Automatic debit monthly rental payments. Electronic signatures. On line forms. Technology continues to change our lives, including for those in the professional apartment management business. The old school style of dropping your monthly rent check off in the leasing office mail slot between the first and the fifth of the month are really a thing of the past. Automatic debits and electronic bill paying are now the way of the world. Which can be good and efficient. Most of the time.
Leasing offices have always been on the lookout for scammers. People who promise to pay their application fees and rent – but for some reason it never quite works out and there is always an excuse.
One of my properties processed the electronic materials from an applicant. He purported to pay his application fees and deposit electronically. Even showed us the debit notice from his bank. The leasing consultant was pleased and thought she had turned a prospect into a resident. All good. We let him move in right away. He took immediate possession of the unit as it was vacant. He did not mention a dog.
And then a couple of days later we got a notice from our bank. Turns out the electronic debit notice was a fraud. When we tried to access the funds, we got a “closed account” notice. Our leasing consultant raised it with the resident, who immediately hired a lawyer, and now claimed his dog was a service animal and that we were discriminating against him because we would not accept his electronic payments and assistance animal. He then provided an internet service animal certification for the dog. And the matter ended up on my desk.
The lawyer for the resident started with guns blazing. Demanding legal fees from this date forward and making various discrimination claims. We could have rushed to court to evict, but held off for a month in order to ensure we could prove up the fact that the electronic “payments” were in fact a fraud. In the end, we were able to prove that his application fee, his first month’s rent, and his second month’s rent were illusory. And that the medical verification for his dog was purchased over the internet for the low, low price of $59.99. Indeed, had we immediately filed, he would have defended with a copy of the initial electronic bank notice and his claim would have looked plausible before a judge. And he had the medical verification for the animal. Which would have gummed up the works.
In the end, the lawyer withdrew (we paid him nothing) and the resident meekly left our property. I doubt we will see the two months of rent my client is owed, but we got rid of a real problem with a minimum of expense.
Moral of the story? Make sure the electronic payment actually hits before you let someone take possession of your unit. And look carefully at medical verifications for service or companion animals purchased over the internet. Or you may need to speak with a lawyer like me.
Just A Thought.