The Story of the $300 Deposit, or: Looking for Apartments, Update 6
As you may know, I’ve resigned my current lease and I’m no longer looking for a new apartment. Back in early June, I described the best and most affordable apartment I found. I also described how they advertised the unit as being available July 1. After showing us the apartment, they mentioned it wouldn’t be available until August 1, past the end of my lease.
While I felt deceived, perhaps it was an honest mistake. Regardless, I put down a $300 refundable holding fee and a $40 non-refundable application fee. For a variety of reasons, we decided not to take the apartment, and I expected to receive the $300, which I paid in cash, back promptly.
What a mistake that assumption was. What follows is a detailed account of what I went through, more for my own records, but feel free to read and comment on my experience.
By the middle of June, I communicated to the real estate agency (SAS Real Estate, agents Sylvia Aranow, Benjamin Carrara II, and Andrew) that I would not be taking the apartment (Edgewater Towne Centre in Edgewater, NJ) due to its unavailability at the promised date (July 1). They had already paid the $300 to the apartment management company (Inland Retail Property Management). Thus, the management company would need to send me a check from their corporate office in Chicago.
Benjamin at SAS told me he put through the paperwork and it will likely take two weeks to receive the money. I’m patient, so I waited a month. I guess this was my first mistake. I called SAS in the middle of July to find out what happened. As far as I’m concerned, I paid SAS, so SAS owed me the money. Whatever they had to do with the management company doesn’t concern me. Apparently, this is not the way the world works. Regardless, Andrew from SAS told me he would speak to Towne Center to find out what’s taking so long. He would talk to his boss (Sylvia) to find out if they could pay me out of SAS’s account and chase after Inland for their own reimbursement.
There was no call back, so I called SAS again. I spoke to Andrew’s boss, Sylvia, who told me not to yell at Andrew. I was offended. I never yelled; in fact, I was always very patient. She said that they could not cover the $300, which I still believe is ridiculous. Sylvia tried to blame me for not following up consistently, which was incredibly odd since all I had done at that point was trust her employees. I called back at the end of the time frames they had given me.
Andrew surprisingly called back the following day to tell me Towne Centre now has the correct paperwork and I should follow up with them.
I immediately called Tanya, the property manager for Towne Centre at the time. She confirmed she had the paperwork and her corporate office was aware of the situation. Cutting the check would take a few weeks, but I should call back on August 15 if I still had not received it in the mail.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t have the money by August 15. I called Towne Centre. Tanya was gone and replaced by Marisol Acevedo. Marisol immediately recognized my name when I explained my identity. She acted surprised when I mentioned I had not received the money yet. She promised to follow up with the management’s corporate office.
We went back and forth for almost two weeks with no resolution. I asked her for the contact name for the individual in accounts receivable with whom she was working. After a few phone calls the week before Labor Day, I finially got a hold of Miki Bartel from the corporate office. She said she “just received” the paperwork and she immediately began processing the payment. I confirmed my address for the fifth time with the fifth individual.
Miki promised the check would be sent out within a week and I would receive a call from Marisol when the check was sent out. A week after Labor Day, I called Marisol to follow up. After some back-and-forth surrounding her claim that I should follow up with Miki despite Miki’s claim I should follow up with Marisol, she told me all she knew was the check had been processed but had no idea if the check had been sent out.
I mentioned I was in the process of completing paperwork with my lawyer.
Immediately, she became defensive and told me there was no need to involve my lawyer, and she’s sure I’d be receiving the check within a week. I basically said, “We’ll see,” and we ended the conversation. I began thinking about whether I should involve my lawyer friend, but I didn’t have to think for too long.
Five minutes later, I received a call from Marisol. She was confident the check was sent out on September 5 and I should receive it any day. Sure enough, I received the $300 over the weekend.
The only concern left is whether the check will bounce. Who knows with these people. Throughout the whole ordeal, I was calm, patient, and I never lost my temper. Yet SAS Real Estate, Edgewater Towne Centre, and Inland Mid-Atlantic Management all do not have their act together. If you want a stress-free living situation, do not deal with these people. Although you shouldn’t have to ask if a listing or advertisement is factually correct, you might want to confirm the date of availability.
SAS Real Estate, as the broker for Edgewater Towne Centre, should have solved this issue in June.
Update: On October 10, a representative of SAS Real Estate was informed of this post. Her reponse is here.
This post reminded me of a website I read about two years ago about making money as a landlord. One of their suggestions is to list one apartment below market value and charge non-refundable application deposits (because the apartment is undervalue you will have a lot of applicants). Then you were supposed to upsell them to other apartments or just deny their application. Either way, sounded pretty shady to me.
When I find myself getting lost in a telephone maze, I consider switching to faxes. It’s hilarious and feels good to document these kinds of scams via fax. As people let you down, their name, date, and promises enter the trail of failures. Faxing each worsening step to everyone involved has a lot of power, too. Nobody wants to show up in the snowball. And faxes are easy to send to long lists of machines, including upper-management. The more machines the better. It becomes much harder for people to blow you off as they can do verbally.
You should edit this post to include the word “sucks” and “scam” because those are the words I Google when I’m trying to check out the reputation of a company.
I deposited the check after banking hours today. I am hoping this saga is over.
deposit it quickly!!!
I think the check will clear, you are one of the lucky ones. I have heard much worse from people dealing with Inland in my area (Chicago, IL). They don’t have a good reputation and yet they continue to profit and manage a huge chunk of our areas real estate rentals.
There are laws about this sort of thing. In Illinois I believe there is a 45 day turn around for the money used as security. I am not sure what New Jersey is. The way the courts work if a landlord does not follow the rules and can be found at fault (which is easy – they don’t expect the tenants to know the law, only the landlords) the tenants attorney and fees would be the responsibility of the landlord.
It is very easy to win as a tenant in Illinois and I would believe this is the case in other states. This is probably the main reason they moved after you said attorney.
Anyway, glad it worked out.