We have seen a drastic increase in resident apartment manager wage claims in recent months. These cases usually involve an employer (an apartment owner, apartment management company, or both) who gives free rent to an apartment manager in exchange for labor. The problem is that California law strictly regulates how much the employer may charge for rent, and how much of a “rent credit” the employer can give the apartment manager. If the employer makes a mistake, the result is an apartment manager who can be owed unpaid wages and penalties. If you are a resident apartment manager and think you may have a case for unpaid wages, look at these top five criteria for a good resident apartment manager wage claim:

1. The lack of a contract authorizing the exchange of work for free or reduced rent.

The lack of a contract authorizing an exchange of rent for labor is the single biggest indicator of a good apartment resident manager wage claim. In order for an employer to give a rent credit to a resident apartment manager, the employer and the resident manager should have a written agreement stating that the employer will provide free or reduced rent in exchange for labor. If there is no such contract or agreement, any rent credit given by the employer is likely invalid. What this means is that, even though the employer may have been giving free or reduced rent to the resident apartment manager, the resident manager can likely go after the employer for the full amount of any unpaid hours that he or she may have worked, plus additional penalties, interest, and attorney’s fees. If you do not have a contract with your landlord or apartment owner or apartment management company, and yet you get free or reduced rent in exchange for your labor as a resident apartment manager, you may have a great claim for unpaid wages.

2.  The existence of accurate time records.

You may remember having worked many hours as an apartment manager, but unless you have some records showing how many hours you worked, you may have a tough time proving your case. The best records that we see are those kept contemporaneously by managers. Records made up weeks, months, even years after the work was performed are not as valuable as records kept on the day that the work was done. The very best records record work by the minute. If your employer does not keep records, it is likely a great idea to do so on your own. The US Department of Labor even has an iPhone app that can be used for this very purpose.

3.  The size of the apartment complex that you manage.

If you don’t have time records, you will have to use circumstantial evidence to prove your hours. In that event, bigger may be better for resident apartment manager wage claims. The bigger the complex that you manage, the more work you likely have to do. These cases are all about how many hours you worked, and it is a good bet that you would work more as an apartment manager in a complex of 50 units than you would in a complex of 15 units. That is not to say that managers of smaller complexes do not have a case; it just means that the larger the complex you manage, the more likely you worked longer hours managing that complex.

4.  Clear and organized employment records.

We see it every day: an employee may have a great wage claim, but his or her records are in tatters, with pages missing and handwriting all over them. If you plan on filing a wage claim, get your information organized — and do not write on it, because it’s evidence!  So keep your employee handbook, lease, payroll records, receipts, and other evidence of work performed or expenses incurred organized and easily accessible.

5. Work performed up until the recent past.

A wage claimant can go back as many as four years for unpaid wages in California. But the measurement goes backward from the date you file your claim or lawsuit. So, for example, if you file your lawsuit today (and it has the correct legal allegations), you can try to recover wages going back four years from today. So if your last day of work was yesterday, you can recover your unpaid wages for almost the entire four-year period. But if your last day of work was two years ago, you’ll only be able to go after unpaid wages for two years. So if you have a claim for unpaid wages, don’t sit on your claim!

If your wage claim has any of these five ingredients, your odds of a good outcome are likely better. Contact Strauss & Strauss now for a free case evaluation and see if you really do have a good wage claim.

Learn more about resident apartment manager wage claims here.