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In pay dispute, is renter liable for landlord's legal fee?

March 08, 2009|Janet Portman | Inman News

Question: I understand that I have to pay a late fee if I pay my rent late. But what about legal fees? I guess my landlord got his lawyer involved in my pay-or-quit notice, because the lawyer sent the notice, but then I paid the rent before going to court. Now I've received a letter from the landlord telling me that I owe him for two hours of his lawyer's time. Is this legal?

Answer: Whether your landlord can charge you for the time his lawyer spent preparing the termination notice (and possibly an eviction complaint) depends on what your lease or rental agreement says.

If it has an "attorneys' fees" clause in it, take a look. You may find that it gives the landlord broad power to charge tenants for legal services needed to enforce the terms and conditions of the lease.

This means that even if you didn't get to court, the cost of hiring the lawyer to prepare for court would be covered by the clause.

Not all legal costs associated with a tenancy can be covered by an attorney fee clause. These are proper only when the incident concerns the meaning or implementation of the lease.

For example, if you sued your landlord for injuries you sustained on the property, alleging that he was negligent and was responsible for them, and you lost, you would not be on the hook for the landlord's fees and court costs.

-- Janet Portman, Inman News

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janet@inman.com

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