6 become plaintiffs in Apts Downtown lawsuit, 50 more come forward


Rob Johnson/The Daily Iowan
Iowa alum Dara Eifler sits in her apartment on Tuesday. Eifler is part of a class-action lawsuit against Apartments Downtown. She was sued by Apartments Downtown for back rent and damages and still received bills after the court ruled in her favor.
SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

An Iowa City attorney who filed a lawsuit against Apartments Downtown said he now has the ideal number of plaintiffs.

Christopher Warnock and his client, Michael Conroy, filed the original petition on Dec. 22. They alleged the requirements listed in the Iowa City rental giant’s lease violate numerous sections of Iowa Code.

Though Warnock said he only needs one representative plaintiff for the case to be certified as a class action, he’s added five to the list and has received inquiries from nearly 50 others, who could be used as backups if lawyers for the defendants eliminate any current petitioners.

One plaintiff, University of Iowa senior Molly Burke, said she decided to join the case when Apartments Downtown charged her $350 after someone broke down her front door.

“I was like, ‘What?’ ” said Burke, a former Daily Iowan reporter. “That doesn’t really make sense. Why do I have to pay for the door?”

An employee at Apartments Downtown, who would not give her name because she was not authorized to comment on behalf of the company, compared Burke’s incident to a situation in which a homeowner’s door was vandalized. In that situation, the employee said, the homeowner would be liable for the door.

“I was under the impression that Apartments Downtown was just another bad landlord,” Warnock said. “But after hearing the stories from these tenants, it’s outrageous.”

A February 2009 newsletter from the Greater Iowa City Apartment Association referred to Apartments Downtown as “the juggernaut of rental housing in Johnson County.” The owners, the Clark family, manage “hundreds of rental units in more than 100 buildings and properties throughout the downtown and campus area,” according to the newsletter.

And in a statement released Feb. 1, G. Joseph Clark, the business manager, said 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,” Clark wrote. “We are proud of our business and do believe we treat our tenants fairly.”

But Dara Eifler, a recent UI graduate and former tenant, had a different story.

For Eifler, 22, the trouble with Apartments Downtown began in the summer of 2009, when the landlord sued her for $898 after her sublessees quit paying rent.

Eifler said after a judge dismissed the case and said Apartments Downtown couldn’t file another suit, she received another bill for the same amount.

She called the landlord to complain.

“They told me the lawsuit was just a formality, and they’d either sue me again or send the debt to collections,” Eifler said.

Eifler said the company continued to pursue her through a collections agency until September 2010, when she hired a lawyer to confront the firm.

“I want to do whatever I can to get them to stop doing this to people,” Eifler said. “Most of their tenants are young students — they don’t read the lease, and they aren’t aware of their rights.”

An expert said even if tenants sign the lease, the plaintiffs could still have a solid case if that lease contradicts state law.

“The question here is whether or not, under Iowa statutes or Iowa case law, there are rules that would have prohibited that kind of situation,” said University of Iowa law Professor Sheldon Kurtz.

> Share your thoughts! Click here to write a Letter to the Editor.

comments powered by Disqus

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.