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Drop box thefts leave renters worried about eviction

6:07 PM, Oct 22, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is investigating a string of drop box thefts in rental communities, more than 30 cases, and is now warning landlords and tenants to stop using their drop boxes.

The advice comes too late for Derrall Wilcox. She lives in Casa Del Rio apartment community.

"In August, I paid my rent using the drop box so it wouldn't be late," said Wilcox.

MORE: Warning for renters making drop box payments

Wilcox said she's never been late and wanted to avoid the $65 fee, but now she has a bigger problem. The two money orders used to pay her August rent were stolen from the apartment drop box.

"This is not my responsibility. I did what I was supposed to do," she said.

The landlord has collected her rent for September and October but told her she still owes the stolen rent for August, $622. 

"As far as I'm concerned I gave it to them," she said, "Why is it my responsibility?"

Wilcox, 69, living on a fixed income is afraid that if she doesn't pay she will be evicted.

"My biggest fear is I'm gonna be sitting in my house and the sheriff is going to come to put me out," she said, "I've never had an eviction."

The reason for her concern is the two notices that have been posted by the property owner on her door: A gentle reminder or a threat?  

"If I did it, it would be my fault, I would accept responsibility. This is not my fault," she said.

The money orders were cashed by two different individuals four days after she reported them stolen to Western Union.

Western Union provided her copies and the landlord's name, her signature and address were washed from the documents and replaced by the names of Brian and Hector. They also provided a Las Vegas address, not Jacksonville.

JSO is now investigating and so is Western Union.

Ironically, Wilcox had to pay Western Union another $15 per money order for company to begin its investigation

It is a fact the money orders were purchased, and issued to the apartment, then cashed by someone else. So is Wilcox still liable for the stolen rent?

"I did what I was suppose to do," she said, "It's not like I'm asking for anything free, I paid my $622."

Unfortunately, Florida's landlord-tenant act does not address this issue.

"No one is being evicted," said Marianne Kelly. Kelly is the property manager at the Casa Del Rio apartment. She said about six tenants reported their rent stolen from the drop box.

"We're working with them," said Kelly, "They're given a chance to pay over a period of time without penalty."

She said some tenants are cooperating, others are not.

Since the landlord never really got to deposit the money, and reimbursement will company from the money order company, in Wilcox's case, it is Western Union.

"We're now working with our customer service team to find out the status of this inquiry," said Dan Diaz of Western Union.

Jacksonville Attorney Fred Elefant, a landlord tenant expert, said this case.

"There's a little fault on both sides," said Elefant. 

He said as long as the tenant has receipts they can defend their position but the fact is the landlord not accept nor deposit the payment. He said in cases like this, the landlord should and will work with the tenant.  

Until someone is caught Wilcox, the landlord is no longer accepting rent payments in its drop box. 

First Coast News

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