Personal Finance

My landlord gave me a waiver on my rent as I waited for Section 8 rental assistance — 25 years later she wants me to pay $1,700

Dear Moneyist,

Twenty-five years ago I was renting a duplex home and I was experiencing economic hardship. While waiting for Section 8 to help cover two months rent, I kept paying what I could.

I was also a single mother of two children with child support that was missed by the father. The manager at the time was not very patient and decided to evict me from there.

I spoke with the owner of the duplex at the time about my hardship. I was given a waiver from her, but there was no letter or note to state that. Three months later Section 8 came through. It was too late by then, and I had moved on.

Fast forward 25 years later. The owner has a little black book and demands that I pay her back the debt that was supposedly waived years ago. She wants $1,700 from me today. So I am left with the question: What should I do?

Pay it or Dispute It

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected]

Dear Pay or Dispute,

You are under no legal obligation to dispute it. The statute of limitations on personal debts typically expires somewhere between 3 and 10 years, depending on the state and circumstances of the loan. You did not obtain a written waiver on your rent as you waited for Section 8 rental assistance, so you technically still owed the debt in the eyes of the law at the time unless you could have convinced a court that there was an oral agreement.

I have a few questions for you, although my answer remains the same. Did the landlord receive your Section 8 rental assistance at the time, even though you moved out? Or did you move out leaving those two weeks completely unpaid? That will affect the amount of money that the landlord has a right to ask you for (as opposed to a right to demand that you pay under the law). Your financial hardship must have been difficult, but it should not alter the facts of this case.

We don’t know what kind of financial hardship the landlord is currently experiencing, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, so it would not hurt to have compassion on that basis now. Assuming you are in a position to pay the landlord this money and you lived in their building rent-free for two weeks despite the terms of your lease, I would nudge you towards paying the $1,700. It will clear the slate with the landlord. But perhaps more importantly, it will also clear the slate with yourself.

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