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My son and his wife put a deposit down on an apartment. Their application was approved and they are to move in soon.

Yesterday they found out they suffered an "identification theft" and their credit card was used to purchase goods that drained their account. Although it has been worked out with the credit card company, it will take several days until the money is back in their account. They need to make another payment to the apartment manager this week. He says that if they do not pay it on time (tomorrow), they will forfeit their deposit.

This is obviously not right/unethical. But is it legal? Is there someplace they can turn (some "ombudsman" or such) to act as an arbitrator or advocate for them in such a situation?

To make matters worse/weirder, when he heard about their plight, he said it was funny, and volunteered that his computer system had been hacked. So the breach may have taken place "on his watch" (I wouldn't go so far as to say it's his fault, because it's the criminals' fault) - how sadly ironic and frustrating it would be if he were more culpable than them for the breach and then makes them pay for it.

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    When the deposit was put down, was it noted to be a "non-refundable deposit"? There are cases where some deposits may not be refunded so there can be legal situations for that as well as what are the terms of what was signed in the terms of the purchase or lease. – JB King Nov 25 '14 at 0:17
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    dca.ca.gov/publications/landlordbook/index.shtml may be useful to find out options but this isn't a site for professional legal advice. – JB King Nov 25 '14 at 0:29
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    Why is it not right/unethical? Landlords are not in business of providing support to identity theft victims. A person who can't even make the first rent payment - how can a landlord be sure they can continue paying on time? If the initial deposit is non-refundable then it is what it is. – littleadv Nov 25 '14 at 0:37
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    It would only be unethical if the landlord intentionally forced your son and wife to only be able to use his devices for transferring funds and never gave any other option ever in the time of providing payments which to my mind is quite a stretch as most deposits to my mind would be done by post-dated check rather than credit card or some other electronic medium where an account gets hacked. Can you prove the landlord had control on the level of almost being God? – JB King Nov 25 '14 at 1:53
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    Even if the landlord wants to be a hardnose about it, this is a time when family and friends can step into the breach to help the renters out. If the payment is only on the order of a month's rent or so, it could be wise to try to scrape it up with informal loans from family/friends to be paid back when the identity theft issue is resolved. – BrenBarn Nov 25 '14 at 3:44
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Check the terms of the lease you signed. Deposits on apartments are often nonrefundable, since they represent the loss of a month's worth of income that the landlord may suffer if your backing out kept them from renting to someone else. I'd bet you agreed to that without noticing it, since you didn't expect it to be a problem. If you want to challenge it, you need to talk to a lawyer NOW... or throw yourself on the landlord's mercy and ask whether they could at least return some pro-rated portion of the deposit, since this wasn't anything you expected.

On the other hand, if you're living so close to the limit of your income that you can't come up with another month's rent out of your savings... I'm not surprised that the landlord would prefer not to rent to you, and you've given him the excuse he needs to tear up that contract and keep the deposit.

Find the funds somewhere, or count this as an expensive lesson on why you always need to keep a cash reserve and why you should read and understand everything before signing it. Or, as I said, find a lawyer -- but that may just turn it into an even more expensive lesson.

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  • (And yes, I lost most of a deposit once, though in that case it was because I decided after signing that I actually preferred another apartment enough to buy my way out of the lease. That's just the way rentals work; breaking a lease at any point may be expensive, so it's best to avoid getting into that situation if at all possible.) – keshlam Nov 25 '14 at 4:20
  • "the excuse he needs to tear up that contract and keep the deposit." If he's looking for an excuse, why would he accept it in the first place? Smells scammy to me. – B. Clay Shannon Nov 25 '14 at 16:57
  • I'm speculating that he may be looking for an excuse NOW because you're telling him that you may not be able to reliably pay the rent on time. That's prudence, not scam. Sorry, I know you want to cast him as the bad guy here, but while I wouldn't call him a hero he is not being unreasonable. This is simply business as usual. Unfortunately your situation isn't usual. But he's under no legal obligation to make an exception for you. He's just holding you to what you agreed to; if you don't like the terms you really shouldn't have signed. – keshlam Nov 25 '14 at 20:34
  • As I mentioned, this isn't me, but I still don't agree this is not unethical. "Business as usual"? You're probably right about that. – B. Clay Shannon Nov 25 '14 at 21:28

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