I live in King County in Washington state. I lived in a 6-unit apartment complex from June 2007 through June 2011. I never once received notice from my landlord that I had paid rent late or that I was being assessed a 50 dollar late fee. There IS a statement in my lease that if rent is late I will be charged 50 dollars, but it doesn't say anything about whether or not I will be notified, or how the late fee will be assessed, or whether or not it can come from my deposit money. I never knew that I was racking up these late fees, as my landlord was a definite slumlord and I didn't think it mattered if my rent was postmarked on the 4th, etc since I never once was told this was happening over the course of the 4 years I lived there. Upon moving out my landlord said that everything in the apartment that he inspected was fine, that my deposit was 400 dollars and that he would mail me the check. Two weeks after I moved out I called him and asked if he had mailed me the check yet and he said he would when he got back from vacation. Late in the month instead of a check I receive a notice from him that lists all the months over the course of 4 years that I paid my rent late and the total added up to all of my 400 dollar security deposit PLUS an additional 375 dollars.
My question is, even if he CAN prove that I paid rent late all of these times (which I'm skeptical he can, since all of my checks are dated for the first of the month and he would have to have saved the envelopes), can he legally charge me for this after I've moved out having never once received notice? I'm less concerned with whether or not he can use my deposit for this, and more concerned with whether he can charge me at all in the first place after never notifying me. Most of the dates he says I was late are in 2008....
To be clear, I never paid my rent later than a few days, I was never "behind" on my rent and he never complained to me about my rent. He always deposited the checks in the second half of the month.
Thanks for any help, I've been searching the internet and I can't really seem to get clarity on this issue. I know that he can legally charge me a late fee, I'm just fuzzy on if there are time limits to when he can collect, or if he has to notify me at all. If I had known the first time I was late that I was being charged, it never would have happened again. It was never a matter of having the money but of not living close to a mailbox and making a trip when it was convenient.