As a renter, having a good relationship with your landlord is as important as having a good relationship with your roommate — especially when money is involved. The least you can do to be safe is find a trustworthy roommate by vetting candidates on platforms that let you find compatible roommates for free — but what about landlords? When paying rent, you want to make sure the person you’re doing business with is trustworthy as well. That’s why it’s your right as a tenant to request a rent receipt from your landlord to prove you’ve paid your rent. In some cases, it’s mandatory they give you one. Even if your landlord is a reputable businessperson (and there’s no sign of them on the list of NYC’s worst landlords), it’s simply good sense to have a record of your financial transactions — just like with anything else you pay for. Luckily online payments and credit cards have made record-keeping a lot easier, but if you pay rent with cash or personal check, you’ll need to make sure your landlord provides you with a receipt. No matter how you pay, here are three reasons why you should always get a rent receipt from your landlord.
Get a Rent Receipt….
1. To Protect Yourself Against Bad Landlords
We know there are plenty of great landlords out there, but occasionally you’ll come across a bad apple. And more problematically, you might not find this out until it’s too late. Requesting a rent receipt from the beginning of your relationship with a new landlord not only lets them know you have good business sense, but it also protects you from wrongful accusations of late or unpaid rent — which could ultimately save a lot of money should the issue escalate.
“I had a client who paid rent in cash every month and didn’t get receipts,” says Las Vegas-based attorney Shaolaine Loving. “The landlord later claimed the tenant didn’t pay for two months from the prior year and assessed late fees on those payments, all of which the landlord deducted from the tenant’s security deposit.
“Unfortunately, the tenant had no proof of making timely payments and didn’t want to undertake the risk and burden of taking the landlord to court over the security deposit deductions, so she just let it be.”
Journalist and former TED Talk speaker Becky Blanton says she has been cheated twice by landlords who claimed she didn’t pay rent. The first time she similarly made the mistake of not asking for a rent receipt, but even when she was more careful, she didn’t have the means to fight a bad landlord.
“The first time I was living in student housing at the University of Tennessee. I always paid in cash and never got a receipt. I ended up being evicted when my landlord told me I hadn’t paid rent in three months. It was my word against the property manager, and I lost,” Blanton says.
“The same thing happened in Denver when I was homeless. I finally got an apartment, paid in money orders, and got my receipts this time. But the manager claimed I had never paid rent, kicked me out and sued me. I posted on several social media sites about it and found out that other people, mostly women and immigrants, had had similar experiences.
“The guy was signing my money orders and diverting money to his personal account, but I didn’t have the money to fight him and I was across the country at the time, so I lost the judgement.”
2. To Maintain a Clean Rent History
Rent history relies on a paper trail, and if your landlord decides to evict you for not paying rent (even though you did), and you could have proven otherwise with receipts (but you don’t have them), it can reflect badly on your rent history. And in cities with intense housing competition like New York and San Francisco, a shady rent history can ultimately cost you an apartment even if it’s not your fault.
Also, some states offer a “renters’ tax credit” if you meet certain qualifications, and other reasons notwithstanding, a rent history paper trail is essential when filing taxes. Again, if you have no written proof that you paid for something, you could lose out on getting some money back because of a technicality.
3. Because It’s Better to Be Safe Than Sorry
The truth is that you never know when a rent receipt will come in handy, even if your landlord seems trustworthy. There’s no harm in requesting a rent receipt, but it could be your saving grace in a sticky situation. If you can, pay your rent with a credit or debit card, so it shows up on your monthly statement. If your landlord offers a way to pay online, do this — but only if you can get an email receipt. Save these emails or print them out (or both), so you’re prepared if you need to give proof you paid rent.
Money orders are another option, as they inherently have a receipt attached. Make sure to fill the money order out completely, and take a picture. And if cash or check is your only option, ask for that receipt!
“Always demand a receipt when you pay,” Blanton recommends. “Don’t let the manager tell you they’ll get it for you later. If they won’t give you a receipt when you pay, don’t pay until they can. This is how I got burned the first time…they promised to drop it off and never did”
Loving backs this up, adding that certain state laws allow tenants to legally refuse rent payment until a receipt is produced. So, know your rights, and educate yourself on the local renters’ protections. (Here is what SF law and NYC law say about rent receipts.) The same goes if only one roommate is responsible for paying the landlord. Sign a roommate contract outlining the details of your agreement, and uphold your end of the bargain. Find a way that works for everyone, so a rent receipt is produced for the person who isn’t protected by a lease in the end.