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Yes, I agree with you. I believe that the landlord essentially waived his right to collect a late fee by continuing to accept rent the following month with no mention of the late fee. In my opinion, a judge would side with you if this ends up in court. It is wholly unfair for the landlord to ignore the late fee each month, and let you continue to pay rent late each month thinking that there is no extra charge, and then suddenly spring a huge bill on you over a year later. Had you known that the late fee would be enforced, you likely would have paid on time. The pattern indicates that the landlord waived that particular provision in the lease.
With regard to the $135 fee, whether or not it's reasonable depends on the amount of rent. As a general rule, I've found that courts will allow late fees up to about 15%. So, the fee is likely okay as long as your monthly rent is $900 or greater. If your rent is less than that, then the late fee would likely be considered an unenforceable penalty. Briefly: Penalties are not allowed in contract
law. A party is limited to collecting damages (i.e., reimbursement for harm caused by a breach). However, the parties may agree upon damages for a breach in advance (called liquidated damages) when it's difficult to determine the amount of harm caused by a breach. If you pay rent late, then there is no doubt that the landlord is harmed ... but quantifying that harm is difficult. So, a late fee in a lease is basically just an agreement between a landlord and tenant that the damages will be $X (i.e., whatever the late fee is). But, if it's an unreasonable amount, then it may be considered a penalty disguised as liquidated damages, and that is unenforceable.
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