In case any of you, dear readers, live in the Triangle, or, are about to sign a lease on a new apartment ANYWHERE, I feel compelled to warn you against the falling into the clutches of the utterly despicable, morally bankrupt, greed-driven corporation, Bell Apartment Living aka Steven D. Bell & Co., that owns multiple apartment complexes in the Triangle Area, including The Oaks At Weston, unhappily, my former home.
DO NOT RENT FROM OR OTHERWISE DO BUSINESS with this company, unless you enjoying having your bank account sucked dry by the equivalent of a pack of common thieves.
Sadly, the kind of greedy, unethical-bordering-on-illegal treatment we have suffered at The Oaks at Weston is not limited only to this company, who deliberately conducts its business specifically to take advantage of the naive tenant, but has become all-too-common everywhere. These people are not interested in providing honest, decent and responsible customer service in exchange for a fair-market rent payment. No, their sole reason to do business is to swindle you out of every cent they can get.
I can only hope that you, dear readers, will learn from my sad and naive experience.
Before you sign a lease, ANY lease, I urge you, for your own protection, to hire a lawyer to evaluate the terms of the contract you are about to enter into with your prospective landlord. You may have to pay a couple of hundred dollars for this service, but it could save you thousands of dollars as well as your peace of mind in the long run.
Our lease at the Oaks expires on April 17. At the beginning of Feb., we received a letter asking us if we intended to renew our lease. We'd been discussing finding a house to rent, as numerous unfortunate aspects of life at The Oaks at Weston had begun driving us utterly crazy. Not yet having found a new home, and knowing that North Carolina State law requires a 30-day notice of intent to renew or not renew tenancy, we didn't pay much attention to the letter. After all, we had more than 60 days before our lease was due to expire. And we couldn't risk making our 15 year-old son homeless in 60 days if we gave notice and couldn't find another place to live.
Happily, we found a house to rent, put down a security deposit, and signed a lease on Mar. 20 to take occupancy of the house on April 1. On Mar. 22, we notified the Oaks of our intent to move, figuring we would pay rent at the Oaks through the end of our lease period, plus whatever pro-rated amount we owed between April 17 and April 22 to make up our 30 day notice. Seems fair and legal, doesn't it?
Sadly, no. The Oaks informed us that even though our legal right to inhabit our apartment expires on April 17, we are legally obligated to continue to pay them rent until May 22, 60 days subsequent to our letter of intent to move. This sum of money represents approximately one month's worth of take-home income for us, and then of course, there also is the small matter of the rent we will be paying at the new house to be considered.
Paying money on an expired lease??? How is this possible?? Because we stupidly signed a lease without completely understanding the terms. Not that we had much of a choice-- for a host of urgent reasons, we needed to move into our new apt. last year in mid-April, and it was the only one we could find that met our space needs, that we could afford, and that was available at the right time.
Had we asked a lawyer to go over the lease, we would have learned that by signing it, we'd be legally obligated to give a minimum of 60 days notice and would be responsible for paying rent throughout that 60 day period.
But what about State law? State law doesn't matter one bit, once you've signed a written contract. Further, we would have learned that if we did NOT give 60 days notice prior to the expiration of the lease, the lease would-- get this: AUTOMATICALLY RENEW on a month-to-month basis to the tune of a $100 per month rent increase. So even if we had decided to STAY at the Oaks, we would have been saddled with a $100 per month rent increase. And, I learned from reading the NC landlord-tenant statutes, that on a month-to-month lease, only 7 days notice is required by either party to terminate the lease. So the Oaks could kick us out on the street in a matter of 1 week if they found a new tenant for our apt. But on the flip side, I reasoned that, come April 17, we would simply give them our 7 days notice and not be much worse off financially that we had planned on.
No, dear readers. Wrong again. Our diabolical lease also stipulated that once the lease moved to a month-to-month basis, 30 days notice would be required to terminate it. So we are still legally obligated to pay rent on an apt. that we don't even live in anymore until May 17ish. Now, I'm no Einstein, but I do in fact have a graduate degree and make my living as an information professional. And if something like this could happen to me, it breaks my heart to think about what injustices are being perpertrated against people even less inclined to understand these legal tangles, like college students, people whose first language is not English, etc.
There is one reason, and one reason only, to draw up a lease with the inherently unfair terms I've described above: GREED. Well, maybe two. Such a lease is also clearly meant to entrap any unsuspecting tenant who does not fully understand its terms or have knowledge that such a thing as an automatically renewing lease is even possible. Clearly, Steven D. Bell & Co. is only interested at profiting by cruelly taking advantage of tenants who naively and in good faith sign what they trust to be a fair and reasonable lease, rather what amounts to a license to be swindled.
Yes, I fully acknowledge that I was stupid to sign a document without being certain I understood it completely. And according to the letter of the law, Steven D. Bell has the legal right to demand such terms. They may have the right, but such a contract is unfair, unethical, and clearly aimed at gouging the unsuspecting consumer. Steven D. Bell has rigged the system to completely eliminate the normal risks of conducting business, so that it never loses a single penny on any of its apartments.
Steven D. Bell is a large and wealthy corporation. The money they are demanding from us is microscopic in comparison to the amount of profit they clear on a monthly basis. But it is a HUGE amount of money to us. Effectively, they are taking food right out of my son's mouth. And the sad part?? They see absolutely nothing wrong with doing so.
How do I know this? I've talked with the apartment management and explained the situation, and have even gone so far as to ask if some other arrangement could be worked out. I might as well have been talking to a stone for all the good it did. Now THAT's a winning combination: greedy AND heartless.
It may be legal, but that doesn't make it right. It makes me sad to think that this is the level to which conducting business in the USA has sunk. This is no more than common thievery.
Before you sign a lease, be sure you know what you are agreeing to. We all know we should never sign anything withough reading and understanding it. I knew it too. I just never imagined I could be legally vicitmized by this level of chicanery.
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