee for December on the 5th of that month, which meant that he did receive my messages; he just refused to answer them. This was so that he could snowball the situation into a perpetual late fee collection. He stated that he took my January rent, which was the full amount paid on time, and applied it to the December discrepancy; thereby causing January’s rent to be late, and charging me late fees for it.
At that point, he attempted to negotiate payment. I agreed to two payments to try to get the rent current, yet pointed out that it was his fault the situation happened in the first place. This effort failed because the first payment I made never cleared as a result of bank errors due to another dispute I was having since November with an insurance company. As a result, I stopped all payments to him; first because I was sure he had made some sort of legal violation with his actions, and second because I didn’t want to write a check I couldn’t guarantee, while the other dispute was still looming in the background.
He and his nasty partner began sending me threats via email and priority airmail; citing my responsibilities per the lease. I was pretty angry by this time, so I fired off a letter myself, exposing his lies and manipulation attempts, and the outright extortion he was blatantly attempting. I thought for sure we’d have to move, and I was ok with that. However, the logistics had me concerned, so I prayed about it. Not only did I pray about it, but I had my bible study group also praying about the situation for several weeks, as it was ongoing.
As soon as I gave it to God, I calmed down. I experienced such peace about the whole situation, even with the possibility of eviction looming; and answers started coming. Answers that showed me where we would go immediately should we have to move. A place was being made available and even storage provided by a friend that I had been helping for several months. So if we needed to vacate, we were covered.
Finally, I went to Legal Aid seeking some assistance. In truth, I only wanted to know what my options and rights were. I really wasn’t looking for them to take on my case. I also sought the same assistance via HUD, but neither of these agencies offered me a bit of help. One would think that at least HUD, who is also involved via a Section 8 voucher; would have at least explained my options and rights; especially to ensure that I was not violating their regulations with this situation. But they only fussed at me for giving them so much documentation, which I gave them to cover my “assets”. They only stated that they don’t get involved in disputes between Landlords and tenants.
Finally, when all those doors were closed, I went first to the Better Business Bureau, because after all, the Landlord has an incorporated business that he rents property through. I figured, if he’s a business, I can file a complaint against his business for public record, just like he would place information on my credit file for public record.
The Better Business Bureau’s site indicated that they only accept complaints regarding product and service issues in the marketplace. They referred other complaints to the consumer protection agency of the state; namely, the Attorney General’s office. So I filed a complaint there.
Additionally, I went to justanswer.com to see if I could get some legal advice. For $34, I could state my entire situation, and ask any questions I needed answered, to better understand my rights and options in the situation. Here is the answer I received from them:
It is not illegal for a landlord to wait to communicate, but it is a breach of contract if the tenant asks the landlord for a statement on the account balance, for the landlord to refuse to do so and then seek to charge any late fees for doing so. If there is a discrepancy in a Section 8 tenancy rent and the landlord will not communicate so that the discrepancy can be cleared up and late charges in the future can be avoided, first the tenant needs to contact the Section 8 office and notify them in writing about the landlord refusing to provide a correct accounting for the amount due by the tenant.
Second, if the landlord is trying to charge any late fees, you said they waived the late fee on this one time, based on the landlord’s refusal to communicate the accurate amount due so it could be corrected by the tenant, then the legal theory of “estoppel” applies. The legal theory of “estoppel” states that if the landlord’s own conduct, their refusal to tell you what the discrepancy is so you can correct it, causes the late payment then the landlord cannot seek to hold the tenant at fault for the late payments.
Then I asked if this breach gives me the right to move out. This was his answer:
He has breached the lease by refusing to provide you the proper information regarding balance due and correct monthly payment amount. The breach is not one that impairs the habitability of the premises, so no, it is not grounds to move, it is grounds to sue to force him to correct any issues with his billing process.
The great thing about this service is, the lawyer that answers your question usually specializes in the field that pertains to your issue. The other benefit is that you can email the attorney and respond with further questions if his answer did not clear up all matters pertaining to your inquiry. They ask you to rate your satisfaction with the attorney and give you the option to tip him, but I thought that $34 for 10-15 minutes of his time was enough. You also have the option of checking their system for previous answers on similar topics. If you do that, you pay nothing to get your answer, and believe me, there are tons of Q & A on their site that you can peruse to find the answers to your legal questions.
As soon as I got this answer, I immediately composed a letter to the Landlord, which I sent priority post; telling him that I spoke with an attorney who told me that he breached the lease, and quoted the attorney’s statements above. I stated that I was not willing to negotiate any payment agreements, until it was understood and agreed upon by him, that he could not penalize me for ANY late payments while I was making payments on the arrears; until all arrears were caught up. Despite his efforts to find a way around it, he had no choice but to agree, and after 3.5 months, the matter is now resolved. I kept my peace, trusted God and waited and He took care of it. God is amazing!