Lawyer files more lawsuits in Apartments Downtown case


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Local attorneys hope the filing of two additional lawsuits against local landlords will help change the rental culture in Iowa City.

Iowa City attorneys Christine Boyer and Christopher Warnock have filed two additional lawsuits in addition to their pending class-action case against Apartments Downtown Inc. — filed in December 2010.

The pair filed a case against Tracy Barkalow, the owner of TSB Holdings and Big Ten Property Management on Monday, and a small claims case against Apartments Downtown Inc. as part of a new community organization, the Tenants Project — aimed at educating tenants and landlords about their rights and responsibilities.

"We're looking to change the culture of landlords and tenants here in Iowa City," Warnock said. "Good tenants suffer from bad landlords, and good landlords suffer from bad tenants."

The first suit alleges Barkalow is violating the Iowa landlord-tenant statute by including and enforcing illegal lease provisions.

Warnock said Barkalow uses almost an identical lease to the Clark family/Apartments Downtown, Inc.

The Apartments Downtown lawsuit states the rental company violates Iowa Code by creating leases that violate tenants rights, wrongfully withholds security deposits, and makes tenants responsible for common areas.

Barkalow declined to comment when contacted by The Daily Iowan on Tuesday.

Plaintiffs in the Barkalow suit, Brooke Staley, 20, and Tyler Lammer, 21, said they aren't suing for the money.

"I don't want anyone to go through what I went through," said Staley, the leading plaintiff. "My purpose for this isn't for the money. It's so people who work for their money, like I do, don't get taken advantage of."

After leaving her apartment in better condition than when she moved in, Staley said, she received only $6 back from her deposit. She said she was treated poorly the whole year, from customer service to maintenance to communication from the company.

"I feel like people are afraid to stand up to [Barkalow], but I have nothing to lose," she said. "I would hate for him to go out of business. I would hate for him to have financial problems, but he's doing business the wrong way, and he got caught."

Lammer said the damages to his apartment and the amount he was charged don't add up as well, something fellow residents have experienced.

"I haven't met one person who hasn't had at least a few issues with him," he said.

Warnock said they filed the small-claims case De Stefano v. Apts Downtown as a small pilot case to help tenants file and win their own small-claims cases.

The De Stefano case came to light after Apartments Downtown property management sent De Stefano and her roommates a bill for a door broken by a burglar.

"They should not be able to charge a 300 percent increase for the supplies they provide," she said. "It's not right what they are doing."

Warnock said in the end, it's not a fight or a battle. It's nothing personal.

"That's what we want to have with the small-claims case," Warnock said. Let's not have the landlord decide. Let's let the judge decide. Take it to court."

Both the Apartments Downtown, aside from the small-claims case, and Barkalow cases are now pending certification for class-action status. A hearing on the legality of the Clarks'/Apartment's Downtown's lease is scheduled for Nov. 18.

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