Court Finds Usurious Late Fees Unenforceable
Though usury caps are only applicable to loan transactions, courts often reference usury rates when determining the reasonableness of fees charged on amounts due. A fee that significantly exceeds the applicable usury rate may be found to be an unenforceable penalty and uncollectible. Companies that impose late fees or other types of charges on their customers must be careful to ensure their fees will be found enforceable by a court.
For example, a NY court recently found a late fee charged by a condominium association unreasonably excessive and refused to enforce it. The charge at issue was related to unpaid common charges. The defendant’s charges were $1,175.85 per month. The defendant failed to pay her monthly charges so the association assessed late fees ranging from $200 to $800 per month. When the association later filed a foreclosure action for multiple unpaid common charges, the defendant argued that the late fees were excessive and confiscatory and should not be allowed.
The court noted that while a usury defense was inapplicable, the 25% rate set by NY’s criminal usury statute provided a guide to what constituted excessive fees. The court found that because the fees significantly exceeded the usury rate they were unreasonable penalties and could not be enforced. As a result, the court reduced the late fees to $0.04 per dollar owed.
As this case shows, courts will often look to applicable usury rates when determining the reasonableness of contractual fees and other types of charges. Fees that significantly exceed these rates are likely void and uncollectible. For this reason, a company that wishes to charge contractual fees would be wise to stay below the statutory usury rate. While the rate may result in a lower fee, the amount charged is more likely to be enforced by a reviewing court.
Board of Mgrs. of the Park Ave. v Sandler, 2015 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3284 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Sept. 11, 2015)Last modified: September 19, 2015
Patrick Siegfried is the author of usurylawblog.com and smallbusinessfinancelaw.com. Patrick is a practicing attorney in Bethesda, Maryland. Patrick’s work focuses on issues regarding alternative small business financing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org