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Can landlords require online payment for rent?

Renters have filed a suit against a landlord who requires them to pay their rent online. The tenants' suit claims that the online payments are a pretense to get rid of the lower income renters in the building that benefit from rent-stabilization. Many older residents say that the online payments make them vulnerable to eviction because they are not as technologically savvy as younger renters.

A state senator from California has gotten involved and introduced legislation that would prohibit landlords from requiring electronic payment. Some of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit say that the rule exploits the digital divide between middle and lower income Americans.

"I am 86 years old and I am computer illiterate," said a resident who has lived in the apartments since 1963. "I'd have to buy a computer and learn how to use it; at 86 I want to travel and do other things."

The landlords, Jones & Jones, say that the new payment system is meant to be eco-friendly and to save paper. They have issued a statement apologizing for those that have been negatively affected, and have added that fears of eviction by older residents are unfounded.

The company will still accept regular checks from residents if they sign an agreement that exempts them from the rule. Jones & Jones said that the majority of residents are fine using the online system. They have told reporters that they are confident that the dispute will be settled.

As technology becomes more and more available, there is no doubt that payments for necessities such as rent and utilities will become more digitized as well. The question of how this will affect renters and whether or not it's fair is yet to be determined.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "L.A, tenants battle landlord's online-only rent payment rule," March 7, 2012.

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