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Can landlord send move-out charges to debt collector without notification

QUESTION: Hello Lisa. I am living in an apartment managed by an agency. I have been living in the same community under this agency since June 2011. I moved from one apartment to another apartment in the same community in Nov 2014 and paid off all rents and utility charges. I continued living in the new apartment till date.

Suddenly, I have seen a drop in credit score 2 months ago. When I saw my credit report a few days ago, I noticed a debt collection entry by a collection agency.

I went to my apartment agency and asked what are those charges as they were never communicated to me in first place (They did communicate through e-mail for my past moves within community). Now they printed an account statement upon request and told me that I owe them move-out charges at the end of Nov 2014. They are not ready to take money from me to clear my debt and recall debt collection. And they are asking me to pay the collection agency.

They have no records of communication as they deleted their emails and even saying that their email might have been sent to my junk e-mails folder.

Please advise me on how to proceed in this case as I never got any information on this debt and I believe they put the move-out charges at their discretion. There is no move-out checklist shared.

ANSWER: Start by researching your rights as a tenant.

Requirements from Tenant/Landlord. There should be a regulatory agency in your state that oversees Landlord/Tenant Relations. Call that agency or make a complaint about your concerns to see if they can intervene on your behalf. Also, your rental agreement should contain procedures for moving out and what financial responsibilities and notifications are required by you and the landlord. You can find tenant’s rights here. Landlords are required to keep detailed records of all repairs, cleaning costs and any other move-out charges. You may have some type of leverage with them if you find the right state agency to make a complaint. I’m not sure they followed proper procedure in notifying you by email, then stating they “deleted” the emails.

Keep a Paper Trail. Document everything as thoroughly as possible. Keep records of all correspondence and calls. If the landlord did not properly notify you of move-out charges you may have a case for deletion from your credit reports. Since they communicated with through email, they have no proof (i.e. US certified mail) that they properly informed you of any move-out charges. you may be able to get them to drop their charges and get your credit report cleared.

Requirements from the collection agency. When a debt is sent to collections, the collection agency must send you a letter stating:

  • the amount of the debt
  • the name of the original creditor (your former landlord)
  • that you have 30 days to dispute the debt in writing and ask for proof or verification of the debt

If you do not agree with the charges, it is important that you dispute the debt and send a debt validation letter. When you dispute a debt in writing and ask for proof of that debt, the collection agency must stop all collection efforts until they have provided you proof.

If you never received a letter from the collection agency, that’s a problem too. However, that is a debt collection practices matter under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and not necessarily related to credit reporting. You can make a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regarding the collection agency not contacting you about the debt but instead putting a negative mark on your credit reports. Request deletion from your credit reports as a resolution.

If the debt is valid though, you may want to request a payment in exchange for deletion from your credit report. You can read more about pay for delete agreements here.

Seek Legal Advice. Once you research your rights and write the management agency and/or debt collector, you may have to seek legal advice if you do not get the desired resolution. There are attorneys who specialize in tenant rights.

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