“Can my landlord add fees in the middle of the year?”

rent question
Photo by PoPville flickr user Elvert Barnes

“Dear PoPville,

I just received notice that my landlord is going to add a processing fee to my monthly charge for rent, beginning with the April 1 payment. The fee varies depending on whether I pay by electronic transfer, check/debit card, or credit card.

I live in a rent-controlled building, and my rent goes up only once per year. The last time my rent went up, it went up the maximum amount.

Are there any problems with this new fee? I wonder whether it’s an impermissible mid-year rent increase, or it increases my rent beyond the allowed amount. Or maybe there’s a problem with charging processing different fees for different forms of payment, although I think Congress changed the law on that a few years ago.”

41 Comment

  • I don’t know if it is legal…but you should consider paying in change, assuming cash has no fee.
    Go to the bank every month and get rolls of quarters, dimes and a few pennies and nickles. Then unroll and drop off a nice grocery bag(s) full of change. We’ll see if they make you pay the fee the next month.

    • Accountering

      Classy… They have no obligation to accept change as a payment, nor should they. Congrats – its people like you, that convince people like me, to rent out my perfectly good studio on AirBNB and not rent to a long-term tenant.
      .
      Perhaps you should re-assess, and realize that a LL trying to recover 2-2.5% if you pay via CC is totally reasonable, as your $1000 CC payment costs them $25.

      • It is perfectly reasonable for a LL to charge a processing fee for credit card payments. My property does exactly that, though they don’t charge a fee for electronic funds transfer because there is no processing fee from the bank for that. But there IS for credit card.

        On the other hand, Accountering, you are an insufferable prick. I hope the city shuts down your AirBNB for violating zoning laws, and I hope a guest gets hurt and sues you.

        • Accountering

          Nice! Wishing ill and injury on other people, even classier than the guy who wants to pay his rent in pennies! Tough news for you is I am legal, pay occupancy taxes, include the income on my federal and state return, and have expensive insurance that is specifically designed for short term rentals, and more than covers my assets. So essentially all you are doing is rooting for a visitor to our city to get hurt. That, unfortunately, makes you the insufferable prick.

          • HaileUnlikely

            I agree with you here. I often think to myself, “That Accountering sure is a prick,” but I don’t have any ill will toward you, and 20011’s comment was pretty f*cking lame.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Actually, not often. I have though it on a couple of occasions, though 😉

        • Well that escalated quickly.

      • why should the tenant cover that and not the landlord? the landlord is the “business owner” and should be the one to cover the COST of doing business. you are the one in power. why *shouldn’t* you absorb that $25 out the thousand you are getting?

        • A cost the tenant chooses to incur. There is always at least 1 fee free way to pay your rent. If you choose to get airline miles instead, then it seems reasonable that you’d pay the associated fee.

          • There is actually not a fee free way to pay rent in my building. There is a processing charge regardless of your method of payment, and an additional charge if you pay by CC.

          • They charge a processing fee for a check? That’s BS. I haven’t heard of that and have been living in rented homes/apartments my whole life…

        • I don’t get your comment. Every day business owners pass the cost of doing business on to the consumer. I can’t tell you how many places I encounter where I choose not to use a credit card because there is a 2.5%, $3, whatever fee to use it.

          • I have never encountered a fee for using a card except when it was offered as a way to pay rent somewhere. I have encountered credit card minimums.

      • it’s people like you that make it harder for local RESIDENTS to find affordable housing not thru a big rental company. i hope you realize the negative impact of what you’re doing, but this seems doubtful, as you seem to care more about your bank accounts than doing what’s right

  • I don’t think it’s a problem to charge a nominal fee – $5 or $10 – for processing certain types of payments, if the landlord incurs a charge to accept them (for example, the landlord has to pay a fee to accept a credit card – I think it’s fair for them to pass that on to you). However, there must be at least one option to pay without incurring a fee – i.e., by paper check. If there is a fee for accepting ANY type of payment, the only difference is the amount, then yes, I would notify the landlord, in writing, that you are not sure if the new fees are legally permissible and will be asking the Office of the Tenant Advocate to investigate and determine if they can be charged or not. Usually, simply telling a landlord that you are going to have a government agency investigate their actions is enough to make them back down.

    • When I pay bills through DCRA, they charge $185.00 to process using a credit card! It’s insane! So I just give them access to my bank account (which I hate doing). It makes me crazy. I know my comment is off topic, but I just wanted to say, don’t think any DC agency has your back on any type of processing fee.

    • This – fees for credit/debit transactions are really common. They probably have a bank transfer or check option with no fee. If the fee is “optional” it should be legal, too.

  • Not sure. Care to share the amount (or a range)? I sure hope it’s illegal to charge any more than the actual cost of “processing.”

    I collect rent by check, and it costs me ZERO DOLLARS to “process” the checks. I do walk to collect checks, and do walk to the bank to deposit them. But I would never dream of charging my tenants to collect their rent checks. I’m not obligated to go pick them up, but I sure don’t want to play the “check is in the mail” game.

    • Do you demand your tenants be home at certain times of the day, or something? That sounds pretty shady to me.

      • He probably has the tenants leave them in a mailbox for him at the unit- My old landlord had a mailbox where we could put the checks (without a stamp) and he would come collect them at 10 AM the morning after they were due. Saved me $ from mailing them.

      • Your hypothetical sounds shady but nothing Petworth Landlord actually said was shady at all.

        • Not shady- he didn’t require us to put the checks in the mailbox, we also had the option to mail them if we wished or were out of town. He rented primarily to Georgetown students and ran into a lot of issues with people forgetting to mail the rent before the day it was due so he provided the mailbox as a courtesy so no one would get charged a late fee.

          • That seems fine to me. I’d just never heard of that option, and having to be around for a landlord to pick up rent from you face-to-face sounded above and beyond the expectations of a renter. I expect to see my landlord only when I need something, when he needs to do work on the premises and provides notice, or in an emergency.

          • This didn’t strike me as shady at all either – I rent the garden level of a row house and my landlord lives upstairs. Especially on our street it’s pretty typical that landlords are incredibly close. I have to say, being friendly with the landlord has been a much more pleasant experience. You treat them as people instead of the enemy. Plus they fix things super quick!

      • No, silly. I demand nothing. I even let them pay late if they want! What a cool landlord I am. They drop it in a secure box, and I pick up from there. I live 10 minute walk from my commercial building and build the half hour home-building-bank trip into my post-work exercise routine.

        I’m also a renter. Until I got on automatic debit, I would “forget” to send the check until the last minute. If I don’t trust myself to mail my own rent check on time, then…

  • Consider contacting the Office of Tenant Advocate about this. You can fill out a form on their website at ota.dc.gov.

  • Is it in your lease? If not specified, the answer is most likely no, the LL can’t charge you. Calling it a “processing fee” is not a magic talisman — if you are rent controlled, you have a right not to have your rent go up by more than the required amount. If the landlord wanted you to pay in a certain way that is convenient or cheaper for them, you could have specified that and given a discount (the flip side of imposing a fee) for paying in that way.

  • Every place I have lived in charges a processing fee for credit and debit transactions but paying by check or bank withdrawal is free. I am not sure what type of fee he/she would be charged by cashing a check that he would be able to pass onto you.

  • 99% sure this isn’t allowed, unless it’s already pre-specified in the original lease. The landlord would need to, at the very least, allow you to continue paying rent in the same fee-free manner as when the lease was signed. The terms of your lease don’t change in DC after the first year, unless you agree to sign a new lease.
    .
    If the landlord adds the ability to use a credit card to pay the rent, I could imagine that they could require a fee since this is now a new “amenity.” But they couldn’t suddenly start charging a fee to deposit your normal check.
    We need more details from the OP, IMHO.

  • I have a similar-ish situation. I live in relatively new apartment building, which does charge a rent processing fee regardless of how you pay ($5). If you pay by credit card, there is an additional fee (>$5, I think). I frankly don’t think these costs should be passed to the consumer, even CC charges, particularly considering my building has 300+ units, is managed by a common property manager that operates several dozen buildings in DC alone, so probably has some sort of economy of scale type contract that covers these fees. It feels like being nickel & dimed, which just rubs salt in the wound of DC rental prices. Perhaps I would feel differently if I were the landlord.

    • Accountering

      This is garbage… Processing rent checks is part of the business of being a LL, paying CC charges is not. CC charges are often 2.5% or so. I would imagine you would find less than 1% of LLs nationwide that will take a CC as payment, and NOT charge some sort of fee. My guess is that it is significantly less than 1%.

    • I helped a friend apartment shop a while back, and the nickle and diming the big buildings did FLOORED me. “So, on top of your rent, there’s an annual amenity fee, monthly pet rent, and, oh yeah, you have to pay a flat $5/month for trash and $15/month for water, and…” Didn’t hear of any rent processing fees, but most of the viewings were cut short when they started launching into these fees and I just looked at my friend and told her we should get out of there…it was no longer a good deal compared to other independent/small places we had looked at.
      .
      My tenants can pay me by check (or money order, though I do that grudgingly since I have to mail those to my bank) or through an electronic funds transfer service my bank offers for free. I’ve had a few ask about Paypal (since they don’t want to sign up for another service), I told them that if Paypal noticed the monthly recurring payments they might classify it as a business transaction and sock a fee on it, which they’d have to pay (which I feel is fair since I offer a free electronic option). None of them have asked about Paypal a second time. Most opt for my free electronic option, which is fine. NO free way to pay is a racket, and I wouldn’t be upset to see a revision to the rental code requiring that one fee-free option to pay rent be available.

      • Accountering

        I agree completely with your second paragraph – and think a revision to ensure one fee-free option would make sense.

        • Should clarify why I prefer checks over money orders, for those scratching their heads…you can now deposit checks by photo. If someone gives me a check, I log into my bank’s app on my phone, select deposit checks, fill in the info, snap a picture of the front and back of the check, and, generally, within 2 hours it’s cleared. Money orders don’t work for photo deposit, so I have to mail those in and wait a total of about 5 days for them to clear. I would be a very bad landlord if that would bankrupt me (or even cause me much stress), but it’s just a little cumbersome.
          .
          But, I’ve been in that place where I didn’t realize I was out of checks (thought there was another book in the fire safe, and there wasn’t) and had to pay a bill by money order in a pinch, so I don’t get too upset by it. Since most tenants use the electronic system, that only seems to happen once every few years anymore, anyway.

  • I us an online mgt service for a few units that has a payment option which charges a $2/transaction to handle the EFT. I end up eating the fee since its much more convenient than the ‘checks in the mail’ joke that I had to put up w/ years ago. As for credit cards, they cost MUCH more costly than EFT since all those reward points, etc are pushed back to the merchant.

    For the original poster, look at your lease? If you’re beyond your initial one year and haven’t resigned you’re on a month to month which means that w/ 30 days notice you the landlord is allowed to make these changes w/in reason. If you’re still in the original or resigned term they can’t ask for changes w/o your permission unless its in the lease

    • What? If you’re on a month-to-month the terms continue the same as when you signed.

      • Terms continue the same as signed until at least 30 days’/1 calendar month’s (per DC law) or more (if the lease required more than 30 days’ notice) notice of a change in terms is received by either party to the lease, subject to applicable laws (like rent control, additional notice requirements for things like repossession for personal use, TOPA, etc.). Otherwise, no one’s rent would ever go up by even a dollar, no new rules would ever go into effect, NO ONE WOULD EVER BE ABLE TO END THEIR LEASE OF THEIR ON VOLITION (ending a lease is, by definition, a change of terms), etc.

  • This also shows that, at least if you are renting in a large building, it pays to rent from a management company with a good reputation. Mine (Keener Mgmt) doesn’t charge for EFT or paper checks, and mine also has increased rent on my rent-controlled apartment less than the maximum allowed amount – consistently over the past three years (and done so on the base rent, not through gimmicks such as rent discounts that can then vanish the next year). There are other companies out there that are notorious for nickeling and diming tenants.

  • My rent is increasing upon renewing lease, which I’m fine with, but they are separately adding a $300 “recurring charges” each month. I pay for water and electricity separately. If I knew that my rent would increase from $1297 to $1625 I would have given my 60 intent to vacate. Now that my lease is ending in a few days I would then have to pay $1972.50 if I don’t renew the lease. Can they add the $300 and not inform the tenant in advance?

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