Judge Says Landlord’s Fees Illegal

by Chris on September 16, 2013

Last week, an Iowa tenant was awarded nearly $11,000 in damages and attorneys fees from  her former landlord after a judge declared the landlord’s leasing policies were illegal.

tenant screeningThe dispute arose after the tenant’s father came to visit her at her apartment. He brought along the family dog. The dog remained in the property for a few minutes while the father helped unload groceries. The dog did not cause any damage to the property during that time.

The lease contains this provision:

“No animals are allowed in the building or on the premises. If pets are on the property a  penalty of $600 per pet plus $20 per day will be charged for each violation.”

The tenant was sent a letter detailing the amount owed for the violation of this provision. The tenant’s father stepped in and attempted to mediate the dispute, but the property manager refused to settle for less than the penalty plus monthly late fees of $40 per month.

Eventually, the father paid the outstanding balance, and then turned to tenants’ rights attorney Christopher Warnock, Chief Counsel for the Iowa City Tenants’ Project, to file suit against the landlord.

The tenant, a college student, testified this was the first lease she had ever signed. The judge noted that the lease was long and contained numerous provisions in small print.

The judge determined that the provision in the lease concerning pets was illegal. First, it imposed a penalty, rather than liquidated damages, in the event of a violation. The court pointed out the rule that private citizens are unable to assess fines against one another, and called the $600 figure “outrageous, unreasonable, and unconscionably disproportionate to the offense. It bears no correlation to any actual damages likely to be caused.”

The judge also declared that the pet clause was overreaching, because it did not provide an exception under any circumstance, even if the pet was visiting, a companion animal, or a service animal needed by someone either visiting or working at the property. That, the judge said, violated state and local law.

The tenant received another letter from the manager threatening “random checks” on the unit to determine if the violation was ongoing. The judge called that act a violation of the tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment, and warned that such visits would be illegal.

Warnock says he is currently pursuing a dozen other cases, many of which involve inexperienced renters who he says are being taken advantage of by their landlords.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

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