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Debt Collectors

Peter PrinciplePeter Principle Registered User regular
edited January 2009 in Help / Advice Forum
I was recently contacted by a debt collector over the phone. The debt is relatively valid (broke a lease, divorce related) and it's for about 3200 dollars. My financial situation right now is really grim, and I am just barely paying the bills I have. What's the best way to proceed?

"A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business." - Eric Hoffer, _The True Believer_
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    CrashtardCrashtard Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    From what I can tell every collector is different. Some will try to get you into a 3 or 4 payment situation, some will be willing to work with you to take care of it. What sort of terms are they trying to get you with?

    Edit: Basically, the idea is to try to get them to agree to whatever payments you can afford. They'll threaten to take you to court, try to get you to borrow money from someone, etc, but I "think" that in the end they want to resolve it without going to court. It's probably more costly to take you to court than it's worth. I could be wrong though.

    Edit #2: Sorry about the divorce. That sucks hardcore.

    Crashtard on
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    Peter PrinciplePeter Principle Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    Forgot to mention, this is in the state of Washington.

    So I guess what I'd really like to happen is that I not be responsible for the full amount of the debt. The idea that I should be forced to pay for something that I wasn't using rankles. I was hoping to get some insider advice on what needs to happen for a debt collection agency to say "OK, just send us a money order for 1,600 and we'll call it even." or something like that. Because what the rental company has done is charged me rent for january and february and I doubt they've seriously tried to rent the place out.

    Anyway, at this point I can only afford payments of about 25 dollars a month on this thing. Ugh. Are they going to be able to accept something like that?

    Peter Principle on
    "A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business." - Eric Hoffer, _The True Believer_
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    theclamtheclam Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
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    CrashtardCrashtard Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    I can definitely tell you that they aren't going to accept 25 bucks a month. The problem you're going to run into is that, even though it sucks, it's not their problem that you all of a sudden can't pay. I imagine that what is going to happen is they will basically demand either 3 payments on the whole thing or 4 payments. When you can't make that payment they MIGHT try to work something out for 5 or 6 payments, but it's more likely they will simply take you to court and get your wages garnished.

    Crashtard on
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    zz_tophatzz_tophat Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    What are debt collectors: They are the people that are hired by the people you owe money too. The people you owe money to (the lease holders) are only going to see maybe 40% of what the people they hired are going to squeeze out of you, so basically they have given up on getting the full amount and have sold your debt. They sold your debt to people that are trying to make a profit and they are well within their rights to do it.

    What this means: They will do what they have to make their money but do it in a way that maximizes their profit and minimizes their cost. Courts are costly and even though they may be able to charge you court cost they won't go down that road unless they have to. That means you don’t have to worry about wage garnishment unless they can get nothing out of you otherwise. In fact how much money they are willing to spend getting money from you depends entirely on how good the outlook is for them actually getting money, the worse the outlook, the more likely they are to be forceful.

    What you can do: offer to make payments, they want money, you give them money, they happy. They may be unwilling to be reasonable at first but that is only because they specialize in getting money by being intimidating. Explain again and again (call them, don't wait for them to call) what you can pay and in the end they will deal.

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    CoJoeTheLawyerCoJoeTheLawyer Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    Most (but not all) Debt Collection agencies will be willing to negociate with you to accept a lump sum payment for a lessor amount and/or payments over time...remember, they make more money if they don't have to invest time/money/manpower to squeeze money out of you, so they are always looking for that quick payoff.

    BUT

    Be very, very careful. Often, they will want you to sign a binding judgment note with regards to any agreement for a reduced amount, which will have multiple "your screwed" provisions, including terms that will make you liable for the entire origional amount plus hefty interest and attorneys fees if you default or miss a payment. Double and triple check anything they want to sign and agree to nothing over the phone.

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    Peter PrinciplePeter Principle Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    What's the quickest, easiest way to get them to say "OK, we'll accept a lump sum payment < the total amount and we won't ding your credit"? And what's the best "deal" on this debt that I can expect to get?

    Peter Principle on
    "A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business." - Eric Hoffer, _The True Believer_
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    CrashtardCrashtard Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    If the debt got sold to a collections company then it "probably" has already been reported and hit your credit score. The only way to know is to get online and check it. Be aware that they definitely are not going to accept less than what they paid to get, and they will do whatever they can to get you to pay as much as possible. Something else you'll want to think about is they even though they want this to go as smoothly as possible, they have zero obligation to settle with you and will refuse to do so on your terms.

    Crashtard on
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    TigressTigress Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    Since breaking the lease was divorce related, I would advise talking to the attorney that handled your divorce to learn what your rights are and how to proceed. If you didn't use an attorney, consult one that works with divorce-related financial stuff.

    If you choose to lawyer up, do not talk to the debt collection people. Refer them to the lawyer that handles it. Put a line in your voicemail greeting stating, "If you are from <debt collection company>, talk to <lawyer> at <number>." Usually an attorney can negotiate some kind of arrangement for paying off the debt or get the agency to back off altogether.

    I wish you luck, since my mom had to go through a similar thing. It got bad enough that she ended up declaring bankruptcy to get the debt collectors to leave her alone.

    Tigress on
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    Caliban42Caliban42 Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    Like CoJoe said, don't agree to anything over the phone. Also, don't agree to any kind of payments without a written agreement from them. That means don't make any "goodwill" payments over the phone to show them you're willing to play ball. All that does is give them your banking info and collection agencies have been known to clear out checking accounts to people that do this.

    I'd also send them a letter requesting validation of the debt to make sure that the amount is correct and that they're authorized to collect it. Do this even if you think the amount is right, just to cover your own ass. In that validation letter you should also include a line about phone calls being inconvenient at all times and that all further communication must be written and send to the address you've provided them. They can't legally call you if it is known to them to be inconvenient, but you've got to get that to them in writing.

    Send the letter certified mail, return receipt requested so you've got a paper trail in case they keep calling you. You should also be aware that they are legally required after first contact with you to send you a letter basically saying what you owe, what its for and letting you know that you have 30 days to dispute the debt. Again, it is important to do the validation letter as early as possible because it forces them to stop collection efforts (including calling or reporting to the credit reporting agencies if they haven't already) until they do validate. And again, you want to be 100% sure that the amount you're paying is correct without all sorts of made up fees and that they're the ones you're supposed to pay, you don't want to pay them and then go through this all again.

    Finally, I'd really suggest checking out www.creditboards.com to find out more information on all this. There are a lot of very knowledgeable folks there that can help you out with this. When my wife lost her job a couple years back and we hit some tough times and that site helped us get everything back on track and taken care of.

    Caliban42 on
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    Dunadan019Dunadan019 Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    Caliban42 wrote: »
    Like CoJoe said, don't agree to anything over the phone. Also, don't agree to any kind of payments without a written agreement from them. That means don't make any "goodwill" payments over the phone to show them you're willing to play ball. All that does is give them your banking info and collection agencies have been known to clear out checking accounts to people that do this.

    I'd also send them a letter requesting validation of the debt to make sure that the amount is correct and that they're authorized to collect it. Do this even if you think the amount is right, just to cover your own ass. In that validation letter you should also include a line about phone calls being inconvenient at all times and that all further communication must be written and send to the address you've provided them. They can't legally call you if it is known to them to be inconvenient, but you've got to get that to them in writing.

    Send the letter certified mail, return receipt requested so you've got a paper trail in case they keep calling you. You should also be aware that they are legally required after first contact with you to send you a letter basically saying what you owe, what its for and letting you know that you have 30 days to dispute the debt. Again, it is important to do the validation letter as early as possible because it forces them to stop collection efforts (including calling or reporting to the credit reporting agencies if they haven't already) until they do validate. And again, you want to be 100% sure that the amount you're paying is correct without all sorts of made up fees and that they're the ones you're supposed to pay, you don't want to pay them and then go through this all again.

    Finally, I'd really suggest checking out www.creditboards.com to find out more information on all this. There are a lot of very knowledgeable folks there that can help you out with this. When my wife lost her job a couple years back and we hit some tough times and that site helped us get everything back on track and taken care of.

    this.

    at the very least it will slow the process down so you have more time to get your finances in order.

    Dunadan019 on
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    Peter PrinciplePeter Principle Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    Thanks for all the info so far.

    When it comes to reporting the final status of a debt on your credit report, what are the various ways that it can be done? I understand that some are better than others.

    Peter Principle on
    "A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business." - Eric Hoffer, _The True Believer_
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    KalkinoKalkino Buttons Londres Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    Go and talk to a local citizen's advisory service, if your local area has one. Also be careful about the costs of the debt collection - they can often get rather high rather quickly - potentially your state may require debt collectors present you with an itemised statement of the debt that outlines their costs as well - they may also be obliged to show you their list of fee schedule. That being said debt collection rules can vary a lot jurisdiction to jurisdiction

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    Caliban42Caliban42 Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    Thanks for all the info so far.

    When it comes to reporting the final status of a debt on your credit report, what are the various ways that it can be done? I understand that some are better than others.

    Ideally, if it all turns out that you do have to pay them (not sure what the implications of the divorce are) you want to get them to agree to a pay for delete, but make sure to get that in writing. That means that once you pay, they'll delete the item from your credit reports. Your next best option is that is it shown as paid, then settled and the worst option is non-paid. Sometimes when you negotiate a settlement if you can't get them to delete the item, you can at least get them to mark it as just paid rather than settled, though to be honest neither one is particularly good. And again, get that agreement in writing before you make any payments. I hope you've picked up on the importance of getting the whole thing in writing or it will come back to bite you in the ass later.

    If this whole thing does end up on your credit reports, be sure to check the reports and make sure all the data the collection agency provided is 100% accurate. If it isn't all accurate, dispute the item with the reporting agencies to get it removed. It is your right by law to have your trade lines reports 100% accurately and if the collectors don't do this, they must either correct their mistakes or remove their trade line from your report. And the thing is, collection agencies rarely report everything 100% right. Sometimes it is simple data entry error, but more often it is done to screw with you and force you into paying. Then once you've paid, they've got no incentive to go back and fix things, so keep that in mind.

    Caliban42 on
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    Dunadan019Dunadan019 Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    Thanks for all the info so far.

    When it comes to reporting the final status of a debt on your credit report, what are the various ways that it can be done? I understand that some are better than others.

    there are 3 different credit reports for your credit. you can once a year request a free credit report which is relatively easy. it will list all your credit cards, loans etc etc active and inactive for the past 25 years (i think). go here and follow the instructions https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp

    if you want you can get all 3 at the same time or spread them out to see if your debt is affecting it.

    Dunadan019 on
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    Peter PrinciplePeter Principle Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    Update, I spoke to them on the phone this morning, the collection agency says that they will take 60% of the full value of the debt. I asked them to mail that to me and they balked, big time. They wanted to fax or email the agreement to me. Is this legit? Or is this a way to set me up for a scam? "Oh, you payed this amount be we didn't agree to that. We only send our agreements in writing."

    Peter Principle on
    "A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business." - Eric Hoffer, _The True Believer_
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    SentrySentry Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    If they aren't willing to put it in writing, somethings not kosher. If it's legit, they should have nothing to worry about at all.

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    RUNN1NGMANRUNN1NGMAN Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    Update, I spoke to them on the phone this morning, the collection agency says that they will take 60% of the full value of the debt. I asked them to mail that to me and they balked, big time. They wanted to fax or email the agreement to me. Is this legit? Or is this a way to set me up for a scam? "Oh, you payed this amount be we didn't agree to that. We only send our agreements in writing."

    Fax or email IS in writing.

    RUNN1NGMAN on
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    AldoAldo Hippo Hooray Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    RUNN1NGMAN wrote: »
    Update, I spoke to them on the phone this morning, the collection agency says that they will take 60% of the full value of the debt. I asked them to mail that to me and they balked, big time. They wanted to fax or email the agreement to me. Is this legit? Or is this a way to set me up for a scam? "Oh, you payed this amount be we didn't agree to that. We only send our agreements in writing."

    Fax or email IS in writing.

    But is it legally binding?

    *edit: that's an honest question and not some snarky way to get a point across.

    Aldo on
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    Al_watAl_wat Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    They most likely want to use Fax or Email rather than mail because mail is slow as fuck and they want their money today. They want to avoid delays in getting payment.

    I dont know how that particular agency operates, but not all debt collectors "purchase" debt. Some of them are just paid by their clients to collect on debts, and if they dont get a payment within 30/60/90 days (depends totally on the deal made between client and debt collector) then the specific account is transferred to another debt collector. So a lot of times they want ANY kind of payment right away so that the account stays with them.

    I just started (~3 weeks ago) working at a Collection Agency. Seems like they are offering you a 60% settlement, I was going to suggest exactly that: ask for a settlement.

    As for the whole writing deal... I'm not sure about your state laws (collection laws vary wildly from province to province / state to state) but they are usually required by law to provide statements in writing if asked to.


    edit: I would also like to point out that in morally dubious cases, like yours where the debt is from a divorce and you "weren't using the property" or whatever, the collectors could give two shits. You signed a contract, you owe the money. Doesn't matter if you are a victim of fraud (in which case you need to prove you don't owe the debt) or are a cancer patient on his deathbed.
    You don't seem like you are trying to avoid paying it, you said yourself. I'm just saying, don't try to get sympathy from them with your story cause they honestly don't care.

    Al_wat on
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    RUNN1NGMANRUNN1NGMAN Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    Aldo wrote: »
    RUNN1NGMAN wrote: »
    Update, I spoke to them on the phone this morning, the collection agency says that they will take 60% of the full value of the debt. I asked them to mail that to me and they balked, big time. They wanted to fax or email the agreement to me. Is this legit? Or is this a way to set me up for a scam? "Oh, you payed this amount be we didn't agree to that. We only send our agreements in writing."

    Fax or email IS in writing.

    But is it legally binding?

    *edit: that's an honest question and not some snarky way to get a point across.

    Since the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act of 1999 was passed all agreements made through electronic means are legally binding, although I'm sure there's exceptions to that in practice. For the most part, you can treat any email or fax the same as a physical document unless you have reason to believe it's fraudulent.

    RUNN1NGMAN on
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    Al_watAl_wat Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    If you get an email make sure you print a physical copy to be sure.

    Al_wat on
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    JohnnyCacheJohnnyCache Starting Defense Place at the tableRegistered User regular
    edited December 2008
    Update, I spoke to them on the phone this morning, the collection agency says that they will take 60% of the full value of the debt. I asked them to mail that to me and they balked, big time. They wanted to fax or email the agreement to me. Is this legit? Or is this a way to set me up for a scam? "Oh, you payed this amount be we didn't agree to that. We only send our agreements in writing."


    They PROBABLY aren't setting you up, but if you want it in writing tell them you don't have a fax machine and internet is an expense you've cut. A faxed copy with the proper headers and stuff on it is just about as good as a mailed one, however.

    Caliban is correct about making sure the agreement to settle has language to the effect of "payment for deletion" or "This payment shall be considered full restitution" or similar.

    They probably have a standard form for settlements. 60% is a pretty good deal right now, if there's ANY way you can get your hands on the money I would do it.

    One avenue you can explore is finding out when your landlord re-rented the property - in most states you can't collect the value of a lease past the date of re-rental.

    JohnnyCache on
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    supabeastsupabeast Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    They wanted to fax or email the agreement to me. Is this legit?

    Contracts can be legally signed and submitted via fax. And it’s perfectly legit for them to email you a contract to sign and fax/mail back to them.

    supabeast on
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    jkylefultonjkylefulton Squid...or Kid? NNID - majpellRegistered User regular
    edited December 2008
    Absolutely do not give bank account information over the phone, or agree to 'good will' payments. My sister did this last year, made four payments, and then found out 'whoops, they sold the debt to someone else, but we're still taking the money you sent, and you still owe the debt to the new guys, because hey, fuck off'.

    Headache ensued.

    jkylefulton on
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    Peter PrinciplePeter Principle Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    OK, account paid in full...at 60% of the full value, of course. They aren't going to be able to rent that apt out anyway, so I figure two months rent is probably getting off easy. I double checked with my lawyer and put it on my CC. If they try to pull any hinky shit, I will tell Amex it's not a valid charge and then sic my lawyer on them.

    It's interesting, but the rental company didn't want to talk about partial debt settlement. It seems silly to have to split 60% of the value of the debt with the collection company when they could the full value of that 60%. Oh well, I don't care, this should be completely complete.

    @Al_wat: Yeah, I know they don't care one way or the other. I was just explaining why I don't think I should pay for four months of rent on a place that I wasn't living in. Having a contract hold you to paying for a place that you're not living in is ridiculous leverage BS.

    Peter Principle on
    "A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business." - Eric Hoffer, _The True Believer_
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    Al_watAl_wat Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    OK, account paid in full...at 60% of the full value, of course. They aren't going to be able to rent that apt out anyway, so I figure two months rent is probably getting off easy. I double checked with my lawyer and put it on my CC. If they try to pull any hinky shit, I will tell Amex it's not a valid charge and then sic my lawyer on them.

    It's interesting, but the rental company didn't want to talk about partial debt settlement. It seems silly to have to split 60% of the value of the debt with the collection company when they could the full value of that 60%. Oh well, I don't care, this should be completely complete.

    @Elki: Yeah, I know they don't care one way or the other. I was just explaining why I don't think I should pay for four months of rent on a place that I wasn't living in. Having a contract hold you to paying for a place that you're not living in is ridiculous leverage BS.

    I said that, not Elki :P

    Yeah man I would feel the same way as you do if I were in your situation, I've been in a similar situation before although it was only over like $150.

    Also make sure you hold onto all paperwork indicating you paid it off. Due to incompetence, sometimes these debts may not get flagged as "payed off" in their systems and 6 months later they could try to collect again. So make sure even years down the road you can locate the papers.

    Al_wat on
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    Peter PrinciplePeter Principle Registered User regular
    edited December 2008
    Al_wat wrote: »
    OK, account paid in full...at 60% of the full value, of course. They aren't going to be able to rent that apt out anyway, so I figure two months rent is probably getting off easy. I double checked with my lawyer and put it on my CC. If they try to pull any hinky shit, I will tell Amex it's not a valid charge and then sic my lawyer on them.

    It's interesting, but the rental company didn't want to talk about partial debt settlement. It seems silly to have to split 60% of the value of the debt with the collection company when they could the full value of that 60%. Oh well, I don't care, this should be completely complete.

    @Elki: Yeah, I know they don't care one way or the other. I was just explaining why I don't think I should pay for four months of rent on a place that I wasn't living in. Having a contract hold you to paying for a place that you're not living in is ridiculous leverage BS.

    I said that, not Elki :P

    Fixed. : )
    Yeah man I would feel the same way as you do if I were in your situation, I've been in a similar situation before although it was only over like $150.

    Also make sure you hold onto all paperwork indicating you paid it off. Due to incompetence, sometimes these debts may not get flagged as "payed off" in their systems and 6 months later they could try to collect again. So make sure even years down the road you can locate the papers.

    Definitely, all this paperwork is going in the fire-proof safe.

    Thanks for the advice everyone. It seems like a great weight has been lifted.

    Now, just gotta deal with this divorce...

    :lol:

    Peter Principle on
    "A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business." - Eric Hoffer, _The True Believer_
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    JohnnyCacheJohnnyCache Starting Defense Place at the tableRegistered User regular
    edited December 2008
    OK, account paid in full...at 60% of the full value, of course. They aren't going to be able to rent that apt out anyway, so I figure two months rent is probably getting off easy. I double checked with my lawyer and put it on my CC. If they try to pull any hinky shit, I will tell Amex it's not a valid charge and then sic my lawyer on them.

    It's interesting, but the rental company didn't want to talk about partial debt settlement. It seems silly to have to split 60% of the value of the debt with the collection company when they could the full value of that 60%. Oh well, I don't care, this should be completely complete.

    @Al_wat: Yeah, I know they don't care one way or the other. I was just explaining why I don't think I should pay for four months of rent on a place that I wasn't living in. Having a contract hold you to paying for a place that you're not living in is ridiculous leverage BS.

    No, it's not. You have every right to rent something and not live in it, and they have no obligation to monitor or meter your usage, and in fact they might be violating your tenants' rights if they did so.

    Why do you feel they won't be able to rent the apartment?

    Also, most collection companies only get about 20% and the actual collector gets up to half of that.

    JohnnyCache on
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    Peter PrinciplePeter Principle Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    No, it's not. You have every right to rent something and not live in it,

    That doesn't address what I'm saying, but if we're going to get into the moral validity of holding someone to a rental contract then we're better off taking it to D&D.
    Why do you feel they won't be able to rent the apartment?

    A thousand dollars a month for a zero bedroom, <400 sq ft apartment in crappy economic conditions? About $150 a month extra to rent a parking spot (downtown Seattle)? They will never rent that place out, and I hope they never do. My friend and neighbor was a day late on her rent there and they socked her with a $180 in late fees. Greedy pricks.

    Peter Principle on
    "A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business." - Eric Hoffer, _The True Believer_
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    JohnnyCacheJohnnyCache Starting Defense Place at the tableRegistered User regular
    edited January 2009
    The moral validity will always come down to "hey, you signed it, buddy"

    It's just so, there's not much "morality" involved.

    I was hoping there was something terrible about the apartment's maintenance so you could allege they broke the lease was why I asked.

    JohnnyCache on
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    CrashtardCrashtard Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    I've been in a similar situation with a rental place, and while I didn't like it any more than you do, you did sign a contract to pay for it. Unfortunately we can't just opt out of a contract because we're not living there.

    Crashtard on
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    Peter PrinciplePeter Principle Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    The moral validity will always come down to "hey, you signed it, buddy"

    No, it will not. Right now you can break a lease under certain very narrow circumstances "Hey, you signed it" doesn't apply if you happen to be fleeing an abusive situation. There is no valid reason why those circumstances could not be expanded such that people like me could also be released. If you ever find yourself on the wrong end of a shitty divorce, facing off against someone with an axe to grind who decides to exploit the DV laws you'll understand exactly what I'm talking about. I hope it never happens to you, but if it does I hope you've got a ton of money at your disposal that she can't access.

    Peter Principle on
    "A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business." - Eric Hoffer, _The True Believer_
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