Separate Receipts, Separate Problems

By, Robyn Latman, Esq.

Could providing each co-tenant with a separate receipt for a portion of the rent become a problem for a Landlord?
Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a new Landlord. She and her husband had just purchased a two-family home in New Jersey. Both units were occupied at closing.
“My tenant asked for her own receipt.”

The second floor unit is occupied by a mother and her adult son. The mother and the son each pay half of the rent to the Landlord. The mother was demanding a rent receipt from the Landlord to say that she had paid her portion of the rent. She went on to say that her assistance case worker required her to have a rent receipt to prove that the rent was paid. She was most displeased when the Landlord noted on the receipt that half of the rent was paid.

If you are giving separate receipts, you may be creating separate problems. Not problems for your tenants, problems for you.

In essence, the tenants want the Landlord to agree, not that they are each responsible for the entire rent, but that each is only responsible for a representative portion of the rent. This is not true. Each tenant on a lease is responsible for the entire rent. It matters not who actually pays, so long as the full rent is paid. If any portion of the rent remains unpaid, both tenants will find their names atop a lawsuit for eviction based upon the non-payment of rent. Both tenants in the unit may get evicted or neither may get evicted, however, the day will not come when the court officer removes only the tenant who has not paid what they claim as “their portion” of the full rent.

The rent is the rent, and the tenants may work out amongst themselves who will pay what share or whether they will seek assistance or whether their distant family member will pay on their behalf. But, the Landlord does not agree that anyone is only responsible for a certain portion of the full rent.

Giving a receipt that appears as if the full rent is paid, when in fact only half has been paid, and knowing that this receipt will make its way into the hands of an assistance agency’s caseworker is to give a false representation of the story. The caseworker may approve a rental unit based upon the price of the rent. The mistaken belief that the paid half of the rent is instead the full amount of rent for a particular unit could cause problems for a Landlord who is awaiting the balance of the rent that remains due.

Especially in the case of an oral lease agreement, and in this case, an oral agreement between the current tenant and the former Landlord, where a receipt appears to say that the full rent has been paid, rather than only half of the rent, the receipt may be used to attempt to prove that the monthly rent due is only half of the actual amount. The new Landlord will have no proof to show otherwise. Without a written lease or a pattern of payments to rely upon, what recourse does the Landlord have if the tenant convinces either a caseworker or a judge that the full rent has been paid and accepted?

When a tenant who has paid a part of the rent is demanding a receipt to say that she paid all of her rent, and a Landlord gets that nagging feeling that something is wrong, the Landlord makes a smart business decision to note on the receipt that a balance remains unpaid. That way, separate receipts for partial payments are less likely to cause problems.

 

Information gathered from this blog post is intended to be educational in nature only and does not replace the advice of an attorney about your specific matter. If you are a landlord of either residential or commercial space, and you are wondering whether you can enforce your lease agreement, collect unpaid rents or remove a tenant who is breaching its lease agreement or the law in some way, please contact this office for additional information. We look forward to speaking with you.

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