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Ex-tenant sues Apts Downtown, says company takes advantage of students

BY JOSH QUINNETT | FEBRUARY 02, 2011 7:10 AM

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An Iowa City resident has filed a pending class action lawsuit against Apartments Downtown Inc., alleging various rental-code violations.

Michael Conroy, 53, filed the lawsuit against the company — which owns a large portion of student-housing downtown — on Dec. 22, 2010. The ex-tenant said he believes Apartments Downtown takes advantage of students who may not know their rights.

Attorneys Christopher Warnock and Christine Boyer filed the case and petitioned to make it a class-action lawsuit because they believe a large number of people have similar legal issues with the company.

The lawsuit states Apartments Downtown violates numerous sections of the Iowa Code by creating leases that violate tenants’ rights, wrongfully withholds tenants’ security deposits, makes tenants responsible for common areas, and establishes rules that were “for an improper purpose, unfair, unreasonable, and evaded the obligations of the landlord.”

Conroy said he decided to seek legal advice after Apartments Downtown, which also does business as Apartments Near Campus, bought the South Johnson Street building he was living in 2009, withheld his deposit in 2010, and fined him additional charges for reasons he felt were unfair.

“I felt like I was getting leaned on,” he said. “And I took umbrage to that.”

Conroy, who studied at the University of Iowa in the 1980s, said he responded to the charges with a concise letter explaining his disagreement and was surprised when his former landlord reduced the fees by roughly $200.

He then presented the situation to his friend and Iowa City attorney Warnock, who immediately took interest in the case.

“I looked over the lease, and it’s absurd,” Warnock said. “There’s all sorts of stuff in there that’s illegal.”

Warnock has filed a motion to treat this case as a class action lawsuit. The court allows a small group of people to name plaintiffs and represent the rest of the class.

An Apartments Downtown representative said in a statement on Tuesday he didn’t believe the lawsuit should be certified as a class action.

“We do our best to provide good quality housing at a fair price,” said G. Joseph Clark, the business manager, in the written statement. “We are proud of our business and do believe we treat our tenants fairly.”

Warnock called sections of the lease’s cleaning requirements — a mandatory $95 professional cleaning fee — and tenant’s responsibility to cover the damages of random acts of vandalism both unconscionable and illegal.

Warnock said Apartments Downtown may be taking advantage of a population that is largely unaware of their rights as tenants.

“They’re dealing with students who don’t know their rights,” he said. “They don’t know how to protect themselves.”

UI student Jenny Marsch said she signed a lease with Apartments Downtown in August 2010, a process she described as “mass chaos.” On the day she signed, she waited for more than an hour in a line that stretched far outside the door of the 308 S. Gilbert St. building’s office.

“They rushed us through as fast as they could,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I had time to read [the lease] over when there’s a line out the door an hour and a half long.”

Conroy said he isn’t seeking monetary gain but believes Apartments Downtown may be taking advantage of a transient student population that may be less likely to organize for tenants’ rights.

“All I want is for them to change their business practices to be more fair,” he said. “I’m not really looking for money.”

Apartments Downtown said it would respond to each of Conroy’s claims in court.


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