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Question: Help! My landlord won’t deposit my rent checks! Right now, he’s holding checks covering the last three months. Can he do that?

— Not nearly as rich as my bank account looks in East Harlem

Dear Not,

There’s no hard and fast rule, but banks will generally honor checks up to 6 months old. So your landlord is well within his rights. You’re obligated to pay your rent, which you are doing, but he’s not obligated to cash your check.

The bigger question is why isn’t he? There are a number of reasons, from the harmless to the dastardly.

The most benign reason: Maybe he doesn’t need the money, at least not right away. If he’s holding your December rent check, for instance, he might want to wait to deposit it until the new tax year. (Before I hear from tax lawyers: Yes, legally he is required to report the income whether or not he cashes the check. Practically, however, the IRS will almost certainly accept whatever he says is his income, and they will accept his bank deposit records as proof.)

Less benign, but still well within his rights: Are you the legal tenant? Are you subletting? Did a roommate move out and leave you in the apartment but not on the lease? If you aren’t the legal tenant, the landlord may be holding the checks because he doesn’t want you in the apartment or wants a new lease with higher rent. If he cashes your rent checks, he may be leaving himself open to a claim that he has authorized your tenancy.

The worst case: The landlord wants to evict you, and he’s not cashing your checks in order to build a claim that you haven’t been paying. There’s not much you can do about the checks you’ve already written. (Personal finance 101: You have been keeping your check register up to date, haven’t you?) But future checks can be sent via certified mail. He’ll have to sign for it. If he refuses to sign and then claims he never got anything, you would at least have a postal service record that something was sent. Another approach: Hand deliver your check with a friend as witness.

I believe in assuming the best, but preparing for the worst. So first thing, ask your landlord why he’s not cashing your checks. Then, play it from there.

David Crook is a veteran journalist and author of The Complete Wall Street Journal Real-Estate Investing and Homeowner’s Guidebooks. Do you have a question about anything real estate-related in NYC? Write him at For verification purposes, please include your name and a phone number; neither will be published. Note: Nothing in this column should be considered professional legal advice. If you have a legal issue, consult an attorney.