Confusion at Mt. Vernon apartments as new managers threaten eviction

AMERICAN TOWNSHIP — A Michigan real estate company surprised residents at Mt. Vernon Village Apartments last week when the company issued eviction letters warning tenants they had three days to move out or pay hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars in rent it said was past due.

One week later, a note appeared on the property manager’s door: The eviction notices were based on inaccurate account ledgers, so no evictions have been filed. Residents who wish to see an up-to-date ledger should see the manager Monday, the note reads, according to a photo of the note viewed by The Lima News.

“People shouldn’t be put through this fear and this stress, scrambling to move out and everything,” said Mt. Vernon resident Tara Hummer, who raised concerns that outstanding balances quoted in eviction letters were inflated.

New managers threaten eviction

Hummer received a notice from Mt. Vernon’s new property manager, Michigan-based Friedman Real Estate, last Wednesday asking her to vacate her two-bedroom apartment by the weekend if she didn’t pay $3,158 — the equivalent of four-and-a-half month’s rent, according to a copy of Hummer’s lease and eviction notice reviewed by The Lima News.

Hummer confronted a manager visiting the apartment complex from Michigan, offering to show copies of checks she’d written in the past six months which she says could dispute the balance, but was told to “pay or talk to a judge,” she said.

When she spoke to on-site manager Tosha Watson several days later, Hummer says she was told the amount listed on her eviction letter was wrong.

“She goes, ‘You ain’t going to owe that but you’re going to owe something,’” said Hummer, who said she has yet to see documentation of how her account balance was calculated.

Hummer is one of several Mt. Vernon residents who spoke to The Lima News about the eviction letters, which are the first step in the eviction process.

Watson declined to comment when reached by phone Tuesday.

Representatives from Friedman Real Estate did not return calls or emails, but an Oct. 12 email from regional property manager Christina Roberts to another tenant, who asked that their name not be published, said that the firm’s “primary objective is not eviction, but rather to ensure that all accounts are in good standing.”

“We strongly encourage you to take prompt action to avoid the legal eviction process, which will commence if your account balance remains unpaid,” Roberts wrote, noting that payment plans would “need to be discussed with a judge.”

How were charges calculated?

Veronica Martinez, an attorney who represents renters facing eviction for Legal Aid of Western Ohio, said it’s not unusual for new property managers to ask tenants to pay past-due balances that were carried forward by a previous landlord, particularly when renters fell behind on payments during the pandemic eviction freeze.

But managers should notify residents that they will be requiring strict compliance with leasing terms first, she said.

New managers may also try to “clean up the books,” or identify instances in which they believe the previous managers did not properly charge tenants, even when those tenants don’t have past-due balances, Martinez said.

In those cases, Martinez said, tenants may be able to argue that the previous landlord waived those charges by not making a demand for it.

“I would recommend that they ask for the ledger and (identify) the last time that there was a zero balance,” she said. “Hopefully, it’s obvious which approach they were taking. If the last time they had a zero balance was 2020, you know they’ve been carrying a balance for a long time. Or if they had a zero balance in June and then there’s an entry in July or August that says $3,000 back rent, then (tenants) know that (management) did some kind of audit.”

Whether a landlord can do so will depend on a variety of factors, Martinez said, including how far back the audit goes and the timeframe tenants are given to pay new charges.

Wrongful eviction claims and escrow accounts

Several residents who spoke to compalined of black mold, collapsed ceilings, exposed plumbing and leaks in their apartments.

But Martinez said residents who wish to withhold rent due to poor living conditions should instead deposit their rent into an escrow account with the court, which can force a landlord to make improvements or allow the tenant to break their lease.

To do so, Martinez said residents need to give written notice to their landlord.

Meanwhile, Martinez said residents who paid to avoid eviction may ask to see a ledger and request a credit to their account if they believe they overpaid.

Tenants who vacated their apartments after Mt. Vernon management issued eviction warnings may have a wrongful eviction claims as well, according to Debra Lavey, a senior attorney for Advocates for Basic Legal Equity.

Those tenants would need to show their lease had not expired, that they had not defaulted on any of their lease terms and that the landlord’s conduct was “intended to and did cause the tenant to vacate the premises,” Lavey said via email Friday.

Tenants who successfully file wrongful eviction claims may recover damaged equal to the market value of the unexpired lease term in addition to special damages, Lavey said.

And tenants who pay more in rent because of a wrongful eviction may also recover the difference in rent for the period of the unexpired lease term, she said, although tenants must also “make reasonable efforts to mitigate these damages.”