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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
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    7

    Default How to Collect Debt from Landlord After a Tenant's Death

    My question involves a consumer law issue in the State of: California

    My Father passed away a little over 2 months ago. He was living in a small Board and Care facility for the elderly in a town 160 miles from our home. It is owned and operated by a wife and her husband. My father became a resident of this Board and Care facility 2 years ago. I paid the first and last months rent as required by the board and care facility immediately before he was admitted.

    About 9 months ago the board and care facility was sold from one wife and husband team to another wife and husband team. When my father died, both the former owners and current owners agreed that the former owners should reimburse me for the last month's rent because I had paid the first and last month's rent to the former owners.

    The former owners asked me to give them 30 days to pay me what they owed me. I agreed. After 30 days passed, I contacted the former owners and asked them to send me what they owed me. They stalled me. Another month has passed without them sending me a check. After friendly and polite phone calls from me they continue to stall me and are now giving me no indication they are willing to send me a check.

    What legal action can I take to collect the money that is owed to me from the former owner? Is there any chance that it is really the responsibility of the current owners to reimburse me? I am considering hiring an attorney here in my home town to help me collect this debt. She does Elder Law, Tax Law, Business Law, and Estate Planning. My wife and I like her.

    Because we have received great advice from you on this forum several years ago, I thought I'd contact you before I make an appointment with this local attorney. Thank you! ~ jkq

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2016
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    2,790

    Default Re: Collect Debt from Landlord

    Without knowing what the sales agreement between the past and current owners was there is no way to know. Before I went to a lawyer I'd at least try and collect from the current owners. Even if they don't owe it they may well have leverage over the former owners.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Posts
    7

    Default Re: Collect Debt from Landlord

    Thank you PayrolGuy for your good advice. I have been in contact with the current owners. I like them. They have a good attitude and are good, caring people. They have been in contact with the former owners about this issue.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2016
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    2,790

    Default Re: Collect Debt from Landlord

    You are welcome. I hope it all works out.

    Also, sorry for the loss of your dad.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2018
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    1,204

    Default Re: Collect Debt from Landlord

    Quote Quoting jkq
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    My father became a resident of this Board and Care facility 2 years ago. I paid the first and last months rent as required by the board and care facility immediately before he was admitted.
    I assume that there is some sort of written agreement that your father had to sign before moving in. Correct? Did you also sign the agreement?
    Quote Quoting jkq
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    What legal action can I take to collect the money that is owed to me from the former owner?
    I can't tell from your post whether anything is actually owed to you. Just because you paid rent on his behalf doesn't mean you're entitled to have it returned to you.
    Quote Quoting jkq
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    Is there any chance that it is really the responsibility of the current owners to reimburse me?
    No way to rule out that possibility based on the limited information provided.
    Quote Quoting jkq
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    I am considering hiring an attorney here in my home town to help me collect this debt.
    How much is at issue? Unless it's in excess of $10k (the small claims limit in CA), paying a lawyer likely won't be worth your while.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
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    7

    Default Re: Collect Debt from Landlord

    Thanks PayrolGuy.

    Thank you pg1067 for your excellent questions and statements.

    I assume that there is some sort of written agreement that your father had to sign before moving in. Correct? Did you also sign the agreement?
    No. I did NOT sign the agreement. My father did. A friend of my father's may have the signed rental agreement in her records. I could ask her for the copy of the rental agreement. What do you think? Would possession of this rental agreement help me get the rent money returned to me?

    What is your theory as to why you're entitled to the money?
    I paid the first and last month's rent. My father passed away. My experience has been that the last month's rent is returned when the tenant is not occupying the rental space. Who deserves the money paid for the last month's rent? The landlord whose rental space is not being used? Perhaps the landlord was renting the space out to a new tenant and collecting money for a rental that I had already paid for. In that case the landlord is collecting double rent. Does the court allow the landlord to collect rent from a new tenant when the rent has already be paid by a former tenant? My theory is that the court would decide that the money should not go to the landlord. Of course, I could be wrong.

    How much is at issue? Unless it's in excess of $10k (the small claims limit in CA), paying a lawyer likely won't be worth your while.
    Thanks for the advice. I've read that even if I win in small claims court, it can be very difficult to enforce the ruling of the small claims court and collect the money. Is that true?

    One thought I had was that a letter from an attorney, with the law firm's name in the letterhead, to the landlord threatening legal action might be enough to encourage the landlord to refund the last month's rent money to me. What do you think of that idea?

    It seems unethical for the landlord not to return the rent money to me for which there were no services rendered. Could I write a letter of complaint to the state board that issues licences to board and care businesses? I probably wouldn't get my money back, but shouldn't these businesses be held to an ethical standard? Shouldn't the state be concerned about the behavior of those to whom they are issuing licenses? And what about the future customers of this Board and Care facility? Shouldn't there be a law or some standards and practices that prevents them from being ripped off?

    This reminds of a cartoon that appeared in newspapers many years ago titled, "There Oughta Be a Law!".

    pg1067, again, I thank you for your very good questions and statements. You may be saving me the expense of hiring an attorney. And you may be saving me the time, expense, and frustration of filing a lawsuit in small claims court with the end result being that I'm not reimbursed the rent money that I paid to the board and care business.

    ~ jkq

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2018
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    1,204

    Default Re: Collect Debt from Landlord

    Quote Quoting jkq
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    No. I did NOT sign the agreement. My father did. A friend of my father's may have the signed rental agreement in her records. I could ask her for the copy of the rental agreement. What do you think? Would possession of this rental agreement help me get the rent money returned to me?
    No. Possession of a document is meaningless. I imagine the landlord possess the original agreement. Would that make the landlord entitled to the money? Since you're not a party to the rental agreement, you have no personal right to the return of the money you paid on your father's behalf. It's no different than if you had paid the money to him and he paid the landlord.


    Quote Quoting jkq
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    I paid the first and last month's rent. My father passed away. My experience has been that the last month's rent is returned when the tenant is not occupying the rental space. Who deserves the money paid for the last month's rent?
    That's the ultimate question. I don't know the answer, but nothing you've posted thus far indicates that you're entitled to it. You're not entitled to the money solely because you paid it on your father's behalf. Your post indicates that the right to the money belongs to your father's estate. Are you intending to probate your father's estate and seek appointment as the personal representative of the estate? If you are appointed in that capacity, you will have the authority to collect any money due on behalf of the estate. You could also look into California's small estate procedures, which will be far simpler (although, if the landlord doesn't understand things, you may still have to go to court to deal with it).


    Quote Quoting jkq
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    I've read that even if I win in small claims court, it can be very difficult to enforce the ruling of the small claims court and collect the money. Is that true?
    In the abstract, it could be anything from easy to impossible, but it's no more difficult to enforce a small claims judgment than any other judgment. All the same means of enforcement are available.


    Quote Quoting jkq
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    One thought I had was that a letter from an attorney, with the law firm's name in the letterhead, to the landlord threatening legal action might be enough to encourage the landlord to refund the last month's rent money to me. What do you think of that idea?
    Maybe. Aside from whatever cost you incur to have the lawyer do that, there's no down side to this. Of course, any ethical lawyer will need to be satisfied that you actually have a right to the money before sending a demand on your behalf.


    Quote Quoting jkq
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    It seems unethical for the landlord not to return the rent money to me for which there were no services rendered.
    I suppose it depends on your system of ethics, but the most important words in this sentence are "to me." Assuming the landlord has an obligation under the lease to return the money, that doesn't mean you're the person who's entitled to it.

    All the rest of your follow up questions appear to be rhetorical.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Posts
    7

    Default Re: Collect Debt from Landlord

    pg1067, thank you for your prompt, well thought out replies to my questions. You've been very helpful. I'm very happy that this outstanding forum is available to the public. Kudos to all the attorneys and IT professionals who provide help to all who are in need of legal advice.

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