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I'm running into some difficulty with the new property manager for my apartment complex in Washington state.

I broke one of the rules that weren't ever enforced in the past five years I lived here. I knew what the rule was, it was in the contract. I was notified of the infraction in letter stuck in my door. I was told I had 10 days to correct the issue before I got evicted.

A few months later, I get a call from the property manager "kindly reminding" me that I owed $75. They told me it was part of a "service fee" of $25 dollars that had been accruing since I was originally notified of the infraction. They wanted to "help" remind me so that I could pay it before they had to charge me another fee for not paying the accrued amount.

The fee wasn't mentioned in the original note. Supposedly it had been delivered by the same means at a later date. I did not get this note so the call was a surprised to me. I checked the contract and verified that it didn't mention anything regarding a fee (An accruing fee with late charges would have stood out to me, I read the whole thing). It wasn't until I mentioned the contract that the manager dropped the fee altogether and apologized.

I guess I'm not the only tenant that caught on to this because yesterday everyone at the apartments got a note informing them that they would implement a service fee of $25. Can a property manager circumvent the contract by leaving a memo at a tenants door?

I'm not entirely sure where this question belongs. As they can pretty much hold my credit score hostage I thought I might try posting it here.

migrated from money.stackexchange.com Jun 11 at 11:43

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    Landlord-Tenant law varies by state. My gut says they can't do that, but my gut is not your lawyer. – Hart CO Jun 10 at 21:09
  • Are you on an extended lease, rather than month-to-month? – Acccumulation Jun 11 at 16:36
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Can a property manager circumvent the contract by leaving a memo at a tenants door?

No. That is very incompetent on the manager's part.

The Washington statute with closest resemblance to something like this is RCW 59.18.140, which reads that

after thirty days written notice to each affected tenant, a new rule of tenancy including a change in the amount of rent may become effective upon completion of the term of the rental agreement or sooner upon mutual consent

(emphasis added).

This is consistent with the essential principle of contract law that agreements be entered knowingly and willfully. It is reasonable to presume that none of the current tenants entered their respective leases knowing that a new fee would be invented sometime during their lease.

The landlord can always add a clause on service fee in future leases, but he is bound by the terms of the current leases and cannot alter them by means of a memo.

Mutual consent might be inferred, though, in the case of any tenants who henceforth abide by the memo.

  • I don't think it's this simple. – DJClayworth Jun 11 at 13:41
  • @DJClayworth Feel free to elaborate and I will try addressing your concern. – Iñaki Viggers Jun 11 at 13:56
  • Presumably, this does not apply to month-to-month (or if it does, the end of the month can be considered "completion of the term of the rental agreement" ). – Acccumulation Jun 11 at 16:38
  • @Acccumulation "Presumably, this does not apply to month-to-month". Why not? The statute does not limit its validity to leases of certain duration(s). I agree with the portion of your comment that is in parentheses, but even there the landlord might still have to meet the statutory language of "after thirty days" for the new clause to be effective. Otherwise, that would allow for landlord's circumvention of statutes regarding termination notices. – Iñaki Viggers Jun 11 at 16:51
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One party to a contract cannot unilaterally change its terms, unless the parties agreed in the original contract that such changes are permitted.

Thus, in a lease, in general the landlord may not impose an additional fee, unless the lease provisions permit such changes by the landlord, until the current term expires and the lease comes up for renewal.

Residential leases and tenancies are often significantly regulated by state or local law. Such regulations may impose restrictions on what contract terms are permitted. They may also add default or required terms to the lease or other rental agreement. Without knowing the exact locality there is no way to check the effect, if any of specific local law on this issue. But I would be surprised if the law would grant the landlord the right to add such fees without notice.

That the rule went unenforced for some years does not make it invalid or waive it.

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