West End renter makes federal case out of apartment fee

A resident of the West End apartment complex has filed what she hopes will become a class-action lawsuit against her landlord over a $500 "amenity fee" that supposedly helps pay for a fitness center, concierge and freight elevator, but which she says violates a Massachusetts tenant-rights law.

In her lawsuit against Equity Residential Management, Cheryl Miller says the company's tenants are owed more than $5 million for such fees since 2008 on the 6,000 apartments it leases in Massachusetts. Miller filed the suit yesterday in US District Court in Boston over the one-time fee she had to pay in addition to the $2,065 monthly rent on her 18th-floor unit at 10 Emerson Place.

Miller charges the mandatory fee specifically violates a state security-deposit law that says landlords cannot force tenants signing a lease to pay anything other than first and last month's rent, a security deposit and the cost of a new lock and key. In her suit, Miller charges:

The Amenity Fee is not first month's rent or last month's rent. It is not refundable, it is not to be applied toward rent for the first or last month of the tenancy, it is, not used to offset rent for those periods, and it is not equivalent in amount to the monthly rent.

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Um...

By on

...so why didn't she rent somewhere else? Why didn't she consult the internet, a lawyer, etc before signing a lease?

Unless they held a weapon to this person's head, I don't see how she was 'forced' to do anything.

As someone who lived in the former Charles River Park for 7 years, I will say that their leasing staff seem to have high turnover and (at the time) were straddling both the old rental rules and the new Equity rules at the time, and sometimes I would get different answers to the same question.

However, I may not be some fancy high priced lawyer, but if she had asked the fee to be waived or refused to pay it, they might have complied. A few other buildings I have lived in over the past several years have charged a move in fee...so what is the problem again? Some dummy couldn't read her lease or T's and C's?

Another useless lawsuit...

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Voting is closed. 8

Not entirely useless.

By on

The problem?

The problem is that it looks very much like G.L. c. 186, § 15B, 1B, specifically prohibits any kind of "move-in" fee. Whether such practice is widespread or not is irrelevant. Whether C. Miller asked it to be waived-- essentially, asking if the rental company would, pretty please, comply with the law-- is irrelevant. Whether she could have rented somewhere else is irrelevant.

Section 1b of G.L. c. 186, § 15B says explicitly you can charge first and last months rent, a refundable security deposit, and a fee to change keys and locks. The amenity fee is not applicable to rent, it is not refundable, and it is specified as covering things other than keys and locks. It does not fall among the things you can make mandatory at move-in.

To take the next step, it's not hard to see why such restrictions exist. The only difference between an "amenity fee" and protection money is advance disclosure, otherwise the management might very well go round to tenants at move-in to tell them that that's a nice apartment they have there and it'd be a shame if anything happened to it. Such practices are, no doubt, widespread, and may presumably be avoided by renting somewhere else-- but are still illegal for obvious reasons.

Further, the lessor is basically gaining an unfair advantage in the marketplace, by apparently providing amenities over and above what can be covered by the rent, but making advance payment for them mandatory. The impact is lessened if you stay long-term, so they are exercising unfair restraint over residents, who might move out after a shorter stay if not for the high per-month impact of the non-refundable fee. By preventing them from charging for these amenities separately, the market is made more transparent, as it is easier to see what goods and services are on offer, and for what price, in order to make informed decisions.

"Hidden" charges aren't just those that are not disclosed anywhere, they are those that are not advertised (the way rent figures are advertised, and listed amenities like "fitness club" and "concierge" are advertised, and breaking them out separately under terms and conditions more complex than simple rent makes informed consumer choices in a crucial arena-- housing-- that much more difficult.

There would not seem to be anything useless or frivolous about this suit at all. Did you read the complaint and the citation before deciding that, anon?

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Voting is closed. 8

narcogen or anyone else--Do

By on

narcogen or anyone else--Do you know if this same rule apply in a building of condominium units run by a homeowners association or a condo association?

My understanding is that, in MA, HOAs and CAs basically have free reign to design their bylaws however they want. My current landlord is the owner of the condo unit I'm residing in, but when I first moved into the building (as a subletter who later signed onto a regular lease), the property management company ordered me to pay a "move-in" / "elevator" fee. This was told to me after I had already made the sublease agreement with the former residents.

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Voting is closed. 5

Good question

I don't think they can make you pay anything as the lessee,, but the owner might have to pay if the association agrees on another fee for something.

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Voting is closed. 7

You were robbed.

By on

I am a landlord of a condominium and so have to know the answer. The laws concerning renting are clear and simple. No landlord or other agency may legally charge any fee other than the first, last and security. None, zero, zilch.

In fact you have a right to know what the rules and regs are before moving in. Other fees can be charged to the condo owner. But that is between the Association and the owner. As a rentor you only financial obligation is to the landlord.

Hope you can get your money back.

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Voting is closed. 6

Waiver isn't the answer.

By on

but if she had asked the fee to be waived or refused to pay it, they might have complied.

Yeah, and that would have solved the problem for her but not for the other 5,999 tenants. So instead, she's doing the heavy lifting for everyone by taking it to court and getting a definitive ruling.

A business who knows they're in the wrong will often cheerfully take the fee off your bill if you complain; that way they hope you don't cause a fuss, and they continue to collect the fee from those who don't know it's illegal.

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Voting is closed. 6

The problem is "some dummy"

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The problem is "some dummy" couldn't read the Massachusetts tenant laws when writing their leases and it's time they got called on it.

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Voting is closed. 6

Equity Residential Class Action Lawsuit.

By on

The commenter who wrote the first post is way out off the mark. This is not a useless lawsuit. Thousands of people have been ripped off by a greedy corporation that couldn't be bothered to follow Massachusetts law. How would you like to have $500 illegally taken from you? Equity residential is the biggest landlord in the country, and has a track record of treating tenants unfairly nationally.

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Voting is closed. 4

Equity Residential Class Action Lawsuit

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According to one source, Equity Residential is guilty of “tenant abuse,” and “has a troubling history of flouting the law and violating tenants rights nationwide.” Read about it here.

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Voting is closed. 6

I hope she wins

What if you're a tenant who doesn't use the fitness center? How many times can someone possibly use a freight elevator? I think just once for moving in,and once for moving out. Then that leaves the front desk people. Can't their salary come from the total rental revenue?

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Voting is closed. 7

Good points, but not the crux of the lawsuit

As others stated before, there is no way this lease will be held up in court. The laws are extremely specific about what fees get charged when, and how much they can be. You are required to provide receipt for all fees and even the length of leases are restricted by law.

Basically it doesn't matter what the fee structure is for the complex, when you enter into a lease with a tenant you have to follow the law very closely. You'd better structure your monthly payment to cover these amenities because there's no other way to do it. I'm surprised she's the first person to sue them.

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Voting is closed. 5