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November 2012 Archives

Do Your Homework Before Calling the Landlord

If you see that a problem you're having with your landlord may develop into a full-blown dispute, research the issues before saying or doing anything rash. Frequently, difficulties between landlords and tenants cause tempers to flare; situations which could be handled better turn into bad blood and unnecessary legal expense. Start with the free information available from an Internet Search (but beware of inaccuracies). Of course nothing takes the place of advice from a competent tenants' lawyer. But at least you'll have an idea of the legal terrain. Read up on it so you don't forfeit important rights without knowing about them. Solid information puts you in a stronger position to formulate a strategy for working toward an advantageous compromise in which both sides preserve what is most important. This strategy minimizes the risk of saying or doing something which may have unexpected consequences ... and may even cost your tenancy.

You Don't Owe Landlord Legal Fees Unless the Court Says So

If you litigate with your landlord and reach a settlement under which you will pay what you agree you owe, it does not automatically make you liable for the landlord's legal costs. Unless you agree to it outside of the court's ruling, only the court can award payment of legal fees. Until this has happened, you can't be forced to pay for the landlord's lawyer. However, this won't stop some landlords, or their attorneys, from attempting to collect attorneys fees from you without a court order. Depending on the facts of your case, these attempts might violate certain Fair Debt Collection laws. It would be to your benefit to consult a lawyer about potential remedies available under these provisions, and what additional legal leverage you may have to help achieve a settlement.

Unique Claims That Can Be Argued

Landlord-tenant disputes can have unique facts. Sometimes unusual fact patterns seem to fall outside existing regulations. In making a determination, the judge may have discretion in applying the law.

Letters and E-mail with Proof of Sending

When you need to communicate with an unresponsive landlord to make requests or document facts, it's best to follow up on conversations with standard paper letters, in addition to e-mail. You can send letters by certified mail, or with a "certificate of mailing" from the post office. In court, your position is stronger when you show that you gave notice as quickly as possible and sent reminders by every means available, including speaking in person, by telephone, sending electronically, and delivering by mail. Maintain a log recording the time and date of each event. Print out the email message indicating to what address you sent it and when, along with any electronic return receipt, so you can show hard evidence of notifying the landlord of your concerns. This comprehensive approach makes it difficult for the landlord to claim that e-mails, letters or other notifications were never received. Concrete records as evidence help to destroy the believability of denials of getting notice.

Have Proof of Returning Keys

When you end your tenancy and leave an apartment, you must return the keys to the landlord. It's generally best to return the keys to the landlord or management office personally, and get a written receipt documenting their delivery. Another option is to give them back to an authorized agent in the presence of a witness you bring along with you. It's better to give the keys directly to the landlord if possible, rather than the building's super or someone of lesser authority. In disputes between landlords and tenants, supers often side with the landlord, and might do so even when there's hard evidence of the keys changing hands. Personal delivery is preferable to mailing them back, even by certified mail. You want the strongest possible evidence that you delivered the keys on the date they were handed over. Legal proof of having returned the keys helps to protect you from the landlord later claiming the apartment was not actually vacated on the date you left. If the landlord can claim your occupancy continued into the following month, he or she may attempt to keep the security deposit, deem the lease as renewed when it wasn't, or make you pay additional rent for supposed extra time in residence.

Landlord Roommate Law Abuse: When There's No Basis for Application Fees

Roommate arrangements are frequently short-lived. Often one person will move out unexpectedly, then another person moves in. Some landlords like to take advantage of tenants who lack knowledge of their rights, and charge an "application fee" for each new roommate that occupies the apartment.

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