Equity Residential (NYSE: EQR), one of the largest publicly traded owners and operators of residential housing in the US has been alleged in fraudulent practices and overbilling its customers.
I personally have been a resident at one of the Equity Residential Properties apartment complexes in California for over two years. Over the course of my residency at Equity Residential I have encountered numerous problems which were caused by negligent accounting practices and incompetency of the property management at my complex.
My first problems started when I, at the end of my initial lease term, requested a transfer into a larger apartment. I was told that in order to move into a new apartment within the same complex that was controlled by the same management, I had to put in a new deposit. When I asked the management at Equity why they simply could not roll over the deposit from the old apartment to the new one, they didn’t give me a legitimate explanation, but said that it was how they decided to do it.
After I put in the deposit on the new apartment and moved I expected a check from Equity Residential as their apartment management had assured me that a check would be arriving shortly in the mail.
The check never arrived. A month later I went to the property management office to inquire about my security deposit. A leasing specialist at Equity Residential pulled out my record and informed me that a bill would be arriving in the mail shortly and that after they have cleaned out my $800 security deposit in some bogus charges, I still owed them some amount, which was around fifty dollars if I remember correctly. I asked what the charges were for, to which Equity Residential leasing consultant said that the charges were for carpet cleaning and that it was usual business for Equity Residential to deduct money from its residents’ security deposit to pay for carpet cleaning. A leasing consultant giggled and said I got lucky that my carpet was still brand new and that because of that Equity Residential decided not to replace carpet at in my old apartment at this time.
She said I would have been charged additional amount for replacing carpet in my whole apartment and would have owed Equity Residential even higher balance.
When I inquired about the carpet cleaning bill, the leasing consultant presented me with a bill from the carpet cleaning company. The charges were around $300 and when I asked about the remaining balance of my security deposit after the carpet cleaning charges, she seemed astounded. She said that my deposit had been rolled over to the apartment I was currently occupying. She contended that because the security deposit on the old apartment was for some reason higher by $300 than the deposit on the apartment I was currently renting ($800 – on the old apartment v. $500 on the new apartment), after deducting carpet cleaning charges from my security deposit, I still owed Equity Residential Properties some money.
I pointed out that I had in fact put down a second security deposit, but the leasing consultant contended there was no record of me putting down a brand new deposit on the new apartment lease.
Needless to say, I was trying to involve my attorneys, and after showing Equity Residential management receipts from cashier’s check for the new security deposit, they finally agreed to send me some money, which it took Equity Residential another month or two to come up with a check.
Luckily for me, I have not had much interaction with Equity Residential until now when my lease came to its expiration again.
A month before the expiration date of my lease, Equity Residential notified me that my new lease would be increased by $141 ($1,260 v. $1,119). I went to the property management office to see if I could move to another apartment of the same size at a lower rate. The management staff said they did not have anything available cheaper than that until I showed them Craigslist advertisement for the same apartment complex where Equity Residential claimed the rent for the same size and type of apartment nearly two hundred dollars cheaper.
A leasing consultant pulled out the rate sheet and found several vacant apartments and apartments about to become vacant that were priced cheaper than my renewal rate. She said that vacant apartments were priced lower than renewal rate in order to get new residents in. But knowing that I would not be getting my $500 deposit back and may even end up with Equity Residential coming after me for more money in bogus charges (as a quick research of court records showed Equity Residential highly litigious practices with respect to its renters), I decided to save myself a headache and renewed my lease at $1260/mo.
Immediately after signing a new lease agreement, I asked Equity Residential accounting department to calculate my rent for the month of July 2008. I asked to calculate the prorated rent at $1,119/mo for the first eight days, add up the prorated rent for the remainder of the month at the new rate, and add the water and garbage bill that Equity Residential includes into the monthly rent. The amount of calculations came up to a figure that was for rent alone higher than my new rent and together with the water and garbage was around fourteen hundred. When I first looked at the itemized calculations, I could not understand why my rent alone, which was supposed to be lower than the new rent, was listed higher than my monthly rent at the new rate. Additionally, the utilities bill was nearly $65 for water and garbage, which was twice as high as it had been historically.
When I pointed out to the Equity Residential accounting that even a child could see the discrepancy, they agreed to recalculate the amounts, which came to a more legitimate figure. I wrote a check to Equity Residential which included both my monthly rent and utilities, and left immediately after Equity Residential leasing consultant accepted the check. Here is what the calculations came to:
Total Rent for July 2008 $1,223.61
Water and garbage bill $65.49
Total Rent and Utilities 1,289.10
A staff member at Equity Residential wrote a note with the calculations which I kept.
Approximately two weeks after Equity Residential accepted my check, I received a three-day notice to pay or vacate that Equity Residential staff pinned on my door. I was away for vacation, and the humiliating note stayed on my door until I got back in town.
Having had enough of problems with Equity Residential, I sought advice from several attorneys, who have suggested that I keep proper records of the happenings.
As my August rent payment came closer, I received another threatening note from Equity Residential suggesting that I owe them for the water and garbage for the month of July along with the rent and utilities for August, and that no partial payment will be accepted.
I was in the hopes that once Equity Residential reviews its records for their accounting errors, they would get off my back. That didn’t happen.
Today, making my way out of my apartment building I saw a note pinned on the hallway billboard where residents post lost cat and moving sale notes. The note said, “Stop! Have you looked at your utilities bill?” Basically, another resident of Whispering Oaks, which is my apartment complex owned by Equity Residential suggested that we (renters at Whispering Oaks) have been charged for boiler fees, and other fees in addition to water and garbage that Equity Residential have been regularly passing onto its residents without our expressed consent and our permission, and which was not a part of our lease agreement.
Looks like further investigation into Equity Residential’ and Whispering Oaks’ unfair accounting practices is much needed. I will update this blog as investigation moves along. Don’t forget to subscribe to my fee reader to get the updates of this investigation.