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Old 08-29-2013, 10:24 PM   #1
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Landlord/Tenant - Law Advice Needed


Hi Folks,
I realize this is a DIY forum however I don't know where to turn for help and since I am doing this 'myself' I figured posting something here couldn't hurt. Maybe someone has some advice or can point me in a better direction than I'm goin... There's a lot I can say in hindsight as to what I should have done or not done but the bottom line is it's done and I can't change it...

Please bare with me here there's a bit of a backstory (it's important) but i'll try and keep it as short as possible.

In order to keep my house paid for in this not-so-wonderful economy, I started renting out rooms to local college students a while back. I had a very nice girl move in November 2012. I was suppose to have a lease for her but she had moved in anyway just after Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast. I'm a contractor and all of the sudden I became ridiculously busy. I found myself working an hour away from home so travel was a bit rough on me added to a long day. My sister lived nearby so I stared staying at her house several days of the week and that's when I let a lot of my "landlord" responsibilities slide. I use landlord in quotes as the renters actually live in my house; they rent a bedroom and we share the common rooms. I'm not renting a separate unit/apartment.

That being said, I never got this girl the lease. Every time I'd sit down to do paperwork it always got pushed to the bottom of the pile as estimates and bills ultimately came first. In the meantime, this girl lived in the house and never one expressed any disconcern about anything in the house to me. I did not receive as much as a phone call, a letter, a text message or a conversation from her.

Fast forward to June of 2013... I finally got my act together and gave this girl her lease. Included with the lease was a spreadsheet with monthly rent & utility costs so she could see what everything was. In the meantime I had never once asked this girl for a dime. Yes, I know I'm quite the dumba$$ but as I said earlier I can't change the past. I know this and I take responsibility on that end...BUT when this tenant moved in, she did know up front how much rent was and she also knew she was responsible for utilities (this was all spelled out in a craigslist ad she replied to...and I have email documentation to back that up) .

SO come July 1, after receiving the lease (unsigned but it was in her hands no less) and the spreadsheet as to what she owed me, she paid me $900 towards the balance due. She did tell me with a fair amount of forewarning that she would be moving out at the end of July. By mid-july she was gone. We kept in contact and she promised to give me the final balance.

I wasn't home when she dropped off the check but she gave me a check for $1,100 with a note stating that because the hallway upstairs had dirty clothes all over the place, the bathroom was "messy" and the kitchen was always dirty that she considered me paid in full. As I mentioned prior she never once brought this to my attention. I'd also like to point out that my bedroom is on the first floor of the house and I have my own bathroom so I never go upstairs, ever. I was honestly not aware of the situation. I can agree and say that at times the kitchen was a bit untidy but again this wasn't from me, this was from other renters leaving dishes in the sink or not taking out the trash.

SO the whole point of this post is to see if anyone knows a thing or two about how I can try to settle this financial burden I allowed to happen. I emailed the tenant a nice letter stating the issues she stated in her 'final' letter were never brought to my attention. I also noted in a much nicer way than I am describing it here, I said that even if she felt the house was messy this still does not qualify you to withhold rent. The issue about "cleanliness" was really between her and another tenant.

In total she owed me $4300 (combination of rent & utilities). I received $2,000 from her but she still owes me $2,300. Even if she were to try and argue and say she didn't know that utilities were going to be X amount per month, they only account for $700 of that balance. That means she is AT THE LEAST still responsible for $1,600 in rent. I mean I would like to get what's owed to me for utilities as well.

Can anyone advise me on what to do next? I screwed myself big-time and now on a slippery-slope to a personal financial doomsday. I know there are attorneys I can hire but let's be honest here I'm having a hard enough time keeping up with the mortgage, car payment, insurance, etc... so finding money to hire an attorney is last on my list of options. I mean if that's what I have to do I may need to take a loan from the bank of mom & dad.... but I do not want to if I don't have to.

SO again, if anyone has advice I would greatly appreciate your input! Please refrain from any negative comments. I know I got myself into this mess and made a few mistakes but the bottom line (and yes, this is my opinion on the matter) is she did move into my house knowing what rent was. She did move in knowing utility costs were going to be addtional. She moved in knowing she was going to be living and sharing common areas with other persons. I don't feel her reason for withholding $2300 from me is reasonable.

My thoughts were to first send an actual letter in the mail. One regular mail and one certified. When this gets ignored (as I'm sure it will) I was then thinking of taking this to small claims court. I am also really intimidated to have this go to court because 1) when I get up in front of a crowd I freeze up (stage fright). 2) I am almost afraid of getting a Judge Judy and being screamed at and 3) If I "lose" I would then be responsible for the court costs. I've never been to court except for a traffic violation or two so I don't even know how to go about this.

I'm in a bind and I don't know what to do. I may be facing foreclosure on my house and even looking at a bankruptcy... this tenant isn't the main reason for the aforementioned financial hole I dug for myself but certainly is a big chunk of it.

P-p-p-please if anyone can give me some insight/advice it would be very much appreciated. I'm down on my hands and knees begging

Thanks in advance and I apologize for the long back-story. I should also note that I never checked in with the town as to what the town ordinances are for having renters in your house. A neighbor mentioned it to me so I am a little worried that could come back to bite me in the butt. I am just trying to keep my house and self afloat. Heck, I don't particularly enjoy living with strangers. I'm a neat and tidy individual myself...

Al C.

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Old 08-29-2013, 11:51 PM   #2
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Landlord/Tenant - Law Advice Needed


Given the current state of tenant laws....

Be glad she is gone. If she wanted to be a b!tch...she could have stayed there rent free for a couple more months while you went through the expense and trouble of trying to evict her.

Even though you did not have a signed lease, the fact that you let her in is a verbal agreement.

She could come back and say that you jacked up the rent from the initial agreed price. Without a signed lease...it's your word against her's.

Right now, given the stuff you pointed out...you would most likely loose in a small claims court.

To some extent, I think you got off cheap. I'm sure you will never make this mistake again.

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Old 08-30-2013, 01:22 AM   #3
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I agree with dawg ......

think of it like this, education costs money. next time you'll know better
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Old 08-30-2013, 07:34 AM   #4
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I agree small claims would be your only shot then no lawyer needed. D on't know about where you are but in Fla. there is a thing called certificate of occupancy without it you can't rent out a doghouse. This is in place so people can't rent out unsafe places, the point being you must be inspected and compliant. I know you don't want to hear this but you may have got off cheap and may not want to kick a sleeping dog. Sorry
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Old 08-30-2013, 09:36 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ToolSeeker
I agree small claims would be your only shot then no lawyer needed. D on't know about where you are but in Fla. there is a thing called certificate of occupancy without it you can't rent out a doghouse. This is in place so people can't rent out unsafe places, the point being you must be inspected and compliant. I know you don't want to hear this but you may have got off cheap and may not want to kick a sleeping dog. Sorry
That's exactly what I'm afraid of! I call it opening a can of worms but I like "kicking a sleeping dog". I'm sure if the town came poking around they'd hand me a laundry list of "issues" and possibly a large fine. I still don't want to throw in the towel just yet so I will tread lightly and maybe anonymously contact the town and see what third ordinances are. I'm not a deadbeat landlord I'm just trying to survive!

Thanks guys!!!
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Old 08-30-2013, 10:32 AM   #6
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Just because you interact with one department doesn't mean all the rest are suddenly going to go 'open season' on you. There's nothing that prevents anyone else from filing complaints to those departments.

But you'd do well to inquire, as a disinterested third party (not as a current nor potential landlord) what the specific requirements are in the specific area you'd be renting it out. At least then you'd know ahead of time what you might be in for should issues be brought up. Getting your 'ducks in a row' on those would certainly be wise pending anything else being considered against the former tenant.
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Old 08-31-2013, 09:45 AM   #7
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looks to me that you dug yourself a hole. 'chaulk it up' and move on.
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Old 08-31-2013, 10:12 AM   #8
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Small claims might be worth a shot. It's not some TV drama environment. The additional things you'd want to have documented ahead of time would be what's typical in the area for other rentals of a similar kind.

But to not handle utilities on a month-to-month basis doesn't help your cause. There's certainly something to be said for not being surprised at the end of the situation to be slapped with an unexpectedly large balance.

That the place was messy isn't really relevant. Now, if the tenant was arguing for reimbursement/adjustment of the balance based on efforts to clean it up, maybe. But that'd only be a means to reduce, not eliminate, the balance you're due. Again, knowing usual and customary costs for that sort of thing would be key should it be brought up. DO NOT bring it up yourself. You're not responsible for educating the other parties.

But until you have a better idea of what the local regulations require, and understand your exposure because of them, you might be better off chalking it up to a hard lesson learned. Not unless those costs are less than the money you're claiming to be owed and there's any real likelihood of getting the money out of the former tenant. Otherwise you may win a judgment that can't be readily collected, and then get slapped with fines you'd have to pay immediately.
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Old 08-31-2013, 10:26 AM   #9
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also keep in mind, when/if going to court. that you "may' have to have a licence of some sort, to rent . and if you didn't have that = busted.
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Old 08-31-2013, 05:06 PM   #10
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also keep in mind, when/if going to court. that you "may' have to have a licence of some sort, to rent . and if you didn't have that = busted.
Not necessarily true, theyre different issues.
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Old 08-31-2013, 06:03 PM   #11
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The first thing the court will consider is, "do you have a legal right to rent the property?" If the answer is no, you lose.
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Old 08-31-2013, 09:02 PM   #12
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The first thing the court will consider is, "do you have a legal right to rent the property?" If the answer is no, you lose.
And you claim this based on what? Contract law is not that simple.
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Old 08-31-2013, 09:14 PM   #13
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You have some proof as to what the rent amount was? The craigslist ad?

Maybe try to get something in writing from here outlining why she is paying x amount. For example, she can list:

January rent $1000 Less dirty place $200 balance $800

This, together with the payments she has given you, plus maybe the craigslist ad, should establish the fact that you had an agreement.

Maybe you could call your "tenants" "roommates" and this would be better regarding the law.
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Old 09-01-2013, 12:32 AM   #14
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And you claim this based on what? Contract law is not that simple.
A judge will not give you money if you don't have clean hands. If you don't have the legal right to rent, you cannot collect. That is from a friend who is an attorney.
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Old 09-01-2013, 03:02 AM   #15
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Legal routes will probably get you nowhere and just consume time and mental energy that could be invested better elsewhere. Leveraging legal action as a negotiation tactic may however. I would try to get her to settle for ~half of the total you feel is owed and call it done. If you feel she does not have the money lump sum, try to get a promissory note and a payment plan for as much as you can.

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