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Ely
Ely, Counselor at Law
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 86651
Experience:  Private practice with focus on family, criminal, PI, consumer protection, and business consultation.
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I am two months behind in rent in Alabama. The apartment complex

Resolved Question:

I am two months behind in rent in Alabama. The apartment complex has turned by file over to their lawyer. The fees that they are charging me seem excessive and illegal. I thought that the tenant is not responsible for attorney fess in Alabama. Can someone look over these fees and see if they are reasonable? The fees are:

March rent 799
March late fee 79.90
April rent 809
April late fee 80.90
Court costs 281.84
Utilities 342.03
Attornery Fees 836.95
Legal Papers 50
Additional Charges 1.50
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  Ely replied 1 year ago.
Hello friend. My name is XXXXX XXXXX welcome to JustAnswer. Please note: (1) this is general information only, not legal advice, and, (2) there may be a slight delay between your follow ups and my replies.

I am very sorry for your situation.

Legal fees are possible in Alabama, but, they must be ordered by the Court. But not before. Before we get into the depth of this matter, can you please tell me:

1) Have you moved out?
2) Do you want to move out?
3) Are you willing to sacrifice your deposit in order to have the rest of the debt owed dropped (how much do they have in the deposit for you)?
4) Or, can you catch up in one full payment, but, do not wish to pay the attorney fees?

This is not an answer, but an Information Request. I need this information to answer your question. Please reply, so I can answer your question. Thank you in advance.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

1) Have you moved out? - No we are still in the apartment.


2) Do you want to move out? I don't want to move, but will do so if necessary.


3) Are you willing to sacrifice your deposit in order to have the rest of the debt owed dropped (how much do they have in the deposit for you)? I believe that the deposit was about $800.


4) Or, can you catch up in one full payment, but, do not wish to pay the attorney fees? I can pay the past 2 months that are due, I just don't want to pay the all of those extra fees! The attorney fees and court fees are more than my rent!

 

FYI, the attorney states that the current balance of $3081.12 is only valid through 4/29/13. She states that it will increase by $53.50 on that date and again on May 1, 2013.

Expert:  Ely replied 1 year ago.
Thank you, friend.

My apologies in advance for the wait as I am typing out the answer now.
Expert:  Ely replied 1 year ago.
My apologies for the wait.

I thought that the tenant is not responsible for attorney fess in Alabama.

Not quite. Generally speaking, they are not. However, if the attorney has to file suit to seek relief (i.e. eviction and/or a breach of contract claim) for the money, then, if they win, the Court may award them attorney fees as part of judgment:

"The determination of whether an attorney fee is reasonable is within the sound discretion of the trial court..." City of Birmingham v. Horn, 810 So. 2d 667 - Ala: Supreme Court 2001. The Court normally awards attorney fees only if the losing party has acted maliciously and/or has wasted the Court's time.

But, when the attorneys SEND the demand before filing suit, then they often add their own fees, hoping that you'd pay them anyhow. If so, then not only does the landlord get paid, but, so does the attorney.

Whether or not the attorney fees are reasonable here or not (not really, here, arguably) is a moot point because this is not a court of law, but basically a private demand. It is as though I said, "Give me $5 that you owe me, and $2 for my trouble in asking you."

Someone in your situation may wish to perhaps make a full payment of the amount owed, but, include with it a letter stating that attorney fees will NOT be paid. Then send a copy of that letter to the landlord as well as the attorneys, except include the check to the attorneys.

The landlord will then demand that the attorneys give them the money that was paid to them by you. The attorneys would have to give it, and then there is no more case. One cannot file in Court for simply attorney fees. This may be the best approach to handling this situation.

Gentle Reminder: Please use the REPLY button to keep chatting, or RATE my answer when we are finished. Kindly rate my answer as one of the top three faces before submitting the rating, as this is how I get credit for my time with you. Rating my answer the bottom two faces does not give me credit and reflects poorly on me, even if my answer is correct. I work very hard to formulate an informative and honest answer for you; please reciprocate my good faith. (You may always ask follow ups at no charge after rating.)
Customer: replied 1 year ago.


Thanks, XXXXX XXXXX!


 


So basically, I will pay everything except the court costs and the attorney fees. Does the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act have anything to do with this?


 

Expert:  Ely replied 1 year ago.
You are very welcome.

Wait second - they have not filed any petition/complaint in court yet, have they?

Or, they have?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Not to my knowledge. How would I know?
Expert:  Ely replied 1 year ago.
Not to my knowledge.

Okay, thank you.

How would I know?

You'd be served. So it is prudent to assume that you have not.

So basically, I will pay everything except the court costs and the attorney fees.

Yes.

Does the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act have anything to do with this?

Not really - there is no statute on what attorney fees have to be paid arbitrarily if one falls behind. So at the moment, this is a private negotiation.

Gentle Reminder: Please use the REPLY button to keep chatting, or RATE my answer when we are finished.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

I asked about the URLTA because I'm trying to figure out what law or precedence to cite in the letter to the attorney and landlord stating why I'm not paying the attorney and court costs.

Expert:  Ely replied 1 year ago.
L,

There is no law or precedent - they are trying to intimidate you into paying more money simply by flexing muscle. Again:

It is as though I said, "Give me $5 that you owe me, and $2 for my trouble in asking you." I do not have to cite precedent or a statute to demand money from you. It is not unusual to demand more money than is due to cover the costs of one's client engaging the attorneys.

Of course if you get scared and simply pay them what is due PLUS extra for attorney fees, they will say "thank you" and keep it.

But in reality, until/unless they file in court and win, they cannot demand attorney fees. And even if they win, attaching attorney fees to judgment is at the discretion of the Court.

Of course, they are hoping that you simply get scared and pay the money owed PLUS extra fees - but - with a little manipulation (such as sending them simply the amount due but not the extra fees), they are likely to simply drop the matter.

Gentle Reminder: Please use the REPLY button to keep chatting, or RATE my answer when we are finished.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I just checked with my family and apparently they were served with a complaint yesterday. So does that change everything?
Expert:  Ely replied 1 year ago.
L,

Yes, it does. So please disregard the answer above. We are starting from SCRATCH.

Now, there is more of a chance that they may get attorney fees if they get judgment. Of course, "The determination of whether an attorney fee is reasonable is within the sound discretion of the trial court..." City of Birmingham v. Horn, 810 So. 2d 667 - Ala: Supreme Court 2001.

Someone in your situation now has a choice to make:

1) Pay the whole amount plus attorney fees;
2) Risk court; or
3) Negotiate a lesser amount.

The best step may be to negotiate a lesser amount, but offering say... 30% of the fees sought, plus full payment? That way, they can avoid time and money of litigation and simply settle the matter.

Please note: I aim to give you genuine information and not necessarily to tell you only what you wish to hear. Please, rate me on the quality of my information and do not punish me for my honesty. I understand that hearing things less than optimal is not easy, and I empathize.

Gentle Reminder: Please use the REPLY button to keep chatting, or RATE my answer when we are finished. Kindly rate my answer as one of the top three faces before submitting the rating, as this is how I get credit for my time with you. Rating my answer the bottom two faces does not give me credit and reflects poorly on me, even if my answer is correct. I work very hard to formulate an informative and honest answer for you; please reciprocate my good faith. (You may always ask follow ups at no charge after rating.)
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Hello,

You previously stated that court fees are only awarded after judgement and that "The Court normally awards attorney fees only if the losing party has acted maliciously and/or has wasted the Court's time."

So with that being said, can I offer to pay the court fees, but not the attorney fees?

Expert:  Ely replied 1 year ago.
Hello • I had to step away from the site - my apologies - but I will reply as soon I can in under an hour.
Expert:  Ely replied 1 year ago.
My apologies for the wait.

You previously stated that court fees are only awarded after judgement and that "The Court normally awards attorney fees only if the losing party has acted maliciously and/or has wasted the Court's time."
So with that being said, can I offer to pay the court fees, but not the attorney fees?


Please understand:

1) Attorney fees and legal fees are awarded with the same stroke of the pen. So when I say attorney fees or legal fees, it means both. You are free to decide how you wish to negotiate and what part not to pay, or what percentage, etc, but, if this gets to Court, the Judge will decide on legal/attorney fees together.

2) The attorney/legal fees are awarded if someone wins, yes. By "after" judgment, I mean if the attorney ask for it at the hearing, or in some courts, the attorney's have to file a motion for it. but either way, the attorney/legal fees are awarded once/if a party wins, and then, at discretion of the Judge.

The Court has ultimate discretion. So a Judge may grant fees if they feel that you have wasted the Court's time for being late, for example, or if the Judge did not like their breakfast, even. They do not have to rationalize the decision to you. So even if you feel you have not been malicious, etc, legal/attorney fees may still be appointed as part of judgment, and frankly, they very well may be, so it would behoove you to assume that they will be in your negotiation.
Ely, Counselor at Law
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 86651
Experience: Private practice with focus on family, criminal, PI, consumer protection, and business consultation.
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