Q: My boss reads your column and suggested that I contact you about my landlord. I have lived in the same apartment for 12-plus years and have seen the building go through several changes of ownership. When the current owners purchased the property a few months ago they did not require any of the tenants to sign new rental agreements. So we are under a lease agreement that expired six months ago and has now become a month-to-month agreement. The terms of this agreement indicate that any rent unpaid after the fifth of the month is late, and the late fee is $75. The problem I have is that I get paid every month on the sixth and the last owner never enforced that late charge, but the new owner is very strict and won’t work with me. So I have had to ask my boss to pay me on the fifth so I won’t be late.
I work at an answering service for only $8.25 an hour, and my husband is a dishwasher at $9 an hour — so we struggle every month. The late charge of $75 is a lot of money, and we can’t afford to pay it. My boss is getting a little frustrated having to pay me early, and that is why I think he suggested I contact you for a different perspective. What can I do?
A: Virtually all rental agreements and leases are written with the rent being paid in advance and the full amount must be paid on or before the first of the month. Many landlords do offer a grace period, but that is only a courtesy. There are no limitations or requirements as to how many days late the rent can be paid before a late charge is incurred. So there is nothing illegal or wrong with you landlord having a policy that your rent must be paid in full by the fifth to avoid a $75 late fee. Likewise, your employer can pay you under any terms that are legally allowed in your area, and it is unreasonable to ask your employer to make an exception for you. Most employers use payroll processing services and do not have the ability to pay select employees a day or two early, plus there could be some legal ramifications if they do not treat all employees equally in terms of payroll. So your problem is in your control, and your attempt to ask your landlord or your employer to change his policies and procedures does not seem reasonable.
The solution I would recommend is for you and your husband to formulate a plan to somehow get ahead so that you are paying your current month’s rent by the fifth to avoid the late charge and the funds are coming from cash generated from your prior month’s income. How you do that is up to you, but that is the only solution. Somehow you need to increase your income and/or control your expenses so you can get ahead.
Q: I am preparing to rent out my home and was advised that it may be illegal or challenged if I request nonsmokers only. If my family ever moves back to the home, my daughter is asthmatic and the smoke residue may cause a health risk. Can I request nonsmokers only?
A: I have seen some tenant-landlord attorneys express the opinion that any attempt to limit tenancy to nonsmokers would be discriminatory. I am not an attorney, but as a property manager I think the key fact that would allow you to have a "nonsmoking" policy for your rental home is to control the behavior and not the personal characteristics of the tenants. In other words, just like at hotels and on airplanes, there are clearly nonsmoking areas but individuals that participate in the personal behavior of smoking are still allowed and the only limit is that they cannot smoke. So I would think you would be fine as long as you make it clear that you have a nonsmoking policy and not get into questions of whether or not an individual is a smoker. I suggest you check out the Web site www.smokefreeapartments.org for more information.
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."
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