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Fair presents students with their rights as tenants

BY MICHELLE McCONNAUGHEY | FEBRUARY 11, 2011 7:10 AM

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Roughly 25,000 University of Iowa students choose to live off-campus — and many sign leases without knowing their rights or options as tenants.

In attempt to educate students about the responsibilities and potential problems that come with living in an apartment or house, the UI Off-Campus Housing Service and the City of Iowa City hosted the Off-Campus Housing Fair on Thursday.

“It’s really important for first-time tenants to realize they’re signing legal contracts so they understand their rights and responsibilities,” said Penny Kaelber, the manager of Off-Campus Housing Services.

For the first time in the fair’s three-year history, local property managers and apartment owners attended the event, giving students a chance to discuss their specific housing options.

But an hour into the gathering, only 20 students who live off campus had taken advantage of the resources.



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Kaelber said students often don’t entirely know what their lease entails when they sign it, which leads to potential problems.

For example, on Dec. 22, an ex-tenant of Apartments Downtown filed a lawsuit against the property-management company — which owns much of the student-heavy housing near downtown — claiming the company takes advantage of students unaware of their rights. Since the original petition was filed, several more have joined the lawsuit, including UI students.

Amanda Scott, leasing agent for Apartments Downtown at the fair on Thursday, refused to directly comment on the lawsuit but said the company is open for discussion.

“We would love for people to talk directly to us to understand two sides to the story,” she said at the fair.

Sophomore transfer student Michael Maienza said he was slightly hesitant to sign with the company after hearing about the lawsuit.

“If Apartments Downtown gave me a logical explanation for what happened, then I would still use them,” Maienza said. “But if I didn’t like the explanation it gave me, then no way.”

Greg Bal, the supervising attorney for Student Legal Services who attended the event, said he is hopeful students will take the Apartments Downtown lawsuit as a learning experience and know they can seek free legal advice from his office.

“I am hoping that because of the publicity from the lawsuit that students will be more aware of these types of issues and will know that they can come into our office at anytime so we can help them,” he said Bal.

Stan Laverman, a senior housing inspector for Iowa City, said students should also be informed about potential citations.

Since Aug. 1, Iowa City Housing and Inspection Services has received more than 230 complaints related to disorderly house and disorderly conduct in off-campus housing.

Laverman said the Inspection Division works to inform tenants of the nuisance property ordinance adopted in 2002. The main goal is to make sure students can have fun while being responsible, he said.

“This is a great way to get all these resources in the same room,” he said. “It gives people who are working the booths the chance to network with each other.”


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