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'Don't Get Evicted' warns students of landlord 'traps'

BY DORA GROTE | NOVEMBER 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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Experts say documenting the condition of an apartment and thoroughly reading the lease before signing it is critical for renters.

But one local attorney said students who wish to rent have few options in preventing a loss of money on their security deposit.

"The name of the game with [landlords] is they want to squeeze you dry," said Iowa City attorney Christopher Warnock. "The landlords are out to get the tenants. That's the hard truth about it."

Officials aimed to inform students of techniques they can use to prevent landlords from ultimately taking more money than they should at Wednesday night's "Don't Get Evicted" event. The University of Iowa Student Legal Services hosted the event.

 

However, only one student attended the event, which drew 650 participants in the spring.

Iowa City attorneys Warnock and Christine Boyer filed a pending class-action lawsuit against Apartments Downtown Inc. in December 2010. The lawsuit concerns landlords charging tenants for damages for which they are not responsible. The pair filed two additional lawsuits last month as part of their new community organization the Tennants Project.

Of the 16 lawsuits Student Legal Services has taken to court between tenants and landlords, it has won 15, said Greg Bal, the supervising attorney at the service.

Since the beginning of the fall semester, approximately 50 students have asked the service to represent them in cases against landlords, said Patrick Grim, assistant undergraduate director of the group.

Despite the help, Warnock said, the city and state have "turned a blind eye" to landlords because they do not want to be involved.

"You're on your own," Warnock said about the tenants. "You're screwed, basically."

Warnock said landlords will "mercifully charge" students for ordinary wear and tear on the apartment — such as dirtying the carpet from walking — which is illegal. Landlords will also charge tenants for damage done to doors by a burglar, which is not their responsibility.

Warnock said landlords justify hiking up rates because they are "treated unfairly" by the tenants.

"They don't think they're doing anything wrong," Warnock said. "They think they're the victims."

Warnock said the only way for students to receive their full deposit from their landlord is to fight at court, but evidence must be present.

Bal said students need to carefully document their apartment with pictures before and after renting an apartment.

"The main thing moving in is to document every little thing with photos," Bal said.

And Bal said another one of the crucial steps when renting an apartment is carefully reviewing the lease.

"Students must look it over, know what they're signing, and make sure the provisions are in there that they want," Bal said. "They need to have them in writing before signing."

Bal also said students need to know all of their rights before getting into a lease.

"You can't just get out of your lease if you want to," Bal said.

Warnock said students should "theoretically know their rights," but it might not help.

Warnock said it is an ongoing battle between the landlords and the tenants and their goal with class-action is to "clean up the leases."

"It's a war between landlords and tenants, and we're trying to have a truce," Warnock said.


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