Even without water pouring from the light fixtures or fire alarms going off at all hours of the night like they did for a few weeks in January, dozens of residents at The Vue apartments in Beachwood have filed nearly $170,000 in rent for February and March with the Shaker Heights Municipal Court.
"We don't feel very confident things are going to change and improve, and we feel there's not a budget in place to operate the property at the level we all anticipated was marketed to us," said The Vue resident Neil Weinberger in February as his fellow residents filed their rent at the court.
Case Western Reserve University School of Law Professor Andrew Pollis and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Professor Ken Kowalski say the goal of paying rent to the court is to compel management to fix what's wrong.
The court can potentially give some of the tenants' rent back if the court decides their living conditions don't match the price tag. Pollis said that people who usually pay up to $3,000 in rent, like residents do at The Vue, don't end up in this situation.
"Most of the time, the high-end dwellings like that are managed and owned by companies that really have a strong interest in maintaining the quality of the living situation because that's how they attract tenants and that's how they get away with charging as much as they do," said Pollis.
Pollis says that's why courts will often try and negotiate a settlement. Finding the right level of compensation is hard to pin down.
"It's always imperfect, it's always subjective," said Pollis.
The building's holding company, Commerce Park Place Holdings, LLC, argues in court documents that residents didn't have the right to file their rent with the court because they didn't follow the proper protocol and tell management there was a problem in the first place. Kowalski says it could be a technical snag for the residents, but one that they might be able to get around.
"From the footage that News 5 showed in January and February, it certainly seems as though the landlord was on notice of problems, so how the court will deal with that, it's unclear," said Kowalski.
Court documents show pre-trial conferences for the civil case start in early April, and the trial could start before the end of the month, if it gets that far.
The residents at The Vue have tried to organize into a residents association to help negotiate for the group, but landlords don't have to recognize groups like that. The Vue's ownership has chosen to speak only with individuals.