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Bill Blocks Landlords from Requiring Online Rent Payments

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill that prohibits landlords from requiring tenants to pay their rent online.

The bill, authored by Sen. Ted W. Lieu, ensures that landlords will have to accept other types of payments, a win for many low-income and elderly tenants who do not have access to, or are not skilled in using the Internet.

“This is a victory for everyone who wants the option of paying rent in ways other than online, such as check or money order,” Lieu, D-Torrance, said about the governor’s signature on Senate Bill 1055, which drew broad bipartisan support in the Legislature. “The elderly, disabled and poor – or someone who simply wants to keep their options open, can now be assured paying rent online is but one option open to them.”

Lieu got involved with the issue when his office received a letter from an “87-year-old widow from Torrance named Joyce Higgins.” In 2011, Higgins and the other tenants at a 300-apartment, rent-controlled complex in Los Angeles were notified by the facility’s property-management group that they would have to make their rent payments online, despite objections from hundreds of tenants, many of them senior citizens on fixed incomes, according to a statement from Lieu’s office.

Higgins refused to abide by the new policy, saying that she had been a victim of identity theft and was advised by her bank not to pay rent this way, according to Lieu.

She soon was served with a 60-day eviction notice.

“I have never been even one day late paying my rent, my apartment is spotless and I am a good neighbor to all of the seniors around me,” Higgins told Lieu in her letter.

“California residents such as Ms. Higgins are the reason I authored SB 1055,” Lieu said.

“Many residents are elderly, live on fixed incomes and have no computer,” he said.

It was “unreasonable” to ask renters, who may be financially strapped, “to invest in a computer, Internet access and related expenses in order to rent a residence,” he added.

Current law does not specify how rent is to be paid. SB 1055 revises the law to prohibit landlords from requiring online only rental payments.