Student Legal Services assess the threat of overcharging

Student Legal Services assess the threat of overcharging

Student Legal Services assess the threat of overcharging
February 20
00:38 2014

Nicholas Friedman // Staff Writer

Recently, an email was sent to UNT students by the Student Legal Services center asking if anyone had been overcharged by apartment or housing complexes they no longer lived at.

Several complexes and realty offices in Denton have been suspected of charging residents excessive amounts of money following fulfillment of their leases. UNT Student Legal Services sent a mass email asking students who suspected this kind of activity to set up a consultation in the UNT Student Legal Services office.

Though the New Americana Apartments and The Martino Group complexes were mentioned by name in an initial mass email sent on Feb. 4, the Student Legal Service sent out an additional letter on Feb. 6, which said it was not its intention to project a negative impression on the properties.

The process 

Attorney Kathryn McCauley of the UNT Student Legal Services said her office, now located in Stovall Hall, is there for students to come and seek help about these issues.

“This kind of thing happens all of the time unfortunately,” McCauley said. “The most frustrating thing for me is when students are nickel and dimed.”

McCauley said complexes will often charge a security deposit and some landlords or property owners will find ways to chip away so they do not have to refund it.

“Landlords can be good and bad,” McCauley said. “This is a two-fault issue. Are there landlords that are exploiting students? Yes. Do the students know that I am here to help them with this? No.”

McCauley said that the Student Legal Services are fully paid for by student service fees, so the process is virtually free.

“We cover court charges through the student services fee and we won’t charge for things like copies or mailing,” McCauley said.

RTVF senior Jidong Yao said he worked with McCauley and the Student Legal Services for a case he had involving a car accident and unpaid damages.

“I’m an international student and I didn’t really know the court system all that well,” Yao said. “Kathryn is very patient and explained the procedure, what could happen and then let me decide if I wanted to proceed.”

Apartment response

In response to the overcharging allegations, Denton apartment complex The Ridge said it rarely ever charges a security deposit to begin with, instead referring to forms residents fill out when they first move in.

“I can’t think of an actual case where we have even charged a security deposit,” economics senior and The Ridge leasing agent Gordon Sies said.  “We usually just compare the inventory and condition form that the resident fills out with how damage is assessed once they move out.”

Sies said some residents ask for a refund even if they didn’t pay for a security deposit.

“Normally we waive the deposit, but we’ll have people call and try to get their money back even though we never charged them,” Sies said. “A lot of times fees will come from residents paying their rent late, but all of that is referred to in the lease.”

Another suspected complex, The Martino Group, said it hasn’t received a complaint since August or September of 2013.

“We normally ask for a security deposit up front ranging from $300 to $500 depending on the property,” property manager Nick Miller said. “We want to refund the resident as much of that as possible, but we have to protect the property owners from damages that are above normal wear and tear.”

Miller said The Martino Group inspects and photographs a residence before a tenant moves in so  damage can be assessed properly, but if any residents have an issue with fees they should come into the office before taking additional action.

“We know sometimes people will disagree with a charge because money is involved and we understand their concerns,” Miller said. “We want them to know we’re always open for conversation. We have a good relationship with UNT legal services and we want that to continue, and we understand and respect that they want to protect their students.”

Attorney McCauley said she agrees that figuring out a solution peacefully is always the best option and will be considered before taking legal action.

“Usually I’m able to pick up the phone and resolve conflicts that way,” McCauley said. “I prefer that because no one wants to have to go to court.”

Feature photo: Students can seek free legal help in Stovall Hall room 136-B during their walk in appointments on Wednesdays. Their staff consists of a lawyer, paralegal and legal assistant. Photo by Kristen Watson / Staff Photographer 

About Author

Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman is the Editor In Chief of the North Texas Daily. In addition, he's had his work published at The Dallas Morning News, GuideLive and the Denton Record-Chronicle.

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