main banner

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lawsuit challenges tenant fees for AC in Culmore apartments



Olde Salem Village

The website for the Olde Salem Village apartments in Bailey’s Crossroads describes them as “beautiful” with “well designed kitchens” and “close to the East Falls Church Metro.”

In fact, Olde Salem Village is a bug-infested, poorly maintained apartment complex with outdated appliances in tiny kitchens. It’s located in the crime-ridden Culmore area three miles from Metro.

What’s worse, the landlord, JBG/Residential Management Inc., charges hefty rents and piles on extra fees, including charges for using electricity to run tenants’ air conditioners, which is illegal, says Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, an attorney with the Falls Church-based Legal Aid Justice Center

Roger Job Rodriguez and daughter Briza in their Olde Salem Village apartment.
That group is representing Olde Salem Village tenants Everth Romero Sanchez, Amanda Quinteros, and Jose Viera in a lawsuit filed in the Fairfax County Circuit Court Aug. 20 against JBG/Residential Management and co-owners of the apartment complex, Cartagena Inc. and Sabadell Inc.

The suit charges the landlord “has been forcing the tenants of Olde Salem Village to pay for their use of electrical utilities to air condition their apartments in addition to rent in direct violation of their lease agreements.”

Sandoval-Moshenberg calls JBG a “slum lord” who is “nickel and diming the poorest of poor immigrants.”

His clients pay a base rent of $1,650 for a two-bedroom unit at Olde Salem Village, but end up paying much more. There’s an annual $150 lease renewal fee. A second parking sticker is $50 a month. Tenants are charged fees for hot water and trash service. And there are exorbitant late fees.

If you’re just one day late with the rent, the fee is 10 percent of the entire month’s rent. Even if a tenant has paid most of the rent, the fee is calculated on the entire month’s rent. For example, if a tenant only owes $100, the fee could be $150, for a total charge of $250.

The kitchen in the Job Rodriguez apartment.
“In Virginia, there is nothing you can do about the rent. Landlords can charge whatever the market bears,” Sandoval-Moshenberg says. As a result, the lawsuit is going after the air conditioning fees.

Tenants have to buy their own box air conditioner and are charged for using it. Tenants can either pay $325 by the end of March for each AC window unit for the whole summer, $450 if they miss the March 31 deadline, or $75 per month for each AC unit.

Sandoval-Moshenberg calculated that for the average apartment size and average cost of electricity, “you’d have to run it 30 hours a day to get your money’s worth.”

“They are essentially making a profit off this,” he says. And that’s illegal. “Landlords are supposed to pass through utility costs to the tenant, not profit off it.” The statement on the Olde Salem website that says there’s an extra charge for air conditioning was added after the suit was filed.

He estimates JBG is raking in $400,000 a year from tenants on the AC fee. The prepaid AC fees have been going up every year, and tenants who miss a payment are charged excessive late fees. Last year, plaintiff Everth Romero Sanchez was charged a $157 late fee on an unpaid $123 AC bill. When he couldn’t pay, JBG threatened to evict him, even though his rent and other fees had been paid.

On a recent visit, we met Roger Job Rodriguez, originally from Bolivia, who’s lived at Olde Salem Village for a year and a-half with his wife, Ayde, and children Briza, age 2, and Michael, age 3. He can only afford one AC unit for which he pays $75 a month.

His rent is listed at $1,500 but says he pays $1,700 a month with all the extra charges, including $185 a month for hot water plus fees for trash service and air conditioning. Because he pays so much for housing, he doesn’t earn enough from his construction job to pay for anything beyond his family’s basic needs.

In the rental office, former tenant Jhakelinne Vasquez was waiting to ask about a $538 bill she received for “damages” with no explanation included. She had paid her rent and all fees before moving out, she says. “They just want to get money out of you any way they can.” She expects she’ll have to go to small claims court to fight those charges.

Old Salem Village was “horrible,” Vasquez says. “It was filled with bed bugs. The paint was peeling off.  There were rats and cockroaches everywhere. I had to get rid of all my furniture.” Vasquez moved to a nicer and cheaper apartment at Willow Run at Mark Center in Alexandria, which has a pool and gym.

Sandoval-Moshenberg calls the outrageous fees at Olde Salem Village an “immigrant surcharge.” JBG doesn’t charge extra for AC or have such extreme late fees at its apartments in Rosslyn or Ballston, he notes.

Despite the excessive extra charges, Olde Salem Village—and other complexes in Culmore—continue to attract immigrants as there are few other housing options in the area close to stores and services that cater to people with without good English language skills.

“The biggest problem we have in this area is the high cost of rent, which inevitably leads to tremendous overcrowing, which causes a great number of social ills,” Sandoval-Moshenberg says.

He hopes the lawsuit will be resolved before next year’s air conditioning season. The lawsuit requests a jury trial and seeks a declaratory ruling that the AC fees are unlawful, injunctive relief against future AC fees, and monetary damages to the plaintiffs.

20 comments:

  1. Good article. The landlord should be criminalized as nothing but abusive and non-American.

    All of Culmore needs to be leveled, and JBG should be ashamed of themselves for taking advantage of the poor and abusing our tax dollars and exploiting section 8 housing.

    Return to sender, wherever the hell they came from.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for this informative article. I am glad to see that there are non-profit organizations in our area that protect the rights of the less financially fortunate among us.

    Unlike the previous commentor, I do not share the view that all of Culmore needs to be leveled. Certainly, the current structures need to be repaired and maintained in compliance with all applicable housing codes, so their residents have safe and comfortable homes.

    However, if the current structures are to be leveled, then Fairfax County needs to ensure the current residents of these apartments have at least as good (if not better) places to live that they will be able to afford.

    I think criticizing the current owners of this property for taking advantage of the people who currently rent these apartments makes no sense if what you want is a shiny new development the people you say you support would not be able to afford.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It's such a disgrace that such greed exist as this.These people have to tolerate such conditions all the while paying enormous fees .I can only imagine what its like on a 100 degree day or night for that matter there and have to go to work the next day to try to earn enough to pay these astronomical fees for basically..nothing.How do you take money from hard working people and give them nothing for it and in fact compound more and more fees so they will never catch up . Very Sad.I hope something is done in their favor to make things better.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Are you old enough to remember that a/c is a luxury not a right? My parents/ grandparents/ great grandparents did live with out a/c and went to work the next day. I grew up with out a/c until I got to high school and lived through it. Yes it is sad that they are being taken advantage of but a/c is a luxury not a right. Many people through out the world and US live with out a/c.

      Delete
  4. I don't understand this. Why doesn't the management company just raise the rent and dump the fees. I wonder how many people have read the lease agreement? Those people are welcome to leave when their lease is up, no one is forcing them to live there.

    Tired Taxpayer

    ReplyDelete
  5. How can you just leave,if you can't afford it?Unfortunatly many of the poor are trapped in their situation.And more so that ever before .There are far few good paying jobs and if you do have a job chances are they have cut your hours.You have to "qualify " to get into another apt and that isn't so easy especially for the low income workers .It is paycheck to paycheck .It is unfortunate that many view the poor as deserving their situation because they can't get out.Maybe you were lucky enough to have received a college education or a great job .They don't like their situation they are in it's very hard to get out without the proper education or money.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Concentrating the poor like this in older buildings, probably without the proper wiring for AC ( i.e. the extra cost for AC) has ghettoized the problem. Alexandria City has been tearing down its housing projects and has created situations where the poor are dispersed into housing throughout the city. Of course this has its ills too, but Culmore is the worst of all worlds. It is a testament to a County government that has not figured out how to solve this problem and keep our neighbors invested and stable.

    The Culmore model destroys neighborhoods, propagates poverty, and encourages abusive landlord tactics.

    The Culmore model needs to be returned to sender.

    ReplyDelete
  7. in the meantime the county is concentrating on putting a CVS and Potbelly at the end of the street of those apartments vs dealing with the hard issues of what to do with the run down apartments themselves and the crime and trash. wonder why.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Hard issue"? Not for Fairfax County! Tear down the affordable housing and replace it with $600k lofts sitting atop a Cosi and a Starbucks. Problem solved!

      Delete
    2. Is'nt that the truth!They don't want the poor here-PERIOD.It's ok if we work here,they just don't want us to live here.

      Delete
  8. Have the management company pay that extra income to the public school system. Just consider that taxes that the illegals are not having to pay.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This article is BS and needs a lot of fact checking and counter point to balance things a bit. And low and behold the race card tossed in for good measure. Any fact checking done on the numbers? Any fact checking on the income of those in the Culmore area, How many are collecting from Uncle Sam in one hand while getting paid under the table in the other or simply collecting from Uncle Sam while having 4 kids? Does Mr. Rodriguez share his unit with another family/boarder thus splitting the cost? Besides many Americans are in the same boat as Mr. Rodriguez, just making enough to get by and making sacrifices. He is not alone. Does that mean we should all sue our landlords, mortgage companies? Let's see, I guess I should sue the electric company, phone company, cell phone company, gas company, credit card company, etc.. for all the extra charges. I venture to say that many in the Culmore area are far from poor... luxury poor perhaps but certainly not poor. Let's not be naive here. Culmore is not the slum nowhere near it. Sandoval-Moshenberg calling JPG a "slum lord" is outrageous. There area is not crime ridden. The grounds are kept clean. There are alot of nice cars parked around the area, a roof over their head, free education, free meals, free gifts at the holidays, free clothes, free medical, ,etc.. The taxpayer is tired. The example about paying rent late and being charge a large fee is asinine, If you pay anything late whether it be your mortgage, credit card, utility bill, and yes rent you are going to be assessed a late fee. You may not like it or the amount but then pay on time. The lawsuit among other things is seeking monetary damages for the plantiff's? Really, monetary damages for what? Here is an idea how about donating any monetary award to Bailey's Elementary. I could go on here, but the best line in the article comes from Sanoval-Moshenberg "And that's Illegal" Where to even begin with that.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Average income for that area is $42k (source http://www.census.gov/censusexplorer/censusexplorer.html ) Plus that building was probably built before central AC, you want a window unit, pay your share of the electricity. The building probably has a common meter setup.

    What are outdated appliances? Oh the agony of not having a glass top stove and a built in microwave.

    Anonymous8/26/14, 7:57 PM - the post above was not telling them to leave now but when the lease is up for renewal.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The small kitchen in the picture is bigger than my first kitchen in my house in Old Town. I was buying that house with my own money. Big kitchens are a luxury not a right. I think people forget the difference between rights and luxury. The tenants may be overcharged but the have the choice to stay there or to move because there are many places in FXCO that cost less.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Too bad no one wants to build new affordable housing. There could be inexpensive units w built-in platform beds & bunks w foam mattresses, small apartments with small rooms & larger common areas. Decades ago I saw small dorm bathrooms in Germany that were one big plastic snap-in unit (including sink, toilet & shower) and you just connected the water. Floors could include play spaces for kids, with a grocery, Drs, dentist, cleaners & drug store (even an urban WalMart, sigh) on the main floor, maybe a job recruiting/referral place, an inexpensive family restaurant, a library w computers. You could have pay washers & dryers on each floor. No need for a pool, fitness room, maybe an office open in the afternoon/evening for receiving mail & packages, $ collection, Use tenants to clean, service, desk-sit & otherwise staff the place, including a 24-hr day care facility. In addition to immigrants this would be a boon for off-campus college kids & low-paid interns & other young people just starting out + low-income seniors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What do you consider affordable? As noted in the article rent is in the 1500's with add ons. For this area I consider that affordable. If not, you always have a choice either find something within your budget or get a roommate if permitted. One of the the problems with the culmore area is you are having more that roommates living together, you are having multiple familes living in 1 bedroom apartments. with multiple kids, thus flooding the school system. When you add that the birth rate among the hispanic community is 3x that that non hispanics the reason for the overcrowding becomes even more clear. As someone noted in a earlier posting the Culmore model is horrible and needs to be corrected. Why don't the low paid interns, low income seniors, or folks just starting out move to Culmore if they are looking for a cheap place to live?

      Delete
  13. What's wrong with the kitchen? It's bigger than my kitchen. And it's cleaner too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's actually a lot smaller than it looks in the photo.

      Delete
    2. They have 4x more counter space then my first place. I had a counter that was 18 inches wide and that was it. I could not afford to have any of those gadgets they have and I did not have the space for them either.

      Delete