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Wednesday, September 12, 2007


The Landlord Won't Give A Receipt ...

Can a landlord and/or building manager legally refuse to provide a receipt for payment of rent?

It seems like something an apartment renter should be entitled to by law. And, indeed, it is a law (specifically California Civ. Code § 1499), which says:
"A debtor has a right to require from his creditor a written receipt for any property delivered in performance of his obligation."

Although some may assume that payment of rent by check will suffice, since a canceled check can function as a receipt, there are many conceivable situations in which a canceled check may not be enough. Whatever the reason, whether for financial purposes, or simply as a consumer protection, renters in California have a legal right to be provided a receipt upon presentation of payment.

NOLO explains it to landlords this way:
Many states require landlords to give tenants a receipt for the rent. This protects tenants who pay in cash, who would have no other way to prove that they did indeed pay the rent if they are challenged by the landlord. Although most tenants now pay by check or credit card, landlords in these states must still issue receipts if asked. And if the check bounces, the fact that you gave the tenant a receipt for that rubber check will not hinder you in your attempts to get the tenant to pay.

Many states give tenants a "renters' tax credit," which they can take when they file their income taxes, and tenants who pay in cash will need that receipt to back up their deduction.

It would also seem a particularly prudent practice for renters in Los Angeles whose units are protected by the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO), especially if it ever becomes necessary for a tenant to prove that payments were made promptly.

Although the vast majority of property owners and renters are honest and responsible folks, sometimes people get taken advantage of on both sides of the transaction. It's one reason why paper documents like leases, for example, replaced the spit handshakes of the Wild West.

The soaring cost of rent in Los Angeles has already proved temptation enough to inspire at least one "ruse to evict low-rent-paying tenants." The Los Angeles City Council closed one particular loophole earlier this year, but the need for watchfulness remains just as surely as the old adage "get it in writing" still holds true.

Besides, this shouldn't be a big deal.

Receipts are simple slips of paper provided routinely for the purchase of $1 packets of chewing gum. Shouldn't the same standard be applied for the average rent payment of $1,607 a month (average rent as of 2Q 2007)? It's not a composition. It's initials (or a signature), a dollar amount and a date.

However, if the landlord still refuses to provide a receipt, Los Angeles County renters can file a complaint at the county's Department of Consumer Affairs. Just click on the Complaint Form link.

(By the way, the DCA responds to such consumer-related questions via e-mail. Follow this link to their Ask Us A Question page.)

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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