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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Hey! You're not allowed to rent here anymore!*

[Note: I am a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer. Nothing in this post or any other is intended as legal advice. If you have any questions regarding lease law, please contact an attorney licensed in your state, jackass.]

I have been living in a downtown loft for over 1 1/2 years now. My wife doesn't think too much of it, but I can't beat the convenience. I live 3 miles from work and there are 30+ bars and restaurants within 1/2 mile. That being said, we are renting in an urban area, which is both expensive and a general thundercloud over the soul of those of us who prefer trees and hills to skyscrapers and one-way streets.

But this post isn't about being forced to live in metrosexual hell, it's about unscrupulous property management companies that must be scrupulously watched.

As it turns out, our lease ended on March 31, 2005. I knew this, but I didn't do anything about it, because my wife and I have been looking at houses and so we are inclined at this time to keep the relationship with our management company on a month-to-month basis on the off chance that we decide to start seeing other living spaces. I had received no notice from the management company, so, therefore, I paid my rent on April 1 just like I had been doing.

Last night when I got home from work, there was a nice, curt little note that had been taped to my front door stating that, as I was now a month-to-month tenant, I owned the lessor $100 extra dollars, which is evidently the bump accompanying short term leases. The note also stated that if I did not have my check in the rent box by midnight, I would be assessed late penalties as per the lease. Inside the note was my check.

Now, as any one with a passing familiarity with the law knows, when a lease agreement comes to an end without a new lease being signed and the tenant continues living on the property without any complaint from the landlord, then the relationship continues on a month-to-month basis under the terms of the original lease (it is also important to note that the lease only codified the parties' rights in this regard). Therefore, I owed the management company squat above what I had properly and timely tendered. They could, of course, exercise the 30-day notice provision under the lease and sent me packing in a month, but they had no legal recourse to seek a dime above what was required under the old lease. In layman's terms, they were S.O.L.

I had to wait around this morning to have a discussion with author of the erroneous missive, who was, of course, 15 minutes late for work. I went in and politely explained that they had made a mistake, and she just as politely explained that, yes, she had been doing this for 12 years and knew the law, and that the note was just a spur to get me to visit her to arrange to sign a future lease. I informed her that I would stop in on Saturday and retendered the check.

I am a polite person, but I gotta admit I was a bit pissed off. The notice didn't say,"Please stop by and discuss signing a new lease." What it says was, give us a $100 check. Let's assume for a second that I am not a lawyer, but am instead a candlestick maker who has no understanding of the law. When I stopped in to sign a new lease would the leasing company have returned my $100, which they knew they had no legal right to demand in the first place? In a pig's eye. They made a calculated error in not giving me notice that my lease was up last month and requesting then that I come in to sign a new lease, because then they were able to run the $100 past me. If the lack of notice was a mistake, then why not just send me a nice note asking me to stop in the office when I get a chance to discuss continuing our love affair under a new contract?

A friend of mine had a similar situation happen when he was in law school, except that his landlord had an even more nefarious scheme. In my friend's lease it said that, if the tenant did not give notice within 90 days of the end of the year-long lease, then the lease would automatically renew for another year. Of course my friend missed the 90-day deadline and received a letter from the leasing company that he was legally obligated for another year. My friend took it upon himself to enlighten the lessor, but it took several nasty letters and a few phone calls to get them to back off.

All of this is just to serve as a cautionary tale. As anyone who has ever tried to get back a security deposit knows, many management companies and landlords will play with the contract and take advantage of ignorance of the law to squeeze everything they can out of their tenants. Read your lease, and give 'em hell.

* Clerks
Centinel 8:20 AM #


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