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Editorial: The first domino to fall

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JULY 13, 2015 5:00 AM

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Iowa 6th District Court Judge Chad Kepros delivered a major blow to the James Clark-headed rental enterprise in the Iowa City area. The conglomeration, which has amassed more than 300 parcels valued in the $95 million region, accounts for several of the largest real-estate companies in town, including Apartments Downtown, Apartments Near Campus, Apartments at Iowa, and Michael’s Properties.

In a particularly lease-stringent town, the largest of the Clark enterprise, Apartments Downtown, was found by Kepros to breach renters’ rights, stating several provisions outlined in its leases were “illegal and should not have been included in the standard lease.”

The conglomeration as a whole will feel the largest effect, however, as the future ramifications such a ruling doesn’t bode well for it.

Because each Clark-headed rental company shares the same lease, future lawsuits against others could quickly fall victim of the same overreach found in the renters’ leases. Infringements including inordinate carpet cleaning, basic maintenance, and tardy move-out fees are a couple caveats of Clark leases that place outlandish charges on tenants. *The Daily Iowan* has previously reported that in such lease contracts, charges can range from $10 for a light-bulb replacement or $100-an-hour past a tenant’s move-out date and time.

These fees are not exclusive to Apartments Downtown or other Clark properties; other rental companies in the Iowa City area have similar types of fees and charges in their leases.

A previous case in 2014, ruled by 6th District Court Judge Douglas Russell, found that unrelated landlord, Tracey Barkalow, had nearly an identical lease to Clark’s current one, which was identified as a persuasive precedent for the landmark case of last week.

Expect an appeal from the Clark family, though. However, it is imperative to understand that this ruling stems from a previous case that the Iowa Court of Appeals overturned Judge Paul Miller’s initial ruling from five years ago. The Tenant’s Project, steered by local lawyers, can ultimately shift the landlord-tenant power paradigm.

Iowa City’s rental market is particularly egregious, as housing costs often dwarf the local median. According to Johnson County Housing Fellowship, if people work full-time at $10 an hour as well as provides 30 percent of the household income, then their rent and utilities shouldn’t amount to greater than $500 a month.

When greedy landlords enter the scheme, installing absurd charges and fees for basic maintenance of their properties, the housing environment is pitted against renters to squeeze out the last of their pocket change. However, thanks to Kepros’ recent ruling, renters can now gain the confidence to overturn the monopolized culture of temporary tenancy.

The precedent is set to allow for further upheaval of the Clark’s current lease agreement. While a complete overhaul may not be imminent, there are grounds for planting the seeds of future confidence. Between 2007 and 2013, as the DI previously reported, of the approximate 30 or so landlord-tenant cases in that time, only two were ruled in favor of the former.


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