Restaurant employee challenges property group on prepaid lease

HOME SWEET HOME? Rachel Atkins submitted an application for the house located at 74 Livingston St. The next day, she was told she would have to prepay a 12-month lease because of her job in the service industry. Image courtesy of Google Streetview

COVID-19 has left many struggling to pay rent, but Asheville resident Rachel Atkins is facing a different housing challenge: She was told she had to pay a full 12-month lease in advance because of her job in the service industry. 

Atkins, who works at a downtown restaurant, has been trying to find a house and move in with her partner. They found a property at 74 Livingston St. and scheduled a viewing on June 22. The house was perfect, and within an hour, they had submitted an application with WNC Property Management, which oversees the rental. 

The next morning, Atkins received the following email from WNC Property Management: “Since your employment is in the service industry, and many businesses in the service industry are currently struggling, closed or potentially closing in the near future, you would be required to prepay your 12-month lease in advance.” 

Atkins offered to send previous pay stubs and a letter from her employers verifying her job. But that wasn’t good enough. “[W]e are in very challenging and uncertain economic times, and there is a good chance that many businesses in the service industry will be closing over the next 12 months,” a response from the property managers read. 

BACK AND FORTH: Atkins received the following email message from WNC Property Management after submitting an application for a house at 74 Livingston St. Screen capture courtesy of Rachel Atkins

The bill for the entire 12-month lease added up to $14,400, Atkins said. After the property manager said it couldn’t compromise, she posted the exchange to Facebook, prompting hundreds of comments in several locally oriented Facebook groups.

“I just feel stressed out about finding a spot to move in,” Atkins said. “It’s already a tricky market without adding in all these layers.”

Jim Barrett, executive director of Asheville-based nonprofit Pisgah Legal Services, says that requiring a year’s rent in advance is likely legal. However, he continues, the requirement may run counter to “the spirit of the residential security deposit law.” 

“This practice probably does not violate the Fair Housing laws because working in a particular job is not a protected class, ordinarily,” Barrett said. “Landlords can discriminate based on credit checks, so I guess landlords can require a prospective tenant to demonstrate ability to pay.”

WNC Property Management posted a statement to its Facebook page, saying “rent prepayment is not our company policy across the board for the service industry, as many have jumped to the conclusion.

“For this particular property, a [previous] tenant lost their job and was unable to pay rent, and the homeowner is requiring our company to ask all future tenants, where 100% of household income comes from a service industry job, to prepay their rent,” the statement continued. “We are contractually obligated to follow our client’s instructions.

“We stand with all those that work in Asheville’s service industry and realize that they are the fabric of our city and regret that our initial response did not reflect this.  As a small, locally owned business that has been hit as well, we empathize with anyone that has been affected by these challenging economic times. We have had to shut down the vacation rental management part of our business and have suffered large financial losses as a result.”

After receiving multiple comments on that statement, the management group released a subsequent message, which read: “The property in question has been removed from the market as the owner understands some were having trouble meeting a prepaid lease agreement. They understand the difficult time that many are going through right now and in no way wanted to add to anyone’s difficulties. They are now weighing options moving forward, and in the meantime, we have chosen not to relist the property unless it can be offered with no prepaid requirement.”

Atkins doubts she will apply for the house in question after her experience but says she is happy other people may now be able to qualify for a home.


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About Molly Horak
Molly Horak served as a reporter at Mountain Xpress. Follow me @molly_horak

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8 thoughts on “Restaurant employee challenges property group on prepaid lease

  1. Lou

    My landlord jumped on the chance to try to evict me…I stand up for myself when he bullies. Thanks to my family, I have been able to pay the rent, albeit a couple of days late, but he has terminated my lease as of the end of July. He likely knows how difficult it will be for me to find anything I can afford that will also allow my beloved pet. It’s not the first time I’ve had trouble, the last landlord stiffed me for my entire $1000 deposit, claimed I left the place a mess. I had pictures and other proof that it was cleaner when I left than when I moved in, but I did not have the time or money to pursue small claims. The level of plain old selfishness and “me first” policy with many landlords is astounding, sad, frustrating and disgusting. I can’t wait to get out of this town without a soul.

  2. dyfed

    Prepayment of rent is completely legal and has absolutely nothing to do with the law on residential lease security deposits. What a weird approach.

    If you don’t like the terms of the lease, don’t rent from that person.

    Personally I only ask for prepayment if the tenant is unemployed. Otherwise, if employment seems unstable, proof of funds is fine.

    I had a prospective tenant try to argue with me the other day that despite her credit being awful, currently delinquent on bills, and a recent eviction, and being unable to come up with a security deposit until after her move-in date, that she was definitely a great prospect. Everybody thinks they’re a good tenant and that a landlord should be lucky to have them. No thanks.

  3. Enlightened Enigma

    Some people like to prepay a big chunk in advance for a cheaper rate sometimes… I guess I have been fairly lucky, only stiffed about 3 times, the latest being a destructive female, a satire noir character…did drugs used crayons to draw on walls, doors, bathroom, tub/shower…tore the cabinet door off the sink base cabinet…had to repaint half the place…female disaster who claimed her ADHD was out of control and that it was none of my business SO glad the biotch is gone! …then 2 years ago, I had 3 local food service guys that were a nightmare also…so I don’t care to rent much to food service anymore…

  4. Bright

    Landlords have no pride in ownership nowadays…they are generally the most greedy people there are, while providing a sub-standard property at the highest price. NC owners of rental houses have carte blanche with rent. Beware…

    • Enlightened Enigma

      really, izzat because so many yanks are fleeing NYC etc ? the beaches are full of new yorkers right now… yankees are used to paying really high rents so YAY.

  5. David Bailey

    The excuse that “they are contractually obligated to honor {the} client’s instructions” is total BS. WNC Property Management could easily have terminated the relationship with that landlord for that property if the request was beyond the standards or ethics of the property management firm. WNC Property Management seems to have neither.

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