JML Co. LPA Files Class Action Against Campus Landlord

Columbus Attorneys Jeffrey M. Lewis (Jeffrey M. Lewis Co., LPA) and Todd Neuman (Allen Stovall Neuman & Ashton LLP) announced that they have filed a Class Action lawsuit against NorthSteppe Realty Company, a major Columbus Ohio residential property management company that is also a well-known OSU campus-area landlord. The attached Complaint, filed in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court and initiated on behalf of individuals whose rented from NorthSteppe, asserts that NorthSteppe is and has been for many years in violation of the Ohio Landlord-Tenant Act with respect to the timely and proper return of tenant security deposits. Six named Plaintiffs, all former Ohio State University students who were parties to a residential lease with NorthSteppe, are seeking to represent the Class members in the lawsuit.

Columbus Dispatch Article: Headline: Suit: Tenant security deposits mishandled. By Jim Welker, published October 13, 2021.

According to the Complaint, pursuant to Ohio Revised Code (R.C.) § 5321.16 a landlord is only entitled to deduct from a tenant’s security deposit the actual amount of costs incurred by a landlord as a result of a tenant’s returning the property to the landlord at lease-end in a damaged or unclean state that is “beyond normal wear and tear.” Nonetheless, the suit alleges that NorthSteppe has a long history of making improper deductions from tenants’ security deposits without even waiting to make said repairs and/or determining the actual cost of same. Rather, the “damage deduction” is calculated by NorthSteppe based on a computer application that assigns arbitrary, fixed amounts (i.e., “scuffed wall = $100 x number of walls”) to the alleged damages charged against a tenant’s security deposit, regardless of the repair/cleaning cost NorthSteppe actually incurred. In the case of the six named Plaintiffs, they were charged $300 for 3 walls that were allegedly scuffed, after which NorthSteppe paid a subcontractor approximately $700 to paint every room and ceiling in the six-bedroom house! Thus, the Plaintiffs subsidized nearly one-half of the labor cost of painting the entire property they rented from NorthSteppe when they were alleged to have “scuffed” only 3 walls!

One of the purposes of class actions is to overcome “the problem that small recoveries do not provide the incentive for any individual to bring a solo action prosecuting his or her rights”. Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 617 (1997) (quoting Mace v. Van Ru Credit Corp., 109 F.3d 388, 344 (7th Cir. 1997)). “A class action solves this problem by aggregating the relatively paltry potential recoveries into something worth someone’s (usually an attorney’s) labor.” Amchem Prods., Inc., 521 U.S. at 617 (quoting Mace, 109 F.3d at 344). In other words, a class action ensures that a defendant who engages in widespread harm – but does so minimally against each individual plaintiff – may be responsible to compensate those individuals for their injuries. Class Actions aggregate smaller claims that would otherwise not make financial sense to pursue, bringing justice to thousands that have been nickeled and dimed out of modest amounts, but nickeled and dimed, nonetheless. This lawsuit demands that those countless students and others who rented from NorthSteppe over the last eight years and who had their Security Deposits wrongly debited be reimbursed in accordance with the double-damages provisions of the Ohio Landlord-Tenant Act. The suit also demands that NorthSteppe be held liable for attorney fees incurred in the prosecution of the Class Action on behalf of wronged tenants.

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