Get Your Landlord to Acknowledge That You’re Moving

One strange day, I notice my paycheck is a little smaller than normal. Check the pay stub: Garnishment. Perplexed, I go to the payroll department. They give me the number of a law firm that is responsible for the garnishing of my wages. After many exhausting phones calls and dead ends, I finally reach a lawyer who says that because I didn’t show up in court when summoned by the “landlord”, the judge ruled that the owner of my previous apartment building could garnish my wages to collect unpaid rent. The previous land lord was under the impression that I was still living in the apartment that I vacated at lease end two years prior.

Curbed NY is kicking off their “rental week” with a series of renter horror stories. They’ve started with this story about a tenant who was sued by a former landlord for not paying rent after vacating his apartment. He only discovered this after he noticed his wages were being garnished. My one big question is: If the tenant didn’t sign a lease renewal, how did the landlord sue him successfully? Also, this is a good reminder that you should send your landlord a written, dated notification by certified mail telling him or her that you are not renewing your lease and are vacating the apartment when you decide to move.

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13 Comments / Post A Comment

hellonheels (#1,407)

I once had a landlord who flat-out refused to communicate by mail, e-mail, or in any other form of writing. I was planning to move to CA in early January of 2011, and my lease ended August 31, so in mid June I asked her if she would be willing to let me go month-to-month for the last four months I was there (not standard in Boston, but not a totally unreasonable request either). She seemed receptive and said she’d discuss it with her mother and get back to me (the building was family-owned). She didn’t get back to me then, nor after a couple of follow up call a few weeks later, so by mid-August, I was naive and optimistic enough to think I could take that as a de facto yes.

So imagine my surprise when, sometime in the first week of September, I returned home from a business trip to find a one-year lease starting 9/1, dated 9/1, in my mailbox. Basically, rather than just telling me that they wouldn’t allow a month-to-month lease after all, they thought they could force me to sign a one-year lease by stonewalling me so long that I wouldn’t have any other options, because they were also under the impression that if I didn’t sign it, they could kick me out on like, two weeks’ notice. Um, no.

I spent the remainder of the month of September registered-mailing them tenants rights literature with pertinent passages highlighted (like, for instance, how the law requires tenants to be given 30 days or one full rental period’s notice or eviction, even without a rental agreement), requesting that they respond to me in writing, just in case we ever wound up in court. They claimed not to have email access and that writing letters was not their “policy”, and instead responded by banging on my door threateningly when they thought I was home and calling me repeatedly and leaving angry messages when I wasn’t.

I wound up moving out at the end of October and staying with a friend through the end of December. The best part? I monitored Craigslist postings for the rest of that year and couldn’t help but feel vindicated to see that they didn’t manage to fill it until January anyway.

Lily Rowan (#70)

@hellonheels But nobody moves in Boston when it’s not 9/1! Except me; I’ve done it twice now.

My last landlord charged me after the fact when I asked if I could move out on the 3rd and not the 1st. I knew they would be renovating the apartment and there wasn’t a new tenant expecting to move in on the 1st. Man, I was pissed.

la_di_da (#1,425)

I call shenanigans on that Curbed letter. The guy declared bankruptcy rather than fight the charges? I can’t believe that it’s legal to make someone pay rent on a place after their lease is up. If it had ended with a, oh and then they left me alone because they had no standing, I might have believed it. ALSO, if you’re due in court isn’t it required that they serve you the papers in person to confirm receipt or something? This entire court case was determined without the former tenant being present or notified. Too many holes there…

@hellonheels I freaking hate landlords who don’t accept or give anything in writing. Go you for not giving into that BS. I’m all about the registered mail these days.

sunflowernut (#1,638)

@la_di_da This doesn’t make any sense to me either! In addition to everything you mentioned – why wouldn’t the management company have tried to evict him for not paying rent? Like, within a few months of delinquent payments. I don’t see why he would just give up and go through bankruptcy…

MissMushkila (#1,044)

@la_di_da Having recently filed in court, I know that at least in my state they do not serve you summons in person or even via certified mail. They just send it in the regular mail, and it includes a date and explains that if you don’t show up you automatically forfeit essentially.

The clerk really stresses that you have to provide a valid address though – because if the notice gets returned undeliverable to the court, or if the defendent disputes receiving it because you sent it to the wrong address, the case is dropped.

la_di_da (#1,425)

@MissMushkila So this might actually be a really really good reason to make sure your mail is forwarded?

Also, what about the security deposit? How did he never ask about it?

MissMushkila (#1,044)

@la_di_da Yep – but if you can prove you provided a forwarding address (if you have a copy of email providing it or your notice letter), then they would have to use that since the landlord had knowledge.

This is why email and fax are the only safe ways to go!!! (I feel so strongly about this now)

MissMushkila (#1,044)

@la_di_da That part is really weird. I mean, the entire letter has an extremely strange tone for something so serious. My issue is much, much smaller – and even thinking about it makes me FURIOUS. Why would you call the landlord and not put everything in writing? How did you not have a security deposit or not care about its return? Put everything in writing. All of it. Always. The end.

I could see how the situation that happened in the Curbed letter could happen. It’s a common rental clause in some parts of the San Francisco Bay Area that when a lease term ends, unless there’s a formal notification to quit tenancy, you are assumed to be on a month-to-month lease. I wonder if the letter-writer’s lease had a clause like this unknown to him or the management company. A lot of rental agreements are boilerplate and neither party reads them after a while.

MissMushkila (#1,044)

I gave notice at my last apartment just before the start of July, in writing, and at the start of August a new owner purchased the property. My lease required two-months notice, so this was right in the middle of the notice period. The new owner claimed they had no knowledge of my notice and refused to answer calls/return messages/respond to emails where I did my best to inform them of the situation. The day before the last day of my lease, when my family and friends came to help me move out, an employee came over and handed me a phone so that the building’s new landlord could scream at me that I wasn’t allowed to move out.

I provided them with a copy of my notice acknowledgment letter from the former landlord (again) and proceeded to move out. I faxed them a summary of how I had tried to contact them, with a reminder that they owed me my security deposit within 21 days.

Over a month passed, and I still hadn’t received a statement or my deposit. I wrote to them again reminding them, and letting them know they would be liable for additional charges if I had to file in court. I gave them another week to return my late security deposit, but still hadn’t received it two weeks later. I filed in court.

Now they don’t want to correspond in writing – partly because the owner is basically illiterate if my former written correspondence with them is any evidence (I would feel bad making fun of their English, but they are native English speakers).

They sent me the deposit a little over a week after I filed in court, but don’t want to pay the additional fees. So I get to go to court on my birthday this year! (seriously, that is when the clerk scheduled me)

@MissMushkila I went to small claims court on my birthday this year to get my security deposit back too! It makes for a good story, at least.

ThatJenn (#916)

@MissMushkila Ugh, the new owner thing gets so very complicated so quickly.

I bought a house with a tenant living in part of it who had no written lease, and while the former owners were very clear to me about the unwritten terms of the lease ($400/month, no security deposit, he paid utilities, month to month with 30 days’ notice to move out), he claimed the agreement was much different ($300/month, he had a security deposit, utilities included, he should get 90 days to move out). The whole thing was complicated by the fact that he’d really been a subletter under a larger lease for the whole property, and once that lease had ended and they’d given the deposit, etc., back to the main person on that larger lease, whatever agreement the tenant had had with the other tenants was over and he was switched to dealing directly with the landlords.

The 30 days’ notice and month to month are in keeping with the law here, so I stood my ground on those, but I was kind of stuck on the other two. I ended up allowing him to pay me less but insisting he leave in 45 days since I knew the former owner had told him “We’re selling the place and the new owner needs you out within 30 days of closing” a full month and a half before I even gave him the notice. In return, he trashed the place on his move out. Fun times!

I know to him I was the bad guy, but I researched the laws, was kind to him, and worked with him on the rent, etc. There was really nothing good about the entire situation. He also cancelled his phone service after he left and left no forwarding address and never changed his address with the postal service, so we get all kinds of delinquency notices for him here. Yay! I’m so glad we aren’t still renting to him.

That said, I’m not all that awesome at corresponding in writing with my current tenant, but I try. I don’t think her security deposit was ever recorded, but I know what it is and will get it to her. (She’s a friend of my ex-husband’s and has lived in the cottage since we bought the place five years ago, and is a wonderful tenant. I think we generally trust each other and REALLY hope neither of us ever gets screwed by the lack of certain written things. We have a lease, finally, after a year or more without one, but I don’t actually enforce half the stuff in it…)

Megano! (#124)

I was a few days late giving notice on my apartment this month, and I have to pay an extra month’s rent. Suuuuper happy about it. I didn’t know I was moving though! And they’re like “You can sublet!” and I just laughed and laughed, cuz there are three vacant units on my floor ALONE.

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