Tenants warned about thieves targeting rent drop boxes

September 27, 2011 3:54:45 PM PDT
Renters beware -- thieves are targeting your rent checks, especially if you use money orders.

Apartment complexes across the city have seen a rash of thefts from their nighttime drop boxes, and the results are a big shock for renters. There is a huge problem with this. Detectives say a group of criminals are stealing money orders from apartment drop boxes and depending on how you pay your rent, if the check is stolen you could be forced to pay the rent a second time.

Brittany Williams works hard to keep a good home for nine-month-old Barylon and that includes paying the rent on time. That was never a problem until August.

She said, "I dropped my money order off in the drop box, and that was on the first and then on the seventh they put an eviction notice on the door saying I would be evicted because they said my rent was never paid."

Williams says more than a dozen money orders were stolen from her apartment complex night drop box. The theft was made worse when the complex told Williams she had to come up with another rent check for August.

"I felt like I should not be paying it," she said. "If I paid it, I am not going to pay twice for my apartment."

Apartment complex managers say theft from drop boxes is nothing new, but when it happens to renters using money orders, the reaction is always one of shock.

Suan Tinsley with Vesta Management Services explained, "You are responsible until your rent is paid in full, even though you have apparently put it in the night drop, you still are delinquent."

Tinsley is a past president of the Houston Apartment Association and a property operations manager. Tinsley says even if the rent was dropped into the box, it is the renter who must prove the check was stolen.

"If they have a receipt they are going to have to deal with the authorities, contact the sheriff's office, but it is best if you use the US Postal Service," Tinsley advised.

Williams was able to track down her money order and found it was cashed by a different person. Apparently the check was washed in a manner that removed the apartment complex's name.

University of Houston law professor Richard Alderman said, "The tenant, in my opinion, does not have to pay twice."

Alderman says complexes share the burden for stolen money orders.

"Of course the tenant has to be able to prove that they paid the rent, so if you purchase a money order, keep the receipt," Alderman said.

We called the state attorney general about this. They referred us to the Texas property code which does not deal directly with the issue of stolen rent checks. However sheriff's detectives say if you are using a money order, get it from a local bank because banks and credit unions can reissue the money quickly. Money orders from stores take much longer to process your claim, which could take weeks before you get a resolution.

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