Water falling from the ceiling, with apartments flooded and fire alarms going off at all hours was the uncomfortable reality for residents at The Vue luxury apartments in Beachwood.
The January flooding was bad, but residents told News 5 it was the reaction from ownership and management that convinced them to pay their rent for February, March, April and May to the Shaker Heights Municipal Court instead of to the landlord. The landlord sued to get their money released, resulting in a civil lawsuit that was resolved just this week.
"It seems to me that they're not paying any attention to us," said Charlotte Srithai at the Shaker Heights Municipal Court in February after she paid her rent to the court.
Srithai picked The Vue because it was supposed to be luxury living. The water was one thing, but when she brought her concerns to the building's management, she felt like she got nowhere.
"Clearly, nobody is listening to us and I just have to say, I wasn't asking for money," said Srithai on February 5th.
Roughly 40 residents filed more than $300,000 in rent with the court, trying to get their concerns addressed. That lead to the civil case that was dismissed Wednesday but not before the judge decided both the tenants and owners have to follow a settlement first outlined in April.
The judge ordered:
- June 2018 rent for tenants involved in the case would be reduced by 25%
- Rent deposits held in escrow would be released
- Both sides release the other from any claims or damages related to the case before May 9
- The settlement is supposed to remain confidential, as much as is possible and practical
- Neither party can disparage the other
- The complaint and counterclaims are all dismissed with prejudice
"The magnitude of that sum really shows you how powerful a rent strike can be, because the landlord did not have access to that money until the settlement," said Case Western Reserve University School of Law Professor Andrew Pollis.
The value of filing rent with the court is that it holds the money for a court to decide if tenants might get some of it back, if a judge rules that the standard of living didn't match the rent tenants were expected to pay. Pollis says the fact that the court is releasing all of the money is important.
"The fact that all of that money is getting returned to the landlord and that the only thing the tenants are getting is 25% off their June rent, which may be zero if some of them are no longer tenants or moving out now, it seems very surprising to me that there could be so much money in play and so little of it going to compensate the plaintiffs, the tenants, in what seems like a pretty serious condition," said Pollis.
Stark Enterprises / Comet Management releases a statement after the lawsuit comes to an end.
"We would like to extend our gratitude to the courts for taking the time to carefully analyze the property conditions, communicate directly with residents, Management, and Ownership and ensuring the past is settled and the future is bright. For three consecutive years, The Vue has been awarded the highest level of recognition alongside Northeast Ohio’s most prestigious apartment communities. We look forward to many more years of continued success in serving the community and its residents and would like to invite everyone to come see for themselves all of the amenities and lifestyle features we have to offer . We are open Monday - Friday 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM, Saturday 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM, and Sunday 12:00 PM - 5:00 PM."
Beau Miller and Neil Weinberger, of the Vue Tenants Association Leadership released the following statement:
The Vue Tenants Association (TVTA) was organized in an effort to address what residents perceived as an ever declining level of quality and service at The Vue, an apartment community that continues to be marketed as a luxury lifestyle experience. When the marathon mediation failed, residents forged ahead with a rent strike. A record-setting $300,000 was deposited into the court from February to May 2018, exhibiting that residents can stand up for their rights, as provided under the Ohio Landlord-Tenant Act.
Beau Miller and Neil Weinberger, members of the TVTA Leadership noted:
"We are very proud of our efforts but disappointed with the results. Unfortunately, the residents haven’t the slightest idea what the absentee Owners, Strategic Properties of North America, nor the local Management, Comet Management (a division of Stark Enterprises) is doing about repairs and when repairs will be completed. The Fitness Center remains closed; there remain continual interruptions to elevators, garage doors, and water. Safety and operational issues remain a concern to many. The court process became burdensome for many of the residents, and while the settlement might have been the best outcome given the circumstances, it's clear to us that the ownership and management have done nothing to earn the residents trust."
What is apparent from the TVTA efforts is that the community was something very special; and the interruptions to our lives in turn brought us closer together and forged new friendships. At this juncture, with the Court order rendered, everyone will now make their own decision about their future, but it’s already quite evident that many residents frustrated by the continuing lack of concern from the Landlord have chosen to relocate. Avery Friedman, Cleveland attorney, who valiantly represented the TVTA and championed our cause, notes residents must remain vigilant and if conditions persist and remain unresolved at The Vue, then a new rent strike could commence.