Lily Ann Fouts

What follows is a Public Service Announcement based on our experience with Lewis and Kathleen A. Newman, doing business as Top Rentals, LLC in Blackwell, Oklahoma.  If you are looking for a house to rent in Blackwell, please exercise caution and document everything carefully if you deal with Lewis and Kathy Newman/Top Rentals, LLC, especially if you are a conscientious tenant as we are. Below I will share in detail the documentation that we have regarding our experience with these landlords. In some places I have blanked out e-mails and names of people to protect their privacy.

Our Experience (and supporting documentation):

Main Points:

  1. The house was extremely filthy when we moved in.  
  2. The garbage disposal did not work when we moved in, and Kathy promised to fix it while we were there, but didn’t, despite repeated requests.  
  3. Kathy never once came to the house while we were there–either to show it to us or to see it when we were ready to move out, even though we asked her to come, several times.  
  4. Kathy admitted that we were good, reliable renters.
  5. We asked for a refund of our deposit numerous times, beginning the day we moved out.
  6. Kathy stated that she did not have the funds to return our deposit.  (This is a violation of OK Law, 41 O.S. Sec. 115(A) which requires the deposit to be kept in an escrow account)
  7. Kathy promised us a refund of our deposit, more than once.
  8. Kathy kept changing the date she said she would send our refund.
  9. Kathy made up a list of charges–including the broken garbage disposal and cleaning charges– more than 6 weeks after we moved out (this is a violation of OK Law, 41 O.S. Sec. 115(B), which imposes a 30-day time limit), unethically and illegally withholding $150 from our refund
  10. Kathy dated the letter and partial refund check to make it appear that they were written more than a month earlier.  However, the postmark on the envelope proves otherwise.
  11. We rejected the $350 partial refund as unacceptable and pursued our full $500 refund via a complaint to the Better Business Bureau, and also sent a complaint to the Oklahoma State Attorney General’s Office.
  12. Kathy sent the remaining $150 to us, attached (with 12 staples–check out the photo below!) to a letter that stated that by cashing the check we would agree to remove our complaints to BBB and the AG’s office.  Because we are concerned that Kathy will do this to others, we would like the record to remain public.  We are unwilling to agree to those terms and are seeking legal advice.  Furthermore, since Kathy wrote all over the back of the check it remains to be seen whether the bank will accept it (writing below the signature line is typically not allowed).
  13. I let the BBB know that I had received a check from Kathy; they informed me that they would close out the case as resolved but that the record would remain public.  We were glad to hear this.  We’re now back in the U.S. and decided to go ahead and proceed with cashing the checks.  Thankfully, the writing on the back of the one check was not an issue and the funds came through.  Now that the funds have come through, I will notify the AG’s office that we have received our refund, and recommend they do what they can to prevent this from happening to others.

Read on for full details (in chronological order) and supporting documentation:

We rented a house for three months (while my husband worked on a short-term job contract) from Lewis and Kathy Newman, DBA Top Rentals, LLC.  We rented from October 17, 2013 to January 15, 2014.

October 15-16, 2013:

Found the house on Craigslist and contacted Kathy Newman for the first time. Corresponded regarding lease terms, pet deposit, appliances, application process, etc.

Kathy told me via the phone that she would be willing to arrange a shorter lease for $500 per month (instead of $400 for the 6-month lease) and I arranged for us to go see the house October 16, after Keith got off work.

Kathy Newman did not show us the house personally but told me over the phone where I could find a key.  We retrieved the key and toured the house.  It was beginning to get dark and with the electricity turned off some things were hard to see, but it was clear that the house was pretty dirty.  

The house had no appliances at all.  When we (verbally) offered to put in a fridge and stove for her if she could subtract the cost from our rent, she said she did not want to provide appliances in her rentals because she didn’t want to be responsible for tenants trashing them, but assured us that we could rent appliances “cheap” at a furniture place in town.  I asked how much and she said she didn’t know exactly.  (After we had already turned in our application, I went to check the following day and appliance rental is actually not cheap.  It would have increased our rental price by quite a lot and within a couple of months would be cheaper to just buy used appliances outright on Craigslist.)  

We also asked if there was any way we could have our pet deposit refunded if we shampooed the carpets before leaving and she confirmed there was no damage, but she wouldn’t budge on that at all.

We went ahead and turned in our application with the application fee that night (October 16, 2013), along with the $200 pet deposit, because we were getting desperate to move out of our cramped hotel room and into a house.

The application process was quite extensive and she asked for ID, employment references, previous landlord references, and character references and called all of them.  She described some bad experiences they had had with previous tenants who trashed their houses, stole their smoke detectors, etc., and said she needed to do all of this to protect herself.

Here is our correspondence regarding our references:

131016-2020 131016-2020-2

Keith e-mailed his boss’s name and number to Kathy Newman.  I also sent her the information for my last boss:

——————

On Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 9:06 PM, Lily Fouts <l—-@gmail.com> wrote:

Hi Kathy!  Below is the info for J—- B—–, my boss at my last job (in Antarctica).  He may be on his way back to Antarctica about now, so if you can’t reach him on the direct line you might call the 800 number and ask how to contact him.  Hopefully you’ll be able to reach him right away!

——————–

On Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 9:11 PM, Lewis Newman <k————-@4grc.com> wrote:

OK GOT THE INFO. AND WILL BE CALLING HIM.  WILL CALL IN MORNING WHEN I GET ALL COMPLETED.
WHAT KIND OF ELECTRICIAN IS KEITH AGAIN??  I KNOW KEITH TOLD ME BUT I CAN’T REMEMBER AND MY HUSBAND WAS CURIOUS??
WILL EMAIL OR CALL WHEN GET YOU ALL READY.  THANKS
KATHY NEWMAN

——————–

On Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 9:28 PM, Lily Fouts <l——@gmail.com> wrote:

Keith’s a Master Electrician and does industrial and commercial work (rather than residential, which does not pay as well).  He takes projects that have high hours so that he’s doing at least 10 hours of overtime every week–that’s where it really adds up.   In Greeley he was working 7 days per week–68 hours.  Here he is starting out at 50 hours and it looks like it might be going up.

Keith also has a B.S. in Aeronautical Science and is a commercial pilot, though he obviously isn’t using that in his current line of work…

I’ll look forward to hearing from you and will be in town to sign the lease and get the utilities set up tomorrow.
We did forget to let you know that we would like the 2 month lease, if possible, and then if it is ok we will go month-to-month afterward for as long as we are in the area.  Is that going to work?
Also, since we are starting in the middle of the month, will our rent due date be the 17th of each month, or will our rent be pro-rated or how will that work?
Sorry for all the questions…forgot to ask them all while we were there!

——————–

Notice what Kathy Newman said she would do with our deposit check in the following e-mail (relevant text highlighted in red):

——————–

On Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 9:57 PM, Lewis Newman <k——@4grc.com> wrote:

OK, WOW THAT IS REALLY IMPRESSIVE… I WILL TELL MY HUSBAND ABOUT IT. 
AND WE CAN JUST DO THE LEASE AS A MONTH TO MONTH LEASE IS FINE.
AND YOU WILL NEED TO PAY THE FIRST MONTH’S RENT UP FRONT ON TOMORROW, 10/17 AND THEN IT WILL BE DUE THE 17TH OF EVERY MONTH THEREAFTER. 
WHAT I WILL HAVE YOU DO IS TO WRITE ME A SEPARATE CHECK FOR $500.00 FOR THE DEPOSIT AND I WILL JUST HOLD ONTO THIS TO GIVE YOU BACK WHEN YOU LEAVE.  THEN YOU CAN DO ME A SEPARATE CHECK FOR THE RENT OF $500.00.  THE $200.00 YOU GAVE ME TONIGHT WE CAN CONSIDER AS THE NON-REFUNDABLE CAT DEPOSIT.
MAKE THE CHECKS  OUT TO “TOP RENTALS, LLC”.  WILL THAT BE OKAY?? 
YOU SEEM TO BE A GIRL AFTER MY OWN HEART.  I LIKE TO KNOW WHAT I NEED TO DO BEFORE I HAVE TO DO IT ALSO!!
THANKS,
KATHY N.

——————–

October 17, 2013:

I went into town to sign the lease, pay the deposit ($500, refundable) and first month’s rent ($500), and start the process with turning on the utilities.  Once I had the keys, I went over to the house.  I called and visited the various utility companies to come and set up the electricity, water, gas, and internet.  

With the sun out I was able to get a better look at the house and noticed that the carpet was even worse than I had originally thought.  It was sticky all over with many stains and half eaten candy firmly stuck to the carpet and reduced to big, sticky black lumps in various areas.  The light fixtures all had a thick layer of sticky brown fuzz/dust on them, as well as the blinds and every other surface with the exception of the kitchen–the only place where the surfaces appeared to have been wiped down reasonably recently. There was a brownish film of grime on every window. 

The inspectors from the City of Blackwell (Steve Archer and two other gentlemen who arrived a few minutes before Steve) also came out on the 17th and found several things that needed to be fixed before they would turn on the utilities.  If they remember doing the inspection they could probably attest to the condition of the carpet and the layer of fuzzy dust on every fixture and my general level of disgust at the grime and musty smell, which they also commented on and found the cause–an area near the central air and heating unit where water was getting in.  I remember telling them in conversation that I was going to be spending a lot of time cleaning up the place to make it more livable.  

I relayed the list of items needing to be fixed verbally to Kathy via a telephone conversation following the inspection, so that they could take care of them and we could get the utilities turned on.  Kathy indicated they would take care of the items on Friday and so I scheduled a re-inspection with the city for Monday.

October 18, 2013:

I posted a picture of the house on Facebook.  Notice John K’s comment quoting Kathy Newman, and my description of the condition of the house:

131018 Description

Text from Kathy Newman:

131018-1705 131018-1707

131018-1708

On Saturday and Sunday Keith and I went to Kansas to pick up a load of household items, drop them off at the house, and we returned to the hotel for a final night on Sunday, October 20. 

October 20, 2013:

131020-1727

Never once during the move-in process did Kathy come into the house at the same time we were there to show us around or see the condition of the house.

October 21, 2013:

Move-in day.  Re-inspection was successful.  Utilities were connected.  I spent two full days cleaning the house:

  • Renting a carpet shampooer and shampooing the carpet in the entire house, spending lots of time on the grimy candy remains and other stains.  I did several passes with the shampooer and it took me several hours of work.  This was money out of our own pockets
  • Taking down each light fixture in the entire house (no fewer than 20 fixtures) and hand-washing each one with soap to get the grime off before re-installing them
  • Replacing numerous burned out (or entirely missing) light bulbs
  • Washing all the windows
  • Wiping the dust off of all the doors, door frames, window sills and base boards
  • Disinfecting the entire bathroom and kitchen
  • Cleaning out some sticky spills inside several of the kitchen cupboards and putting down contact paper (purchased by us) in several drawers and shelves
  • Sweeping a thick layer of dust and bits of trash out of each closet and the utility room

October 23, 2013:

We began to find broken/malfunctioning/missing things around the house, such as the inability to lock the back door from the outside due to having no keys and non-working electrical outlets.  In fact, the door could not even be closed from the outside–the wind would push it back open.  (Our indoor cat later escaped twice due to this; thankfully I was able to find her both times.)  Notice my description of the work I had been doing (highlighted in red).  This cleaning would have been unnecessary had the house been delivered to us in a clean condition.

————

On Wed, Oct 23, 2013 at 9:44 AM, Lily Fouts <l—–@gmail.com> wrote:

Hi Kathy!
Things are going well here as we settle in.  We did notice that the GFCIs that the electrician put in aren’t working in the bathroom or to the left of the kitchen sink.  Keith says he feels bad for the electrician because he had no way to test the outlets with the power shut off…but if you could arrange for him to come and get those fixed up sometime we’d really appreciate it!  Other than that everything seems to be working as it should so far as we can tell.  I’ll let you know if anything else turns up.  OH, also, do you happen to have a key to the back door?  It would be nice if we could let ourselves in through the back when we get home.  If you don’t have a key, would you mind if we changed the lock on the back door so that we can get keys for it?  I’ve been busy cleaning, dusting, shampooing carpets, and unpacking!
Lily

—————-

October 24, 2013:

Note this first e-mail was actually sent in the middle of the night, so by “tomorrow” she actually meant later that day.  Kathy was unwilling to fix the door.  We didn’t push it.

—————-

From: Lewis Newman <k——@4grc.com>
Date: Thu, Oct 24, 2013 at 12:57 AM
Subject: Re: $400 / 2br – 1100ft; – 1012 W. PADON
To: Lily Fouts <l———@gmail.com>

HELLO,
I WILL HAVE THE ELECTRIC CHECKED OUT AGAIN.  WILL YOU BE HOME TOMORROW?? 
NO I DO NOT HAVE A KEY TO THE BACK DOOR.  IF YOU WANT TO CHANGE THE LOCKS ON THE BACKDOOR YOU CAN, BUT YOU WILL HAVE TO PAY FOR THE LOCKS AND THE WORK IT MAY TAKE A CARPENTER TO DO IT.  I DO NOT AGREE TO PAYING FOR NEW LOCKS OR  PAYING A CARPENTER TO COME IN AND DO WORK ON THE LOCK OR TO KNOCKING MONEY OFF THE RENT FOR YOUR “OUT OF POCKET EXPENSES” TO FIX THE BACKDOOR THE WAY YOU WANT IT.  SORRY BUT THE LOCK DOES WORK FROM THE INSIDE.  IF YOU WANT THE BACKDOOR LOCKS CHANGED,  IT WILL HAVE TO BE AT YOUR OWN EXPENSE. 
IF YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BE HOME TOMORROW LET ME KNOW SO I CAN GO WITH THE ELECTRICIAN TO LET HIM IN TO DO HIS WORK.  
THANKS,
KATHY N.

——————

From: Lily Fouts <l——–@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Oct 24, 2013 at 6:40 AM
Subject: Re: $400 / 2br – 1100ft; – 1012 W. PADON
To: Lewis Newman <k——–@4grc.com>

Hi Kathy!

Yes, I’ll be home today probably until around 5.
Thanks!
Lily

—————–

From: Lewis Newman <k——–@4grc.com>
Date: Thu, Oct 24, 2013 at 10:18 AM
Subject: Re: $400 / 2br – 1100ft; – 1012 W. PADON
To: Lily Fouts <l——@gmail.com>

OK, I HAVE TEXTED MY ELECTRIC GUY BUT HE HASN’T ANSWERED ME YET, BUT I’M SURE HE WILL BEFORE DAY IS OVER .  I WILL LET YOU KNOW WHEN HE WILL TRY TO MAKE IT AND ALSO GIVE HIM YOUR NUMBER TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE THERE BEFORE HE COMES. 

KATHY

——————

Not long after this correspondence, I discovered that the garbage disposal was also completely non-functional.  I looked under the sink and saw that it was not plugged in, so I plugged it into the outlet under the sink.  It still did not work.  However, since it was on the same wall as the non-functioning outlets, I assumed that the electricity was the problem and made a mental note to have the electrician check it out when he came.

October 25, 2013:

After several full days of cleaning and unpacking, I took some photos of the house and shared them with friends on Facebook.  Notice my description of what the house was like when we moved in:

Blackwell Description of House ConditionBlackwell Description of House Condition 2

Several days elapsed and we heard nothing from Kathy or her electrician.

October 29, 2013:

More correspondence:

131029-1110131029-1111131029-1112

The electrician showed up and fixed the malfunctioning outlets.  He also tested the garbage disposal and told us that it didn’t work.  I didn’t think to mention the garbage disposal to Kathy at that time because we weren’t having any other problems and it’s something I am used to living without.  I forgot about it for awhile.  I wish I had thought to ask the electrician’s name, but I didn’t.  The city may have him on record as the licensed electrician who fixed the problems after the inspection.

Later that evening, Kathy texted again:
131029-1739

We value our privacy, and I felt a bit vulnerable after her prior description of the kinds of people who have rented from her in the past.  My reply:

131029-1742

131029-1744

131029-1750

Here’s the e-mail I sent:

—————-

From: Lily Fouts <l——@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Oct 29, 2013 at 5:50 PM
Subject: House showing
To: Lewis Newman <K——@4grc.com>

Hi Kathy!

Easier for me to type on a regular keyboard…  🙂
Thursday or Friday evening is a possibility though at some point this week we are going to be going up to Wichita to pick up a fridge and we’re not sure when yet.  Sorry to be vague…  part of it will depend on Keith’s work schedule; they may be having an 8-hour day this week and we’d like to go then (normally he works 10 hour days). I’ll talk to Keith when he gets home and get back to you soon!
Lily 

——————-

From: Lily Fouts <l——-@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Oct 29, 2013 at 7:17 PM
Subject: Thursday
To: Lewis Newman <K——-@4grc.com>

Hi Kathy,

Talked to Keith…if they want to come Thursday evening that will be fine.  We’ll be here then. We would rather that in the future we don’t have people looking at the house until after we’ve given our 30 day notice, but this Thursday we’ll be ok with showing the place.
I hope you’re having a great week!

Lily

—————————-

October 30, 2013:

————————

From: Lewis Newman <k——–@4grc.com>
Date: Wed, Oct 30, 2013 at 10:40 AM
Subject: Re: KATHY NEWMAN
To: Lily Fouts <l———-@gmail.com>

HELLO LILY,
SINCE IT SEEMS TO UPSET YOU ABOUT SHOWING THE HOUSE I WILL JUST WAIT UNTIL YOU GIVE US YOUR 30 DAYS NOTICE.
I DIDN’T THINK A 5 MINUTE TOUR OF THE HOUSE WOULD BE TOO MUCH TROUBLE.  I WILL ADHERE STRICTLY TO OUR LEASE POLICY THAT IS SET IN MOTION IN THE FUTURE.
YOU HAVE A GREAT WEEK ALSO!!
KATHY
—————————
From: Lily Fouts <l——@gmail.com>
Date: Wed, Oct 30, 2013 at 12:04 PM
Subject: Re: KATHY NEWMAN
To: Lewis Newman <k———@4grc.com>

Hi Kathy!

Sorry to come across as upset.  I guess we’re just uncomfortable with strangers coming into the house–particularly after hearing your stories of some of your previous tenants.  Sounds like some pretty rough people, which makes me feel a bit vulnerable having them come through my house.  No hard feelings!  We really are ok with showing the place tomorrow evening if you would like.  Just let us know.
Take care!
Lily

———————

November 5, 2013:

Despite what Kathy Newman had written to us on October 16, and without any advance notice or warning, she cashed our $500 deposit check:

131105 Check

November 16, 2013:

The day before our rent was due, Kathy Newman texted us a reminder:

131116-1507

November 17, 2013:

We paid our rent on the due date, as we always do.

131117-1408

Around this time, the broken garbage disposal started backing up.  We bought some Drano–the kind made especially for disposals–and kept the drain cover in place to prevent any larger things from slipping in, and it worked fine for a few more days, but then started backing up again.  

November 21, 2013:

At this point I decided to ask to have the garbage disposal fixed or taken out and sent Kathy an e-mail.  

————–

From: Lily Fouts <l———-@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Nov 21, 2013 at 9:25 PM
Subject: Garbage Disposal
To: Lewis Newman <K——-@4grc.com>

Hi Kathy!  How are you doing?  Thanks for the receipt.  

I wanted to let you know, the garbage disposal does not work.  At first we thought it had to do with the electricity, since the outlets to the left of the kitchen sink didn’t work, but your electrician checked into it while he was here and said that it was the disposal itself.  It’s completely dead.  Water tends to back up in that side of the sink.  We put some Drano down it (the special kind made for garbage disposals) and it worked for awhile, but now it’s backing up again even though we are really careful not to let stuff go down the drain.  So I think the disposal should probably be either repaired, replaced, or–more realistically–simply removed.  Most likely it’ll cause problems again with future tenants, so taking it out is probably going to be the simplest option.  Do you think you could get someone to come over and take care of it?  Let me know!
Thanks,
Lily
——————

 

November 22, 2013:

She replied: 

—————–

From: Lewis Newman <k———–@4grc.com>
Date: Fri, Nov 22, 2013 at 12:19 PM
Subject: Re: Garbage Disposal
To: Lily Fouts <l———@gmail.com>

OK WE WILL.

—————

December 2-3, 2013:

—————

From: Lily Fouts <l—-@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Dec 2, 2013 at 7:14 PM
Subject: Sink
To: Lewis Newman <K——-@4grc.com>

Hi Kathy!

I’m really sorry to bug you again, but we still haven’t heard from your plumber/handyman/anyone regarding the garbage disposal issue.  Do you have any idea when someone might be able to come over and take care of it?  It seems to be getting worse, so the sooner it can get fixed or removed, the better.  Thanks!
Lily

—————-

From: Lewis Newman <k—–@4grc.com>
Date: Tue, Dec 3, 2013 at 9:53 AM
Subject: Re: Sink
To: Lily Fouts <l—-@gmail.com>

HELLO LILY,

I AM SO SORRY ABOUT THE WAIT BUT DUE TO THE CITY OF BLACKWELL’S CODE ENFORCEMENT’S RULES WE HAVE TO HAVE A LICENSED PLUMBER TO DO THE WORK AND OUR GUY IS REALLY BACKED UP  WITH WORK AS ARE ALL THE OTHER  PLUMBERS IN BLACKWELL AND IN PONCA CITY DOING THE CODE ENFORCEMENT’S ENFORCED “NEW RULES”. SO..PLEASE BARE WITH US AS WE ARE DOING OUR BEST.
I KNOW IT  IS VERY FRUSTRATING AS WE ARE FRUSTRATED RIGHT ALONG WITH YOU AS TO THE LENGTH THAT I HAVE TO EMAIL, TEXT AND PHONE MY ELECTRICIAN’S AND PLUMBERS TO GET AN ANSWER SO I AM RIGHT THERE  WITH YOU AS TO THE IRRITATION ON THIS ISSUE.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE IN THIS MATTER.  IN THE MEANTIME, YOU MIGHT NOT PUT ANYTTHING DOWN THAT SIDE OF THE SINK TO AVOID THE PROBLEM.  THIS MIGHT HELP?  THANK YOU FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDING.
THE OLD SAYING GOES THAT YOU CAN’T FIGHT CITY HALL.
YOU HAVE A NICE DAY NOW!
KATHY N.

——————

From: Lily Fouts <l—–@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Dec 3, 2013 at 10:42 AM
Subject: Re: Sink
To: Lewis Newman <k——-@4grc.com>

Hi Kathy, thanks for the update!  We’ll continue to wait patiently.  🙂  Yes, that side of the sink won’t drain at all anymore so we don’t put anything down it.  We’ve been really careful and always have a strainer in place, etc. but even in spite of our precautions it keeps on clogging.  Thanks again for letting me know what’s going on!  I appreciate it.Lily

————— 

 December 16, 2013:

Weeks elapsed since we first reported the problem with the garbage disposal.  Keith’s work was winding down so I sent our 30-day notice both via e-mail and in a note with the month’s rent as well, which I paid a day early.  I also reminded Kathy Newman about the sink:

——————–
From: Lily Fouts <l—–@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Dec 16, 2013 at 2:00 PM
Subject: 30-Day Notice
To: Lewis Newman <K——-@4grc.com>

Hi Kathy!

Well, it looks like the job is winding down and expected to be close to done by mid-January, so I wanted to write in with our 30-day notice and let you know that by January 17 we plan to move out.
Incidentally, have you heard any updates from your plumber recently?  We’d really love to be able to use both sides of the kitchen sink…  😉
Thanks for everything!
Lily
—————-
131216 Check
Kathy’s reply completely ignored my question about the sink:
—————–
From: Lewis Newman <k———-@4grc.com>
Date: Mon, Dec 16, 2013 at 4:35 PM
Subject: Re: 30-Day Notice
To: Lily Fouts <l———@gmail.com>

OK GOT YOUR MESSAGE.  THANKS FOR THE UPDATE.
KATHY N.
—————-

January 3, 2014:

Kathy Newman called to see if she could show the house to some prospective tenants that afternoon at 2:00 p.m.  I agreed.  I also asked her for an update on the sink situation.  She said all the plumbers in the area were backed up “at least three months,” and that she had called all the surrounding towns.  She said they probably wouldn’t get around to our garbage disposal until after we were gone.  This seemed highly unlikely to me for a small town, so I asked, “Do you mind if I call around?  If I find someone who’s available I can put them in touch with you.”  In a stern tone of voice, she replied, “Just leave it alone.”  

Kathy later sent me this text:140103-1306
So I planned on nobody showing up; I almost left the house to run some errands.  At 2:00 p.m. I was checking e-mail when I saw an unfamiliar man peering into the window.  He saw me there and looked surprised.  I went to the door and asked what they needed–it was a young couple.  They said they were there to look at the house; I told them the appointment had been canceled; they said they hadn’t gotten that message.  I called Kathy to ask what was going on and let her know her prospective tenants were there and got voice mail.  Left a message for her and then decided to go ahead and let the couple in and show them the house.  They seemed very apologetic.

January 6, 2014:

More people came to look at the house.  Once again, Kathy sent them over and left me to show the place (it was actually 2 guys)–never came over herself.140106-1353
140106-1354

January 14, 2014:

I texted Kathy Newman to let her know we would be leaving the following day, and asking to arrange a time to exchange keys and deposit check:140114-1555
140114-1741Here’s the e-mail Kathy sent.  Note the discrepancy between what she promised on October 16 and what she said here.  Note also that she acknowledged that we were good tenants.  She also said the payment would be sent “in a couple of days.”

————

From: Lewis Newman <k——@4grc.com>
Date: Tue, Jan 14, 2014 at 5:39 PM
Subject: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lily Fouts <l—–@gmail.com>

HELLO LILY,

I GOT YOUR TEXT MESSAGE ABOUT LEAVING.  THAT IS FINE.
HOW I DO THE REFUND PROCESS OF YOUR DEPOSIT IS TO HAVE YOU GIVE ME YOUR NEW FORWARDING ADDRESS AND WHEN I GET YOUR HOUSE PROCESSED I WILL MAIL YOU YOUR DEPOSIT TO YOUR FORWARDING ADDRESS.  EITHER EMAIL ME YOUR FORWARDING ADDRESS OR LEAVE A NOTE ON THE KITCHEN CABINET FOR ME. 
YOU CAN JUST LEAVE THE KEY ON THE KITCHEN CABINET ALSO.  THANK YOU FOR BEING SUCH A GOOD TENANT
I WILL GET YOU PROCESSED IN A COUPLE OF DAYS AND GET YOUR CHECK IN THE MAIL TO YOU.  THANKS AGAIN.
I HOPE YOU HAVE A NICE TRIP TO YOUR NEW HOME.
KATHY NEWMAN

————

I told Keith that I didn’t want to leave until she saw the house and that I did not trust her to refund our deposit unless we could get solid confirmation from her before turning in the keys.  Again I wrote to her asking to come before we left:

———–

From: Lily Fouts <l—–@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Jan 14, 2014 at 5:51 PM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lewis Newman <k——@4grc.com>

Hi Kathy; is there any chance you could process the house before we leave?  We are actually going to be leaving the country so it will be very difficult for us to receive and cash a check after we are gone.  We would also like to show you how nicely we cleaned up the house before we leave.  We always do our best to leave a place nicer when we leave than it was when we arrive.  Is there any way you could stop by sometime tomorrow anytime before 2 p.m.?

Let me know!
Thanks!
Lily

———–

“In a couple of days” became “at the end of the month.”  Kathy admitted that we were dependable and said she didn’t need to see the house, she was sure we had left it clean:

———–

From: Lewis Newman <k——-@4grc.com>
Date: Tue, Jan 14, 2014 at 6:14 PM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lily Fouts <l——–@gmail.com>

LILY,

ACTUALLY, I DO NOT HAVE THE TOTAL AMOUNT NEEDED TO PAY YOU BACK YOUR REFUND AT THIS TIME IN MY COMPANY’S CHECKING ACCOUNT, BUT AT THE END OF THE MONTH I WILL. 
CAN’T YOU LEAVE ME AN ADDRESS AND I CAN SEND YOU A MONEY ORDER OR CASHIERS CHECK AND YOU CAN TAKE THAT TO THE AMERICAN EMBASSY WHERE YOU WILL BE LIVING OUT OF THE COUNTRY AND CASH IT THERE?  I AM SURE YOU HAVE SOME SORT OF WAY OF MAKING SUCH TRANSACTIONS IN THESE SITUATIONS. 
I REALLY DON’T NEED TO SEE THE HOUSE.  I AM QUITE SURE YOU ARE LEAVING IT NICE AND CLEAN.  I HAVE LEARNED THAT YOU ARE DEPENDABLE FOLKS.
KATHY NEWMAN 

—————–

NOTE: According to 41 O.S. Sec. 115(A), “Any damage or security deposit required by a landlord of a tenant must be kept in an escrow account for the tenant, which account shall be maintained in the State of Oklahoma with a federally insured financial institution. Misappropriation of the security deposit shall be unlawful and punishable by a term in a county jail not to exceed six (6) months and by a fine in an amount not to exceed twice the amount misappropriated from the escrow account.”

—————-

From: Lily Fouts <l—–@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Jan 14, 2014 at 6:39 PM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lewis Newman <k——@4grc.com>
Could you send us the money via Amazon payments?  It is free to use, and we can transfer the money into our bank account without having to rely on the Ecuadorian postal service.  Here is the link to the service:  https://payments.amazon.com/home.  (Have it sent to this e-mail address: l—–@gmail.com.)

Thanks!

Lily

————

January 15, 2014:

I wasn’t willing to leave without some kind of written confirmation from Kathy Newman that we would in fact receive our refund.  Kathy had not replied to the e-mail I sent the previous evening, so I wrote again:

———-

From: Lily Fouts <l——@gmail.com>
Date: Wed, Jan 15, 2014 at 9:20 AM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lewis Newman <k——@4grc.com>

Is Amazon payments going to work for you?

One other option is for us to pick up a check from you today, then if you post date it we can just hang onto it and deposit it on whatever day you say is ok.  We can sign, scan, and deposit the check electronically from Ecuador.  But we’ll need to get it from you before we leave.
Just let me know whether you’d rather do a post-dated check or the Amazon payments so if we need to stop by today we can do that before leaving town.
Thanks!
Lily
—————

Finally, a written confirmation that we would get our money back and that she would send it via Amazon Payments:

—————

From: Lewis Newman <k——@4grc.com>
Date: Wed, Jan 15, 2014 at 12:02 PM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lily Fouts <l——@gmail.com>
I’LL DO IT THRU THE AMAZON PAYMENTS LATER WHEN I HAVE THE FUNDS TO DO IT.  I DO NOT WANT TO GIVE OUT A POST DATED CHECK.   DON’T WORRY.  YOU’LL GET YOUR MONEY BACK. 
KATHY NEWMAN
————–
From: Lily Fouts <l——@gmail.com>
Date: Wed, Jan 15, 2014 at 12:42 PM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lewis Newman <k—-@4grc.com>
Ok, I’ll watch for the e-mail from Amazon payments at the end of the month.  Thanks!
Lily

————-

Now that I had a written promise that we would be refunded, I decided it was good enough.  Keith and I loaded the last of our things and went through the house cleaning everything carefully.  I dusted, swept, vacuumed, and wiped all the surfaces.  The carpet still looked far better than it had when we moved in.  I received another e-mail from Kathy:

————

From: Lewis Newman <k——–@4grc.com>
Date: Wed, Jan 15, 2014 at 1:39 PM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lily Fouts <l——@gmail.com>

SO YOU ALL ARE LEAVING DEFINITELY TODAY?? 

HOPE YOU HAVE A NICE TRIP AND WILL TRANSFER THE MONEY ON AMAZON SITE AS SOON AS I GET ENOUGH TO DO IT.  THANKS FOR BEING GOOD RENTERS.
KATHY NEWMAN
——————-
From: Lily Fouts <l—-@gmail.com>
Date: Wed, Jan 15, 2014 at 2:39 PM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lewis Newman <k—–@4grc.com>
We are loading the last few items now.  Yes, definitely leaving today unless the vehicle breaks down or something.  🙂Lily

———–

January 16, 2014:

From my in-laws’ house in Kansas, I wrote a final “FYI” to Kathy Newman:
————-
From: Lily Fouts <l—-@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Jan 16, 2014 at 11:21 AM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lewis Newman <k——@4grc.com>
Kathy, FYI – we locked up the house and left 2 keys on the kitchen counter.  We put the other key in your dropbox outside your front door.  Turned the hot water heater off and turned the thermostat down.  The utility companies have all been notified; they are supposed to be turning off the gas on Friday and the city utilities on Monday.
————-
Again, Kathy confirmed she would send the money:
————-
From: Lewis Newman <k——@4grc.com>
Date: Thu, Jan 16, 2014 at 1:00 PM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lily Fouts <l——–@gmail.com>
thank you Lily.  got the key  in the box.  Will be sending money as soon as I get it.

———–

February 1, 2014:

The end of the month came and went.  I received no Amazon Payment as promised.  I e-mailed a reminder to Kathy:

———
From: Lily Fouts <l——–@gmail.com>
Date: Sat, Feb 1, 2014 at 1:14 PM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lewis Newman <k——–@4grc.com>

Hi Kathy, greetings from Loja, Ecuador!  We had a good trip down.


I hope all is going well.  The $500 deposit refund can be sent via amazon payments (https://payments.amazon.com) to my e-mail address:  l—-@gmail.com.  Thanks!

Lily  

—————

From: Lewis Newman <k———@4grc.com>
Date: Sat, Feb 1, 2014 at 6:14 PM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lily Fouts <l—–@gmail.com>
A SOON AS I CAN GET TO THE BANK MONDAY AND MAKE MY DEPOSIT WILL DO.
 
I HAVEN’T FORGOT YOU!! 
 
K.N.

—————–

From: Lily Fouts <l——-@gmail.com>
Date: Sat, Feb 1, 2014 at 9:12 PM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lewis Newman <k——-@4grc.com>

Ok, sounds good!  Thanks. 

Lily
——————–

February 3, 2014:

Suddenly, Kathy Newman became worried about using the internet to send the refund.

——————-
From: Lewis Newman <klnewman@4grc.com>
Date: Mon, Feb 3, 2014 at 6:57 PM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lily Fouts <lilyafg@gmail.com>

Hi Lily,
 
I think I will just mail you your refund.  We do not want to have too much information on the internet for security
reasons.  I hope you understand. 
 
Just give me your address and I will get it in the mail tomorrow.
 
Thanks,
 
Kathy N.
—————-
From: Lily Fouts <l———-@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Feb 3, 2014 at 9:56 PM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lewis Newman <k——–@4grc.com>

It’s a bit of an inconvenience for us–you had said that Amazon Payments would be fine.  Really we should have gotten this refund at the time we moved out.  But I suppose you could send it to my sister-in-law and she can cash the check and send it to us online.  

 
Please make the check out to: Denise —–
Address:  ———-
—————–
I let Denise know the same day that she would be getting a check on our behalf.  

February 8, 2014

At the end of the week I contacted Denise to see if she had received the check yet.  She had not.  I e-mailed Kathy yet again:
—————
From: Lily Fouts <l——-@gmail.com>
Date: Sat, Feb 8, 2014 at 10:40 AM
Subject: Re: leaving 1012 W. PADON
To: Lewis Newman <k——–@4grc.com>

Were you able to get that check in the mail?  FYI, my sister in law says she hasn’t received it yet.

 

Again, here is the info:

Please make the check out to: Denise ——–
Address:  ———
 
Thanks,
Lily
—————–

I use a gmail add-on (called Signals) to track which of my sent messages have been opened.  Here is proof that Kathy and/or Lewis Newman saw the e-mails I sent both on February 3 and on February 8:

Blackwell Proof e-mail was received 4

They did not reply.

February 21, 2014:

My sister-in-law sent a certified letter on my behalf, again requesting the refund, quoting the Oklahoma state law (which states that deposits must be refunded within 30 days of being requested), and threatening legal action if she did not return our refund.  Here’s the tracking info.  It appears that Lewis and Kathy never picked up their letter.

From: <US_Postal_Service@usps.com>
Date: Wed, Mar 12, 2014 at 1:57 PM
Subject: USPS Shipment Info for 70131710000045516221
To: l——–@gmail.comThis is a post-only message. Please do not respond.Lily Fouts has requested that you receive a Track & Confirm update, as shown below.Track & Confirm e-mail update information provided by the U.S. Postal Service.Label Number: 70131710000045516221Service Type: Certified Mail™

Shipment Activity Location Date & Time
——————————————————————————————————————-
Notice Left (No Authorized Recipient Available) BLACKWELL, OK 74631 February 24, 2014 8:56 am
Out for Delivery BLACKWELL, OK 74631 February 24, 2014 7:52 am
Sorting Complete BLACKWELL, OK 74631 February 24, 2014 7:42 am
Arrival at Unit BLACKWELL, OK 74631 February 24, 2014 7:39 am
Processed through USPS Sort Facility TULSA, OK 74141 February 23, 2014 11:32 pm
Depart USPS Sort Facility TULSA, OK 74141 February 23, 2014
Depart USPS Sort Facility KANSAS CITY, MO 64121 February 21, 2014
Processed at USPS Origin Sort Facility KANSAS CITY, MO 64121 February 21, 2014 7:28 pm
Acceptance OTTAWA, KS 66067 February 21, 2014 1:20 pm

Reminder: Track & Confirm by email

Date of email request: March 12, 2014

Future activity will continue to be emailed for up to 2 weeks from the Date of Request shown above. If you need to initiate the Track & Confirm by email process again at the end of the 2 weeks, please do so at the USPS Track & Confirm web site at http://www.usps.com/shipping/trackandconfirm.htm

———————
[UPDATE 3/19/14:  I received an e-mail from the US Postal Service that this letter was unclaimed.]

March 5, 2014:

I sent another e-mail:

—————–
From: Lily Fouts <l—-@gmail.com>
Date: Wed, Mar 5, 2014 at 7:05 AM
Subject: Letter
To: Lewis Newman <K——–@4grc.com>

Hi Kathy,

We have sent you a certified letter reminding you of the deposit refund.  It appears that it is still waiting for you to pick it up at the Post Office.  In a nutshell, according to Oklahoma law you are required to refund our deposit within 30 days of us requesting it.  We have good documentation of our request being made.  We still have not received the refund, according to my sister-in-law.  We will be taking legal action if the refund is not sent soon.  Again, here is the mailing info you requested over a month ago now, which we sent to you the same day:

Please make the check out to: Denise —–
Address:  ——
We await your response–and our $500 refund.
Keith and Lily
—————–
No reply, but here’s the proof they received and opened our e-mail:
Blackwell Proof e-mail was received
We waited some more.

March 12, 2014

Finally, a message from Denise:  “Look what arrived today!”

Msg from Denise

Funny how the check and letter were back dated over a month earlier to make them appear to have been sent within the 30 day period required by Oklahoma Law.  Here’s a closer look:

140314 Blackwell Check

The postmark on the envelope, however, clearly says MAR, not FEB–though it is blurry:

Postmark 5

Kind of looks like “06 MAR 2014” to me…which was the day after I sent my e-mail threatening legal action.  However, even if the letter had been sent on the first day of March, this would still be too late according to Oklahoma state law.

Postmark 4

NOTE: According to 41 O.S. Sec. 115(B), “If the landlord proposes to retain any portion of the security deposit for rent, damages or other legally allowable charges under the provisions of this act or the rental agreement, the landlord shall return the balance of the security deposit without interest to the tenant within thirty (30) days after the termination of tenancy, delivery of possession and written demand by the tenant.”

So we are being charged for “cleaning” (which is bogus since we left the house very clean–far cleaner than it was when we moved in, and if she wishes to play that game then I should send her a bill for all the cleaning I did when we moved in) and for the broken garbage disposal which never worked since before we moved in and which we had to deal with for our entire time there, and which Kathy promised to fix and never did, as you can see by all the documentation above.

Furthermore, Kathy sent us this itemized list of “expenses” at least 2 weeks beyond the 30 day deadline as required by Oklahoma state law–too late.

We will take legal action and pursue the full $500 owed to us.  This $350 check is unacceptable.

March 26, 2014:

My sister-in-law received a check for the remaining $150, attached (with 12 staples) to a letter stating that we would agree to certain terms by cashing the check. This money is legally ours (not money we are “asking” for), and we do not wish to be bound by these terms.  We feel that consumers have the right to be informed about the unethical practices of Top Rentals, LLC.  We are seeking further legal advice.

Check 032014

Letter 032014

Because Kathy made the checks out to us rather than to Denise, as we requested, we are unable to cash them anyway until we return to the U.S.  Also, I am curious to see if the bank will allow us to cash a check with writing below the signature line on the back, since checks come with instructions to not write in that area.  

April 11, 2014

I never did get a straight answer to my legal question, but I’m pretty sure we’re not bound by Kathy’s letter since the money is legally ours anyway.  We’re back in the States now, and I received a message from the Better Business Bureau stating that since we had received the rest of our refund they were resolving the complaint but that it would remain public.  We went ahead and submitted the checks for cashing a couple of days ago, and today the funds were deposited into our account.  On Monday we’ll be sending a letter to the AG’s office notifying them of the receipt of our refund and urging them to prevent Kathy–in whatever way they can–from doing this to other people.  We sincerely hope that in the future Kathy will put the deposit money into an escrow account as required by Oklahoma law, refund it promptly, and only withhold money for legitimate damage actually caused by the tenants.

——————–

Be extremely cautious when renting from Lewis and Kathy Newman, DBA Top Rentals, LLC.  Document everything.

NOTE: If you have had a similar experience with these landlords and can provide documentation, I strongly recommend filing a formal complaint with the Oklahoma Attorney General HERE, with the Better Business Bureau HERE, and on any online review sites, such as Yelp, etc.
Lessons learned from all this:
1.  Always make sure the landlord is with you when you check out the house for the first time.  Kathy didn’t show us the house, and neither did she show anyone else–at the end of our time there several people came to see the place and I had to show the house myself–not my responsibility.  (Can I bill Kathy Newman for showing her house?)
2.  When you move in, take pictures of everything.  Take pictures again when you move out.  Keep these at least until your deposit is refunded.  Also keep records of all correspondence.  If any verbal promises are made, get them to put them in writing.  If you make any improvements or repairs, rent carpet cleaners, pay professional cleaners or painters or anything of that nature, keep receipts.  If you notice anything is broken or dirty, document it and report it immediately to the landlord.  As you can see, I have a pretty well documented history of our time in Blackwell and correspondence with Kathy Newman, but I could have done an even better job of keeping records.
3.  Don’t leave until the landlord or their authorized representative has inspected the house and signed off on it or handed back the deposit.  If they point out anything that needs to be cleaned or fixed you might have an opportunity take care of it before you go.
4.  If you’re checking out a place and the landlord has a string of nightmare stories about previous tenants, they may tell nightmare stories about you too–even if they’re not true.  Think twice about renting from people like that.  If you have a bad feeling about the landlord when you meet them, don’t rent from them.  I should have trusted my intuition–I had a bad feeling about Kathy from the moment I met her.