Landlord is letting house we rent go into foreclosure

June 7, 2012 17:51 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

We have been leasing a home since July 2010.  Our lease is set to expire in August 2012.  We just found out today that the landlord has let the rental home go into foreclosure, with a sale date of July 3.  Whom do we notify, advising them of our lease?

Consumer Ed says: 

First, you should know that, until at least the end of 2014, under the Federal “Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009,” tenants have the right to stay in a foreclosed property through the end of their lease, unless the new owner is planning to make the foreclosed property his or her primary residence. In that case, the owner may terminate your lease, but you must be given 90 days’ notice to vacate the premises.  If you don’t have a written lease, if your lease is month-to-month, or if there are fewer than 90 days left on your lease, you are still entitled to 90 days’ notice.

You will want to notify in writing the bank that is foreclosing on the home of your lease. The simplest way to find the bank’s identity is to ask your landlord for that information.  If your landlord is unresponsive, there are other ways to identify the bank.  In Georgia, sale of foreclosures must be advertised at least once a week for four weeks immediately before the date of sale (in this case, July 3). Rather than searching through newspapers, you can go to this website, http://georgiapublicnotice.com, to search for the advertisement. Note that you may not be able to find who put out the ad by simply searching the address, since the address is not required to be included in the notice.

If the bank hasn’t been publishing the sale as the law requires, then you may be able to find out the name of the bank that foreclosed on your landlord by searching for the deed stating the foreclosure (it will state the date of foreclosure and the name of the bank).  Deeds are public records, and you should be able to search for it at your county’s clerk’s office by using the property’s address.  Many, but not all, counties have their tax assessor’s records online.  If your county doesn’t have its records available online through its own website, this website may help: www.gsccca.org.

Once you do find out which bank owns the home, call the bank and tell them about your lease (if they don’t already know, which they may).  Ask if there is a management company temporarily in charge of the rental home, and if so, the contact information of someone whom you can call directly if there are any problems with the apartment (leaky faucet, etc.). And, don’t forget to ask where to send your July rent check.

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Management may be overcharging for water bill

April 16, 2012 23:22 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I live in an apartment and have to pay my water bill to the management company.  My bill has risen by about $50 per month since a new management company took over.  I have spoken to others in the complex and their bills have gone up the same.  I believe the company is overcharging us.  How do we get someone to correct this?  With over 500 apartments in the complex, they could be pocketing thousands each month.


Consumer Ed says: 

Under Georgia law, the management company can charge tenants for water usage in the apartment complex, including the common areas, calculated by either installing meters measuring individual usage or by mathematically dividing the amount on the water bill among the tenants (also called allocation). Note that residential buildings constructed after July 1, 2012 will be required to have individual water meters. 

In your lease (or in a separate document given to you before you signed the lease), it should state how your water usage will be calculated.  If this information isn’t in the lease, or you’ve lost the paperwork stating how the water bill will be allocated, you can ask the management company for another copy of it.  If the paperwork detailing the allocation of water bills says that the billing will be determined by individual meters, you may be able to call the water company directly and figure out your individual usage. 

If there’s only one meter for the entire building complex, you can ask the management company to see the water bill for the entire complex (which will show the total amount for everyone).  Take the amount the complex’s bill shows for your individual water bill and multiply it by the total number of units in your complex. Then compare it to the total amount shown for the complex.  Georgia law says the sum of all the bills of the tenants in your apartment building cannot exceed the bill paid for the water in the complex.  However, the management company can charge an additional, “reasonable” fee for providing water and maintenance; this figure can vary by unit, simply because there may be more people in one unit as opposed to another.  Unfortunately, the law does not provide any way of calculating just how much would be considered “reasonable”.  A safe guess is that surcharges totaling at least half or more of your actual water bill may be excessive but, again, this isn’t written in stone.  If you decide to sue, it would be up to the court to decide whether the surcharges are reasonable.  We should point out that making these threshold calculations will rest on your ability to get the complex’s total water bill from management; you may or may not have the right under the lease to be shown anything except your own water bill, so if management resists showing you the entire bill, it may be difficult to force them to do so. 

Even if the management company refuses to give you the total water bill for the entire complex, you can still estimate the total usage, if you know where the water meter is located for the complex (please note that this would be an estimate, and may not reflect actual usage over a month).  To figure out the apartment’s water usage, read the meter at the same time, two days in a row.  Subtract the first day’s reading from the second day’s reading to see how much the complex uses in a day; repeat, including weekends and weekdays, then calculate the average reading.  With this rough estimate, you can see how it compares to your water bills and the allocation documents. 

Remember, generally your rights are determined by the terms in your lease and/or whatever document outlines how the water bill will be calculated.

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Breaking an apartment lease

March 15, 2012 20:17 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

What can an apartment complex do if I do not pay the fine for breaking my lease?  My apartment was broken into.  I decided not to continue to stay at the apartments.  I submitted the required 60-day notice.  I feel I should not have to pay the fee or all of the fee to leave the apartment early.

Consumer Ed says: 

We don’t recommend that you ignore the fee.  If you don’t pay the amount owed, the landlord can sue you.  If the landlord wins, the judgment against you could include not only the early-release fee you mentioned, but court costs and accrued interest until the judgment is paid.  If you continue to withhold payment, the landlord can turn the judgment over to a collection agency, which will actively pursue collection.  This will have a negative impact on your credit.

That being said, you should get some legal advice tailored to your individual situation and lease contract.  If you cannot afford your own lawyer, get in touch with your local legal aid office or contact tenants’ rights organizations.  If you do get legal representation, you should have your attorney review your lease to see if it allows your landlord to impose these fees and whether the fee amount is reasonable.

Another possible avenue, known as “constructive eviction”, may be available to you.  While not grounds for termination of the lease, constructive eviction is a defense you can use to avoid further rent and possibly an early-release fee.  A constructive eviction defense will not work against the actions of a third-party, such as a burglar; it must be the actions of the landlord that are making the premises unfit to live in.  This means you would need to show that your apartment was broken into due to your landlord’s continued neglect, or his or her failure to exercise reasonable measures to keep your premises and the apartment complex safe (e.g., the landlord fails to fix broken locks or replace a broken door, making it probable that someone will break into your apartment, or fails to repair gates or fences on the property).

Again, you should never make a decision not to pay on any grounds without first talking to a lawyer.

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