Attorneys withdraw from Apartments Downtown case

BY ARIANA WITT | MARCH 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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Attorneys for the Iowa City rental giant Apartments Downtown Inc. have withdrawn from a case in which a former tenant filed a lawsuit claiming his lease violated Iowa Code.

On Thursday, a judge granted John Hayek and David Brown’s request to step down.

“I’m not in a position to comment on the case because the reasons are not a matter for the public,” Hayek said.

Attorney James Affeldt of Cedar Rapids has now been appointed to represent Apartments Downtown, according to online court documents.

“I would love to know what’s going on,” said Christopher Warnock, the plaintiff’s attorney. “It could be completely innocent, but it seems as if somebody’s not happy.”

Warnock said he is concerned the case will now face delays in mitigation among his client and potential plaintiffs. Many of the former and active tenants wishing to be appointed as plaintiffs are seniors at the UI, and Warnock said the court has expressed concern over plaintiffs moving away.

UI senior and former Daily Iowan staffer Molly Burke said, although she will graduate in May, she will support the case as much as she can regardless of any delays in the process.

“I really want to see this through, and I want to see them change how they run their business,” said Burke, a current resident of Apartments Downtown who was charged for common area damage under her lease with the company.

Warnock said he and another attorney, Christopher Boyer, are still working to get the defense to discuss the matters related to the lease, and they will continue to pursue the case.

“As much as they delay the case, we’re not going to give up,” Warnock said. “This is just a bump in the road.”

From his experience as a criminal attorney, he said, he knows when counsel steps down from a case, the usual reason is that the party does not have a strong case.

“I think that they’re realizing the seriousness of the situation, and this is kind of a strategy to prolong the case,” said University of Iowa senior Christopher Copeland, a tenant of Apartments Downtown.

Copeland and five other tenants plan to join Michael Conroy as plaintiffs at a hearing, likely on March 25, Warnock said.

The violations on the lease included wrongfully withholding tenants’ security deposits, making tenants responsible and establishing rules that were “for an improper purpose, unfair, unreasonable, and evaded the obligations of the landlord,” according to the lawsuit.

In a response to the allegations in Conroy’s petition, Apartments Downtown denied the violations and said Conroy has not been a tenant in the last 10 years.

“We do our best to provide good quality housing at a fair price,” said Apartments Downtown representatives in a statement last month. “We are proud of our business and do believe we treat our tenants fairly.”

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