If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog

Rebecca Johnson has a lawyer. Her case has gone to trial. She has entered into a confidential settlement agreement with the opposing party, her landlord.

So, really, she shouldn’t be talking to us about her case. And to her credit, she hasn’t shared anything that’s not in the public record. But she wants us to warn people that the billing scam her landlord tried to get away with (and didn’t) may be occurring to others. Because her landlord is one of the largest rental property owners in the country.

The fancy marble columns people tend to notice on the way into our office may confuse people. This is not a law firm. We are not lawyers. And actually — you got me — we don’t have an office.

Sure, we have desks. And computers. But we are humble consumer advocates, helping consumers solve their problems.

Johnson may think we have special powers, but there are limits to what we can do. She wants us to identify her landlord by name, broadcast the facts of her case, in which she says her landlord violated Virginia consumer protection laws, and by extrapolation, infer that the landlord is committing the same fraud on thousands of other tenants because that’s what bad guys do.

She wants this to read: “Newsflash! Your landlord may be a scam artist!”

If you aren’t among the tiny fraction of American renters who has a close, friendly relationship with your landlord, you may already get tense when you see your landlord’s car parked outside your building, or wonder what bad news is on its way when you receive a piece of mail with your landlord’s return address on the envelope.

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In other words, landlord-tenant hostility is not news.

Fraud is a pretty serious accusation. Suspected fraud, especially on a large scale, is best reported to the attorney general of the state where you live. Before contacting us, Johnson had already reported her concerns to the Attorney General — not just of Virginia, where she lives — but of all 50 states, because she says her landlord has one of the largest real estate portfolios in the U.S.

Johnson is really covering her bases. And now she’s really onto something: Not only does she want you to be distrustful of your landlord, she also thinks the attorneys representing her landlord are in on it.

Take note, America. Be suspicious of landlords and corporate attorneys. Got it?

Johnson doesn’t say what the lawyers have done, but it’s unethical stuff. She writes, “I can only guess that this law firm has profited to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.”

Well, that’s where Johnson is wrong. The Big Law attorneys defending her landlord have undoubtedly billed many hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, representing a client who supposedly has such a large business interest to protect.

But there’s good news in all of this. Landlord-tenant law is fairly comprehensive and tends to favor tenants. Each state has its own Landlord-Tenant Act, which establishes the rights and responsibilities of both parties. When renters have a dispute with a landlord, they should document it, try to resolve it verbally and in writing, and finally, if all else fails, seek the help of a licensed attorney. Pro bono legal services may be available if you can’t afford an attorney.

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Johnson’s attorney, who is versed in the facts of the case, would be the best person to advise Johnson on making sure the right authorities have been notified. Or any of the 50 state attorneys general she looped in. But not us.

Remember, nothing in this blog constitutes legal advice. This is free. Legal advice you have to pay for.


Jessica Monsell

A writer and natural advocate, Jessica joined our consumer advocacy effort following a decade of work on behalf of air crash victims at one of the nation's largest plaintiffs' law firms. She has lived in Europe and Asia, but now calls Charleston, S.C. home.

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