Ask Caretaker: Can My Landlord Force Me to Pay Rent Online?

We built Caretaker to make renting easier. To that end, we created a comprehensive guide to U.S. rental law to educate tenants and landlords about their rights and responsibilities. Now, we’re introducing Ask Caretaker: an ongoing series where we answer reader questions.

My landlord is telling me that they no longer accept personal checks, money orders or cashiers checks. They have said I must pay through an online vendor. There are fees to pay this way, with the exception of paying with my bank account using a third-party vendor. Is this legal in California? I have never had any problems with payment prior to this. I feel uncomfortable with a third-party site having my personal info. If you pay with a credit card on the site, there is an additional $55 fee. Please advise!

- Redondo Beach, California

This is an open-and-shut case—that's against the law! In California, landlords have to give tenants the option of paying using at least one of these options: check, cashier’s check, or money order. It’s illegal for your landlord to require tenants to pay exclusively using cash and/or electronic deposits. This comes from California Civil Code Section 1947.3(1). Your landlord may not be aware of the rules—get in touch with them (in writing) and explain that their new policy violates state law.

Hi! My landlord refused my sublease request because my sublessee does not have SSN (being an international student). However I stated in the application that rent will be paid upfront and provided student identity proof to my landlord. Is this an unreasonable deny? What can I do?

- New York, New York

That's a good question! My guess is that this is probably unreasonable if you live in NYC. First of all, such a requirement would effectively bar illegal immigrants from subleasing—and that's not allowed under the city's fair housing laws, which ban housing discrimination based on citizenship status. Plus, the laws in New York State are quite tenant-friendly when it comes to subletting. Considering the rent is paid up front, I'd be surprised if a court found any financial concerns on your landlord's part reasonable. I'd push back against your landlord's refusal in writing, and cite NYC's fair housing laws.

If he doesn't back down, here's some information on what to do if your landlord unreasonably rejects your sublet request. Good luck!

In 2013, I signed a lease for an apartment in Manhattan. The rent was $2,800 at the time and the requested security deposit was $10,700. I moved out at the end of my lease in May 2020. The landlord mailed me a check for $10,700. When I spoke to the landlord a few weeks before my move out I asked about interest on my security deposit and was told there is no interest on it. Do I have a right to interest or not? Thank you.

- New York, New York

Your landlord is wrong—you definitely have a right to interest earned on your security deposit, as long as your building has six or more units. However, your landlord is also allowed to subtract a yearly 1% administrative fee from the interest earned. According to NYC's Rent Guidelines Board, "with interest rates averaging below 1% in recent years, tenants may not be eligible to receive any interest at all."

Since your deposit is so large, and it should have been collecting interest for seven years, there’s a good chance you’re owed at least a small amount of money in interest. But you’ll have to make the call about whether or not it’s worth going back and forth with your landlord to claim it.

How long does a property management company have to accept or deny a rental application? I have submitted one, but after talking to the property manager she seems as though she is screening other applications after mine to find a "better fit." She said based on my information I am placed in tier 2, so she is looking at other applications. It’s been 12 days so far. How long is she able to do that?

- Chula Vista, California

There aren't any laws in California that limit how long a property manager could wait to get back to you about your application, unfortunately. Typically, the approval process takes between one and three days, so you're right that this is an unusually long period of time to wait. You could try and force her hand by telling her you're planning to apply to a new apartment by the end of the week if you don't hear back with a yes or no. But she’s not legally required to approve or reject your application by a specific date.

I am at high risk for COVID-19 health issues and was provided a request from my doctor to move out for my safety. Can I break my lease without paying an early termination fee?

- Michigan

If you are high-risk because of a medical condition that is considered a disability under the Fair Housing Act, then you may be able to request a lease break as a reasonable accommodation. If not, no laws in the U.S. allow you to automatically break your lease because of medical concerns. But you can always negotiate with your landlord—a doctor's note will certainly bolster your argument that you need to move out.

I have lived in my current apartment for 14 years, never been late on rent payment, and have made some repairs myself with the permission of the apartment manager and at no cost to the owner. Recently my refrigerator stopped working and has been down for 8 days. I reported it to the manager, who in-turn ordered a new one for me, but after 8 days I've lost food and have had to eat out everyday and make other internal adjustments. What options do I have with regards to withholding rent?

- Atwater, California

Unless your lease specifically mentions that your landlord is responsible for appliance repair, then a broken fridge is not covered under California's implied warranty of habitability (which means you can't withhold rent). But, even if your lease states that your landlord is responsible for fixing the appliances, your landlord has up to 30 days to make the repair before you're legally allowed to withhold rent. If it's only been eight days, then withholding rent probably isn't allowed under the law.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.