How to handle this situation: City Fines and responsibility

4 Replies

Here is the situation.

My tenants are normally trouble free except they continually park on the grass to the one side of my driveway. This is a city infraction which the city mails me a letter to let me know of the infraction then gives me two weeks to fix the problem before a follow up inspection. After getting the letter I inform the tenants so they can resolve the issue.Their lease specifies all city fines will be passed on to them for this particular issue.

About 12 months ago I received the first warning letter from the city for the same tenants parking on the grass. This was fixed and no issues till last month when the same letter was sent. This time they did not fix the issue and a fine was mailed to me (homeowner) for $215. I was able to get the fine reversed after discussing the issue with the city inspector and getting him to remove the fine since it was my first violation.

My question is the tenants think they are still responsible for this fine and is it ethical to charge them for it even though I was able to get it removed? I am not treating this as a money grab to make an extra $215, more so to teach a lesson so I can avoid this in the future.

How does everyone else feel?

To give you my opinion upfront about your specific question: no, in your scenario, I don't think it's right/ethical for you to charge them for the fine that was waived.  You should discuss this with the tenants and make it clear that you got them off the hook.... this ONE time.  Next time you'll just leave them stuck with the fine.

I'm interested in this topic though because I sometimes deal with a similar but even trickier problem.  Our city has a system of escalating fines, (based on one or two-year rolling averages).  For example, if you don't remove the trash can from the curb in a timely manner, you get a violation notice (I know, I know - seems like there are more important problems for a City to solve, but that's the code...).  Next infraction may get a $100 fine, the next $1000, etc.  So, say, my tenant gets zapped a couple of times (say, gets the notice and then the $100 fine), and then moves out.  Any new tenant will then face a fine of $1000 for what is their first offense.  Other than trying to reason with the City (which tends not to lead to productive solutions), how do you deal with that?  Absorb the fine, because it effectively is a  first-time offense or pass it along?  

Oh hell no.  Your lease language makes them responsible for a city fine.  No fine, no responsibility.

In your next lease, make it a landlord fee, if that is legal in your state.  "Tenant will be responsible for a fee of $50 for any city inspection or notice of infraction arising from tenant's actions.  Additionally, any fines assessed by the city will be the responsibility of the tenant."

But until you have that language, if the lease says they pay fines, then they pay fines.  Period.

I would send them a copy of the letter and let them know that the city fined you because of their actions.  Let them know that you've given them multiple warnings and since they can't seem to refrain from breaking the rules, that maybe this property isn't right for them and they need to find somewhere to live that has more parking space.  Ask them if they want to move or pay the fine.

If they agree to move then you can find someone who is willing to live there and not rack up city fines.  If they agree to pay the fine, tell them you'll cover this one, but next time they're either going to pay or they're out (and you'll deduct the fine from their security deposit).

@Andrew S.  

Thank you for the response, and this is likely what I will end up doing.

@Richard C.  

The "landlord fee" is a good idea and I will add that in the next time I renew the lease.

@Dawn A.  

I would give them the option to leave but these are college kids and this is the absolute worst time of year to find new tenants since school has started already. This is their second year in my house and this is the only problem I have had with them.

Thank you for the feedback so far everyone.

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