Updated: Landlord charging hourly rate for emails and phone calls (rant, I guess)

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Submitted by Balboa on July 8, 2016 - 7:19pm

Update added at the end of the thread.

Spoiler alert - landlord is a lawyer.

After 3.5 years in the same spot, we broke our lease* to buy a house. I've just received the returned portion of the security deposit and supporting documentation. Landlord deducted at an hourly rate for emails and phone calls between landlord and us, the landlord and their leasing agent, and the landlord and their handy man and cleaners. Close to $400 on top of the expected cleaning fees and leasing agent fees.

We were not squeaky wheel tenants, this is not payback for years of pestering them. We asked for *maybe* three things in three years -- maybe four things, if you count when I requested they replace the lock on our storage unit after one of their handymen cut it off while we weren't there. And the things we did call them about were, "Hey, SDGE red tagged our heating system today" and "Hey, I turned the shower faucet to 'off' but the water is still running full blast."

I have a hard time swallowing this from someone who left us without heat until mid-December in an (expected) El Nino year, and failed to properly notice or even perform, let alone document, the pre-move-out inspection, *and* didn't even properly document the deposit deductions. Landlord is a lawyer with 20 properties -- no excuse for these omissions and failures.

Oh, and they raised the rent for the new tenant, so they actually ended up with two increases in a two-month period.

Grrrrr.

*Before anyone chimes in to the contrary -- it was a lease, not a blood oath binding us for life. While the landlord is entitled to be made whole, breaking a lease does not mean a landlord can just charge you whatever they want when you leave. It's possible they can charge this hourly rate, but I think it's just as likely that a judge would tell them to suck it.

Submitted by Hatfield on July 8, 2016 - 8:37pm.

Balboa wrote:
it's just as likely that a judge would tell them to suck it.

Only one way to find out!

Submitted by Balboa on July 9, 2016 - 3:05am.

It's on the table. $125/hr rate to schedule a carpet cleaning? To meet the handyman? Hilarious.

Submitted by Coronita on July 9, 2016 - 5:28am.

Well if it makes you feel better. I worked with a lawyer to draw up some papers. She billed me at $150/hr for her paralegal to type and photocopy a document. And after about $2000 later, I noticed the stupid paralegal had misspelled my name all over the document, and I asked her to fix it. She then billed me an extra $500 to fix the typos her paralegal made. And then the paralegal screwed up some other part of the document, so instead of dealing with her continue fvck ups , I just asked her to send me the word document so I could make fixes that were simple ...She did... And I was billed $75 for sending one email.

There's a reason why lawyers and the legal profession earn the reputation they have. That said, you can't really hate them, especially when you need them.

Assuming you broke a signed valid lease, the landlord can in theory charge for things to acquire a new tenant. Technically, with the exception of certain conditions, I believe you are responsible for the cost of acquiring a new tenant, and even any shortfalls in rent up to the remaining amount of your lease. There are exceptions and certain rules, but considering the landlord is a lawyer, I'm sure he probably knows exactly what he can get away with. I guess his rational will be , "because you broke your lease, I had to spend extra time to get a new tenant. Extra time = time I had to spend talking to you, to the housekeeping, to maintenance, etc. And since that's extra time is less time I can spend as a lawyer, my loss includes my bill out hours..."

If you have proof that the new tenant is paying much more than you were, then that difference could in theory be used to offset what he claims you owe him for breaking the lease. Also, charging for cleaning and normal wear and tear is a gray area.

It's water over the bridge, but all the times that he didn't take care of maintenance items doesn't matter at this point. I learned early on when it comes to professional arrangements (including tenant-landlord relationships), don't go out of your way to try to be the nice guy...No one appreciates it. And while you definitely shouldn't be an ahole, going out of your way to being understanding does no one any favors. As the saying goes, it's business, not personal.

Yes, I understand it's a shitty thing.

On the bright side, you're no longer a tenant, so you no longer have to deal with this bullshit. So in the long run, it won't matter.Also, that extra $$$ your ex landlord charged you is probably less than how much your 401k went up yesterday...

Congrats on your new home purchase! You no longer have to deal with a stupid landlord...

Submitted by no_such_reality on July 9, 2016 - 7:23am.

With 20 units, it's $8000/year he can pad into his income.

A bit dicky for $8000/year, right out of the Carleton Sheets playbook. ;-)

The rate of $125 is, IMHO, reasonable. Which puts it at about 3.2 hours. Not sure how he billed .2 What's the itemized list?

Overall, $400 to deal with the unplanned service scheduling to release the apartment isn't bad. Yea, a monkey could do the scheduling, but then you'd be in a corporate apartment.

It's a lot of nit picky back and forth interruption calls and emails. The more responsive he is to get the unit on the market and ready, the more nit pick hours he bills. The less, because he's attending other business, the more lost rent you owe him.

If you were in Wisconsin or some other states, said charges are prohibited and considered part of the expected cost of being a LL. In California, he can charge you for advertising and leasing costs associated with a lease break.

Also, even if the LL is charging more now, if you were below fair market rent, the LL does not need to rent for the same amount.

For me personally, if you had been a good tenant for 3+ years and I immediately rerented the place it's a karma thing. So feels like a middle finger thing on the way out the door. As flu said, it's just business to that LL.

Perhaps you'd like to offer your humble opinion to the new renter so they know what kind of service to expect from the business when they look to leave.

kind of a personal renter to renter yelp review...

Submitted by Coronita on July 9, 2016 - 8:47am.

I'd say just let it go and move on....OP never has to return back to the renter lifestyle. Especially with a new home purchase, that's going to preoccupy most of his/her time over the next few months.

Why waste time and energy on a yelp post about this specific landlord, and expose oneself to potential nitpits from the landlord, if he/she happens to be a dick and sees a negative Yelp review and decides to exercise his/her esteemed legal profession credentials "just for fun"...Maybe fun for him, I'm sure it won't be fun for the OP.

There's a time to pick a fight and a time to realize that this is just the cost being a renter that OP never has to deal with again.

Submitted by PCinSD on July 9, 2016 - 8:56am.

A judge would tell him to suck it. He's not entitled to bill what he would as a lawyer. I doubt your lease allows that, and I know the law doesn't. I would fight that just on principle.

Submitted by njtosd on July 9, 2016 - 8:57am.

Hatfield wrote:
Balboa wrote:
it's just as likely that a judge would tell them to suck it.

Only one way to find out!

That is the key. Filing suit is expensive - even small claims court costs something and is time consuming. Finding out what a judge would do would probably cost more than what was deducted. The legal system is not designed to deal with issues like this and frankly shouldn't. The cost in government resources would be way too high.

Submitted by PCinSD on July 9, 2016 - 9:11am.

njtosd wrote:
Hatfield wrote:
Balboa wrote:
it's just as likely that a judge would tell them to suck it.

Only one way to find out!

That is the key. Filing suit is expensive - even small claims court costs something and is time consuming. Finding out what a judge would do would probably cost more than what was deducted. The legal system is not designed to deal with issues like this and frankly shouldn't. The cost in government resources would be way too high.

If he doesn't pay the "lawyer", it's up to the lawyer to file the small claims lawsuit. Cost is minimal.

As a lawyer, this pisses me off.

Submitted by FlyerInHi on July 9, 2016 - 12:32pm.

I hear many apartment complexes keep the full deposit as a matter of policy.
Some tenants fight back but most don't.

I would file a small claims just on principle. But first, you need to send a demand letter for your money back. Send it certified with return receipt. You have to appear in court.

If you have never done so, it's a good learning experience.

Submitted by Coronita on July 9, 2016 - 2:03pm.

PCinSD wrote:
njtosd wrote:
Hatfield wrote:
Balboa wrote:
it's just as likely that a judge would tell them to suck it.

Only one way to find out!

That is the key. Filing suit is expensive - even small claims court costs something and is time consuming. Finding out what a judge would do would probably cost more than what was deducted. The legal system is not designed to deal with issues like this and frankly shouldn't. The cost in government resources would be way too high.

If he doesn't pay the "lawyer", it's up to the lawyer to file the small claims lawsuit. Cost is minimal.

As a lawyer, this pisses me off.

The OP already paid the landlord though. The money came from the OP's deposit, and what was returned to him as a fraction of the OP's original deposit. This isn't like he hasn't paid the landlord rent yet and is withholding rent payment due to a maintenance issue not being taken care of...

Submitted by PCinSD on July 9, 2016 - 3:03pm.

flu wrote:
PCinSD wrote:
njtosd wrote:
Hatfield wrote:
Balboa wrote:
it's just as likely that a judge would tell them to suck it.

Only one way to find out!

That is the key. Filing suit is expensive - even small claims court costs something and is time consuming. Finding out what a judge would do would probably cost more than what was deducted. The legal system is not designed to deal with issues like this and frankly shouldn't. The cost in government resources would be way too high.

If he doesn't pay the "lawyer", it's up to the lawyer to file the small claims lawsuit. Cost is minimal.

As a lawyer, this pisses me off.

The OP already paid the landlord though. The money came from the OP's deposit, and what was returned to him as a fraction of the OP's original deposit. This isn't like he hasn't paid the landlord rent yet and is withholding rent payment due to a maintenance issue not being taken care of...

You're right. I would still take that guy to small claims. You don't get to bill hourly legal fees because you happen to be a lawyer.

Submitted by Balboa on July 9, 2016 - 4:32pm.

Thanks everyone, this is good feedback with well presented perspectives.

Flu, you should never have been charged for that paralegal's errors. That sucks. I say this as a paralegal -- sure, I've made errors, but our clients have never been billed for them. (I'm mostly out of the billing game now, thank god, but my rate is an astounding $280 an hour.)

You're right that there is a psychological toll to caring about $400, especially considering that it's rather less than one monthly installment of my new property tax bill. But man, this guy is a bully and it gets my goat. (He seriously sent another good tenant with five years under his belt a bill from the tailor because the tenant's dog jumped on the landlord and put a hole in landlord's jacket.)

I also misspoke -- the rate he's charging is $175 an hour. I assume it's his paralegal's rate for performing paralegal services, or some hybrid figure that they came up with, because the entries are labeled "landlord name/paralegal name).

no_such_reality, I'd agree $175 would be very reasonable for competently performed legal services. That is not what this landlord is providing. He's not even performing his landlord duties competently. If Lebron James is my landlord, does he get to charge me $1,650 for his .2 email to tell the leasing agent that the repairs have been completed? Because his professional hourly rate is $8,200 and because he could have been polishing his ring instead of writing that email?

I think some charge for this time is allowed under the relevant code section, but I also believe the rate has to be "reasonable." My mind would be blown if the standard for "reasonable" turned out to be "what wealthy landowners owners make at their professional day jobs."

Also, this is on top of $500+ in (inadequately documented) leasing agent and cleaning/repair fees.

I think I will send the demand letter and propose a rate of $25 an hour for those times entries. Mostly because I think people who work should be paid a living wage and his legal assistant has x years experience (implementing her boss' poor property management practices). Not that it goes into her pocket, but $25 an hour for that seems fair to me.

Submitted by PCinSD on July 9, 2016 - 5:00pm.

Balboa wrote:
Thanks everyone, this is good feedback with well presented perspectives.

Flu, you should never have been charged for that paralegal's errors. That sucks. I say this as a paralegal -- sure, I've made errors, but our clients have never been billed for them. (I'm mostly out of the billing game now, thank god, but my rate is an astounding $280 an hour.)

You're right that there is a psychological toll to caring about $400, especially considering that it's rather less than one monthly installment of my new property tax bill. But man, this guy is a bully and it gets my goat. (He seriously sent another good tenant with five years under his belt a bill from the tailor because the tenant's dog jumped on the landlord and put a hole in landlord's jacket.)

I also misspoke -- the rate he's charging is $175 an hour. I assume it's his paralegal's rate for performing paralegal services, or some hybrid figure that they came up with, because the entries are labeled "landlord name/paralegal name).

no_such_reality, I'd agree $175 would be very reasonable for competently performed legal services. That is not what this landlord is providing. He's not even performing his landlord duties competently. If Lebron James is my landlord, does he get to charge me $1,650 for his .2 email to tell the leasing agent that the repairs have been completed? Because his professional hourly rate is $8,200 and because he could have been polishing his ring instead of writing that email?

I think some charge for this time is allowed under the relevant code section, but I also believe the rate has to be "reasonable." My mind would be blown if the standard for "reasonable" turned out to be "what wealthy landowners owners make at their professional day jobs."

Also, this is on top of $500+ in (inadequately documented) leasing agent and cleaning/repair fees.

I think I will send the demand letter and propose a rate of $25 an hour for those times entries. Mostly because I think people who work should be paid a living wage and his legal assistant has x years experience (implementing her boss' poor property management practices). Not that it goes into her pocket, but $25 an hour for that seems fair to me.

There is no code that allows a landlord to bill hourly for phone calls and emails. I would demand he pay you the full amount he deducted for those line items. And ask him to provide the law that he thinks allows him to charge and deduct that from your security deposit.

Submitted by Balboa on July 9, 2016 - 7:40pm.

I don't know the case law, but Section 1950.5 has some pretty broad phrasing:

As used in this section, "security" means any payment, fee, deposit or charge, including, but not limited to, any payment, fee, deposit, or charge, except as provided in Section 1950.6, that is imposed at the beginning of the tenancy to be used to reimburse the landlord for costs associated with processing a new tenant or that is imposed as an advance payment of rent, used or to be used for any purpose, including, but not limited to, any of the following:

1. The compensation of a landlord for a tenant's default in the payment of rent.

2. The repair of damages to the premises, exclusive of ordinary wear and tear, caused by the tenant or by a
guest or licensee of the tenant.

3. The cleaning of the premises upon termination of the tenancy necessary to return the unit to the same level
of cleanliness it was in at the inception of the tenancy. The amendments to this paragraph enacted by the act adding this sentence shall apply only to tenancies for which the tenant's right to occupy begins after January 1, 2003.

4. To remedy future defaults by the tenant in any obligation under the rental agreement to restore, replace, or return personal property or appurtenances, exclusive of ordinary wear and tear, if the security deposit is authorized to be applied thereto by the rental agreement.

That said, there's also "The landlord may claim of the security only those amounts as are reasonably necessary for the purposes specified in subdivision (b)."

Submitted by no_such_reality on July 9, 2016 - 8:22pm.

flu, I did not say post a yelp review. I said, maybe he'd like to let the new tenant know his experience,

Quote:
Perhaps you'd like to offer your humble opinion to the new renter so they know what kind of service to expect from the business when they look to leave.
kind of a personal renter to renter yelp review...

aka. verbal person to person.

Absolutely 100% do not stick anything online. Because frankly, I think you're right, the guy would be a pain in the backside.

It's a classic, how much of your time is worth $400. Well, $1200, since 3X is the part he can get back if the judge finds in his favor.

Submitted by edna_mode on July 9, 2016 - 8:25pm.

Beware sunk cost accounting!
While I'm sure that rectifying this provides priceless satisfaction, at the rate you stated ($280/hr), you have likely already spent $400 worth of your leisure time just posting about this on Piggington.

If it helped save you the cost of therapy, great.
However, beware not just throwing good money after bad, but good *time* after bad. You can't get your precious hours back. Is there something you do that would help you get focused on the future, to help let this go?

Submitted by Coronita on July 9, 2016 - 9:39pm.

edna_mode wrote:
Beware sunk cost accounting!
While I'm sure that rectifying this provides priceless satisfaction, at the rate you stated ($280/hr), you have likely already spent $400 worth of your leisure time just posting about this on Piggington.

If it helped save you the cost of therapy, great.
However, beware not just throwing good money after bad, but good *time* after bad. You can't get your precious hours back. Is there something you do that would help you get focused on the future, to help let this go?

Remodeling your home that you just moved into is the perfect solution...You'll be so busy on your new home, and you'll be spending so much on your new home, you'll quickly forget about the $400 from the landlord. :)

Trust me, you'll want to be pretty knowledgeable and have your trusty handymans lined up or quickly learn how to do things yourself. $75 to change a faucet excluding the cost of the faucet. $75 to change a garbage disposal... A couple of hundred to change the water heater, plus the stupid license. $300 to replace a A/C capacitor if you have a/c and don't know how to do it yourself. But the biggest ripoffs? Appliance repair.

But OP, you're in luck. You see, although I could have hired someone to do most of the repair work in the past, being the typical stubbornly arrogant engineer as I am, I refused to accept defeat...My famous last words? "Come on! For an engineer, how hard could this be?".....All the way to the time time I replaced my oven's logic board forgetting to shut off the power and accidentally dropping a screwdriver on the two live 220V A/C wires. Well, at least my circuit breaker worked...:( But seriously, if you ask, chances are I've dealt with it.

Submitted by njtosd on July 10, 2016 - 12:10am.

PCinSD wrote:
njtosd wrote:
Hatfield wrote:
Balboa wrote:
it's just as likely that a judge would tell them to suck it.

Only one way to find out!

That is the key. Filing suit is expensive - even small claims court costs something and is time consuming. Finding out what a judge would do would probably cost more than what was deducted. The legal system is not designed to deal with issues like this and frankly shouldn't. The cost in government resources would be way too high.

If he doesn't pay the "lawyer", it's up to the lawyer to file the small claims lawsuit. Cost is minimal.

As a lawyer, this pisses me off.

What part pisses you off?

Submitted by FlyerInHi on July 10, 2016 - 12:26am.

I'm with PCInSD, you should file a small claims. It's not hard. You will win and if's a valuable learning experience that maybe useful in the future.

Submitted by La Jolla Renter on July 10, 2016 - 12:39am.

Taking a lawyer to small claims is a very bad idea.

If they want to get nasty, they can counter sue and kick the case to civil court. And that is when your spat can get very costly because at that point, you pretty much have to hire an attorney to navigate civil court.

Walk away.

Congrats on the home purchase.

Submitted by no_such_reality on July 10, 2016 - 7:42am.

The walk away advice from La Jolla and flu is the best advice.

That's why you sleep on things.

Dealing with the wanna-be Trumps of the world that bully small dollars out of people under implied threat of lawsuit are a pain in the ass. They're banking on the $400 not being worth the time to get and they're banking on the possible you'll get counter sued and cost you $10K.

Submitted by Coronita on July 10, 2016 - 8:30am.

FlyerInHi wrote:
I'm with PCInSD, you should file a small claims. It's not hard. You will win and if's a valuable learning experience that maybe useful in the future.

Just curious... When was the last time you took someone to small claims in CA? And over what?

And just to clarify also, you don't work full time do you ?(i.e. your free time is pretty flexible)

I think it would be useful for the OP if you clarify if you're recommending this based on experience or just based on theory.

Submitted by FlyerInHi on July 10, 2016 - 11:24am.

Flu, I have flex hours but I do work full time. Not the traditional full time but I work weekends too.

Based on experience, over debt owed. That was about 1 ago. All you need to do is appear in court once. If you can easily prove your case, the judge enters judgement.

This landlord is a lawyer. Chances are very high he will return the $400 once he receives the demand letter. In the letter state that you will file small claims if he fails to return the money within 30 days. It doesn't hurt to write that letter.

Btw, there are no lawyers in small claims. It's kinda like the people's court on tv. Calmly and clearly state your case. Provide supporting documents.

Submitted by PCinSD on July 10, 2016 - 1:53pm.

njtosd wrote:
PCinSD wrote:
njtosd wrote:
Hatfield wrote:
Balboa wrote:
it's just as likely that a judge would tell them to suck it.

Only one way to find out!

That is the key. Filing suit is expensive - even small claims court costs something and is time consuming. Finding out what a judge would do would probably cost more than what was deducted. The legal system is not designed to deal with issues like this and frankly shouldn't. The cost in government resources would be way too high.

If he doesn't pay the "lawyer", it's up to the lawyer to file the small claims lawsuit. Cost is minimal.

As a lawyer, this pisses me off.

What part pisses you off?

Why do you ask? Thought it was obvious.

Submitted by Balboa on July 21, 2016 - 5:10pm.

Hi pigs -- since several of you took the time to provide feedback and advice, I wanted to come back with an update.

I decided to go the demand letter route-- I spent a good deal of time on it, attached a table itemizing the disputes, and sent it by email and certified mail. I'm not even sure they've received the certified envelope yet, but we received a terse email today saying that they wholly disagreed with our letter but were cutting us the check we asked for since it would be a waste of their company's time to do otherwise. Close to $500 -- totally, totally worth it to me, mostly emotionally. Yes, it was a lot of time scouring the internet, but I've never made $500 on the internet before. :)

Flu, hopefully this doesn't mean we can't still avail ourselves of your home-owning and engineering expertise. We've been here a little over a month and I think we're about to run out of issues that can be solved by turnbuckles and J-B Weld!

For other renters who might end up in this thread, I'll paste in some of the most useful parts of the letter:

Landlord did not comply with the requirements of Section 1950.5(f)(1-3) with regard to noticing, conducting and documenting a Pre-Move-Out Inspection.

Identification of the name, address, and telephone number of the person or entity paid to perform the repairs was required per California Civil Code Section 1950.5(g)(2)(B).

Receipts for the cost of materials were required to be provided per California Civil Code Section 1950.5(g)(2)(C).

Section 1950.5(e) prohibits security deposit deductions for ordinary wear and tear and pre-existing conditions.

[Specific to broken leases and, in our case, the $175/hr admin charges]
The proper calculation of amounts due to Landlord under Section 1951.2(a)(4) requires consideration of excess rents Landlord will collect as a result of the cancellation of our lease and the subsequent rent increase charged to the new tenant. (“Unless the total detriment suffered, whether by loss of rentals or consequential damages, exceeds the amount to be received under the new lease there is in fact no detriment, and hence no damages.” Willis v. Soda Shoppes of California, Inc. (1982) 134 Cal.App.3d 899 at p. 905.)

ETA: There is still a question about whether any of landlord's administrative time can be charged. We just assumed it could be and then said it didn't matter because the rate was unreasonable and excess rent would cover any reasonable rate.

Submitted by no_such_reality on July 21, 2016 - 6:39pm.

Good for you!

Congrats!

Submitted by barnaby33 on July 25, 2016 - 2:43pm.

Party at FLU's house?
Josh

Submitted by Balboa on July 26, 2016 - 7:25pm.

Thanks, no_such_reality. it still feels good!

Barnaby33, party at anyone's house but mine! Already a little burnt out on visitors. Especially once everyone's past the age of sleeping on couches and floors, there is a certain freedom in being able to say, "Darn, we only have the one bedroom." :)

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