Q: My tenant stopped paying rent (COVID layoff from work). Can I charge him late fees if he has not provided proof?
My tenant has finally moved out of my place after being unable to pay for 4 months, but he has not paid any of his back rent yet. I usually assess a late fee for every week that rent is late.
He has not provided me any proof or documentation that he was laid off from work due to COVID-19. So far, he has only emailed me telling me that he is out of work and I've taken his word for it, to be sensitive to his situation. I realize that under COVID eviction protection laws, I cannot charge a late fee – and if he is telling the truth, I don't want to charge him a late fee.
Can I legally charge him the late fees, if he has not provided proof or documentation? Or is he entitled to have late fees waived because he was laid off due to COVID?
What sort of documentation am I entitled to as a landlord? Do I not need to ask for some sort of proof before I can waive his late fees?
Thank you for your help.
A: Have you ever heard of "letting sleeping dogs lie?" Because if you wake them you could be bitten. As Attorney Juarez implies, the recovery of 4 months of late fee could be 1. not worth the effort if he pays his back rent, and 2. a lot more trouble than it is worth, if it turns out he is entitled to protection under the new ordinance. He could counter sue for his attorney's fees at $1000.00 per hour. As for documentation, I think you are entitled to reasonable documentation to establish his claim of coverage under the ordinance. You should have asked for it when he first raised the question. Now you might write him a "late fee or proof of exemption." letter, but again you are opening the proverbial "Pandora's box" and may get only evil from doing so.
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