A renter’s nightmare… I used to have it every month. I worried my rent check would be late – and I would be charged a late fee. This late fee would be unfair, excessive and I could not get rid of it.
My nightmare came true last fall – for my neighbor.
In my building, we have no easy online payment system. We receive an invoice and envelope addressed to a Baltimore post office box in our mailbox on the last day of each month. We have only a few days to get our rent check to that post office box to avoid a late fee.
Last year my neighbor went away for July 4th. She spoke with our manager and offered to pay her rent early. But oddly, our manager would not accept her early rent payment.
So she paid her rent when she returned, and as she feared got a late fee – $300. This fee represented more than 13% of her unpaid rent.
She asked our manager several times to drop the fee – and he assured her that he would “fix” the situation. But he never did. Instead, that $300 late fee kept turning up on her monthly rent invoice.
She finally wrote a letter demanding the fee be removed – and threatened legal action if it was not. And by the next month… her late fee had disappeared.
The new historic law limiting late fees
This year, for the first time, the District has a law that provides uniform standards for late fees. The law defines “late payment” as any amount of rent that is not paid within five calendar days from the rent payment due date.
Housing providers must now give renters a written notice that late fees are limited to no more than 5% of the late rental payment. The law also provides for the imposition of a civil fine if its provisions are violated.
There’s a lot more to this law than the 5% limit. The Office of the Tenant Advocate (OTA) wrote a FAQ: “What Renters Should Know About the District’s New Rental Housing ‘Late Fee’ Law.” Download the 3-page PDF.
Late fees are a “lease issue”
As OTA’s FAQ mentions, landlords can charge a late fee only if that’s one of the terms of the lease or lease addendum. Interpreting your lease and its terms, including “late fees,” can be confusing. DC renters can get help with a free lease review by OTA case managers (ota.dc.gov).
Lease issues were the most common complaints received by the Office of the Tenant Advocate during FY 2015:
And the Washington DC Tenant Survival Guide (visit cnhed.org/policy-advocacy/research, scroll down to “Additional Research Information,” May, 2013: Washington, D.C. Tenant Survival Guide, eighth edition) has a thorough section on leases:
A tip – How I ended my late fee nightmare
I found a bank that prepares and mails my monthly rent check to my housing provider by the 20th of the month. Now my monthly invoice shows a zero rent balance due – and I have never been charged a late fee.