CHARLESTON, W.Va. – September 10, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — Attorney General Patrick Morrisey today announced his Office has filed a complaint against a company that owns and manages residential rental properties in Morgantown, alleging the company charged tenants excessive fees in violation of the state’s consumer protection laws.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Kanawha County Circuit Court against Copper Beech Townhomes, a company headquartered in Pennsylvania that has offered and managed housing for thousands of West Virginia University students in Morgantown.
The complaint alleges that Copper Beech required students to sign written leases that contain several fees and charges that violate the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act. Most notable was a “non-refundable redecoration fee,” sometimes as high as $800, which was separate from a security deposit and allegedly used to cover the landlord’s cost of preparing the unit for the next tenants.
“Under West Virginia law, a residential rental property landlord is responsible for 100 percent of all property maintenance costs, outside of actual, direct damages caused by tenants that go beyond what can be considered normal wear and tear,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “Our state’s consumer protection laws prohibit these kinds of fees, and our state Supreme Court has said tenants cannot be held responsible for them even if they are written into a lease.”
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division opened an investigation into the company after receiving at least 10 formal complaints dating back to June 2012. The complaint alleges that Copper Beech collected a total of $604,602.50 in “non-refundable redecorating fees” from West Virginia tenants in 1,197 signed leases since the company’s inception. In addition to the unlawful fees, the complaint alleges the company also engaged in unlawful debt collection practices to collect those charges.
The complaint asks a judge to find that Copper Beech’s business practices violated state consumer protection laws and also order the company to:
• Pay a civil penalty of up to ten times the amount of its excess lease charges to each of its affected customers.
• Refund to consumers all money it collected through its debt collection agency.
• Pay a civil penalty to the State of up to $5,000 for each violation of the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act.
• Close all accounts of tenants who were required to pay non-refundable redecorating fees with a zero balance, and notify the consumer credit reporting agencies to delete all information about those accounts from the consumers’ credit records.
“Protecting consumers is a top priority of my Office, which is why we must prevent the charging of illegal, excessive fees on our young adults as they go away to school,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “We encourage anyone who thinks they may have been charged an unreasonable fee to contact our Office so we can work to resolve the situation.”
The lawsuit has been given the case number 15-C-1699 and assigned to Judge Jennifer Bailey.
A copy of the complaint can be read here: http://bit.ly/1IYmgwQ.
The Attorney General’s Office has published a “Renters’ Rights” brochure that is available for download at http://www.ago.wv.gov/consumerprotection/Documents/Renters’%20Rights%20Brochure.pdf.
Anyone who believes they have been wrongly charged by a landlord should call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 800-368-8808 or the Eastern Panhandle field office in Martinsburg at 304-267-0239. To file a report online, go to www.wvago.gov
Jared Hunt, (304) 558-2021