Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Can a Landlord Demand Online-Only Rent Payment?

By Andrew Chow, JD at FindLaw.com

Mon Mar 12, 2012 6:42am EDT

Some tenants in South Los Angeles are seeing red over their landlord’s efforts to go green. A new rule forcing tenants to pay rent online is actually a ruse to evict elderly renters, the tenants claim.

The low-income tenants are suing their landlord, Jones & Jones Management Group Inc., alleging the mandatory online rent payments are illegal and unfair, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“I am 86 years old and I am computer illiterate,” one tenant, who has lived in the building since 1963, said in the lawsuit.

Because many of the elderly tenants have lived in the building for decades, they’re protected by rent-control laws, the Times reports. The switch to online rent payments was made to force those residents to move, tenants say.

“They want more USC types — USC students, middle-class tenants,” one disgruntled tenant told the Times.

The tenants’ online rent payment lawsuit claims the new rule violates Los Angeles’ Rent Stabilization Ordinance by changing the terms of the tenants’ rental agreements without consent, the Times reports.

In response, Jones & Jones’ attorney said residents can apply for a waiver to continue paying rent the old-fashioned way. But Jones & Jones can revoke that waiver at any time, a tenant organizer complained.

Still, existing law prevents landlords from using a changed contract term to evict tenants, an attorney with no connection to the case told the Times. The landlord’s online-only rent payment rule should pass legal muster, the attorney said.

That may change, if a state lawmaker gets his way. State Sen. Ted Lieu, who represents the area, is now pushing a bill to make online-only rent payments illegal throughout California, according to a press release by his office.

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