IC renters win in court


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A recent ruling could be “revolutionary” for Iowa City tenants.

On March 18, 6th District Court Judge Douglas Russell ruled against landlord Tracy Barkalow and his property-management companies, saying several aspects of his leases are illegal.

A group of former student tenants, represented by Christopher Warnock of the Iowa City Tenants’ Project, brought the suit against Barkalow.

Barkalow has around 80 tenants. The ruling applies only to Barkalow leases currently, but Warnock expects both sides to appeal. Barkalow would appeal the ruling, whereas the tenants will appeal other aspects of the ruling so more could be done.

If a judge upholds Russell’s ruling, it will apply statewide.

A statewide law would make the identical leases of the dominant Apartments Downtown and Apartments Near Campus companies, owned by the Clark family, illegal as well.

“I’ve been saying that will be revolutionary,” Warnock said. “It’ll make a big, big change in leases. The landlords are going to have to clean up the leases.”

Barkalow said he had no comment on the lawsuit.

The judge said Barkalow cannot require tenants to pay for carpet cleaning when they move out.

“That’s ridiculous,” said Adam Scafuri, a UI sophomore who rents from Apartments Downtown. “They’re requiring that they basically power wash and deep clean the apartment. That’s a lot of money and a lot of time.”

The judge also found clauses which illegally forced tenants to pay for vandalism done by third parties or levied excessive, unnecessary fines and shifted many liabilities for maintenance away from the landlord.

Warnock noted a provision in the Barkalow lease that charged tenants $150 for leaving a window open.

“Because the landlords have the security deposits, it’s very tempting for them to figure out ways to try to charge the tenants for it because they get to keep the money,” Warnock said. “The Clarks have 2,000 tenants at $500 apiece. That’s like $1 million.”

The Tenants’ Group is pursuing a similar lawsuit against Apartments Downtown and Apartments Near Campus.

The Daily Iowan was unable to reach the Clark family, their companies, or their attorney by the time of publication.

Warnock said it is ultimately up to tenants to defend themselves in court in this “limbo stage” before the appeal and Russell’s ruling can give them “tremendous ammunition.”

UI junior Danijel Pejkanovic, who rents from Apartments Near Campus, said he was not surprised by the ruling and would be interested in a class-action lawsuit against his landlord. He said tenants were fined if they did not shovel snow in front of the building.

Warnock said the laws governing landlord-tenant relations are straightforward.

“This is what the law is,” he said. “It just hasn’t been enforced before.”

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