Question: My tenants pay their rent late almost every month but do not include the late fees as required under their lease. I regularly contact them in writing asking for late fees and insisting that they pay on time. They respond and acknowledge that they owe the late fees but they always have some excuse and tell me they will have to pay them later. I contacted a local governmental agency that I was referred to and they advised me that while the late charges I am seeking were very reasonable, I should be glad the tenants even pay the rent and not to pursue the late fees. This office seems to be biased towards the interest of renters and doesn’t seem to provide reasonable advice. I have not taken legal action to collect the late fees but continue to keep a running balance of the accumulated late fees on a ledger that I send to the tenant. The tenants just informed me that they will be vacating in two months. I would like your advice if you think that I can deduct the late fees that were never paid to me from the tenants’ security deposit when they move.

Property manager Griswold replies:

Yes, you should deduct the accumulated late fees from the security deposit, as the lease allows for a late charge and the tenant has acknowledged that they have paid the rent late. Unfortunately, your tenant has been using you as a source of short-term loans and I often see landlords that inadvertently find themselves in the lending business in addition to providing shelter.

Of course, you could pursue another strategy, which is to take the next rent payment and first apply it to all unpaid late charges and then any balance towards the rent. You will then have an unpaid rent balance and you should legally serve the tenant with the appropriate “Pay Rent or Quit” notice for the unpaid rent. Remember that “Pay Rent or Quit” notices can only seek rent, not late fees or other charges. Rent collection, including how to deal with chronic late payers, is covered in my book, “Property Management for Dummies.” It is available at your favorite bookseller or online at; it is the top selling property management book and was named one of the “Top Ten Real Estate Books” by noted real estate columnist Robert Bruss.

Question: My wife and I moved out of our apartment in a 500-unit apartment complex at the end of September. Before we left, we scrubbed the apartment from top to bottom, leaving it cleaner than it was when we moved in. Nevertheless, management has refused to return our $125 cleaning deposit. I have made numerous calls about this to the manager but she won’t take my calls. What can I do to get my cleaning deposit back?

Property manager Griswold replies:

This is a very common question we receive from tenants and the situation can be very frustrating. I would encourage you to put your complaint in writing by sending a demand letter to the property manager along with a copy to the legal owner of the property. If the management will not voluntarily disclose the actual owner and the address, then you can usually find this information through the county recorder or local municipal government or tax collector. Outline your position and give them 10 days to return the balance of the security deposit or provide a written explanation backing up their justification for the charges. If you do not get a favorable response, then go see your favorite small claims judge.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies” and co-author of “Real Estate Investing for Dummies,” and San Diego attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant’s Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords.”

E-mail your questions to Rental Q&A at

Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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