One of Iowa City’s most prominent landlords for student rentals violates city code by not keeping apartments warm as the temperature drops, said the city’s senior housing inspector.
City code requires functional heating equipment that is capable of heating living areas to 68 degrees. Several tenants of Apartments Downtown, a property management firm that is the subject of a class action lawsuit for controversial rental practices, said their heat wasn’t turned on until this week.
One tenant and his mother said they spent a week and half calling, emailing and filing maintenance requests, which only proved fruitful after a violation notice from the city last Thursday.
For most of October, the lows have been in the 30s and 40s.
“I would argue they were in violation of our housing code,” said Stan Laverman, senior housing inspector. “I think when they see the temperatures in the 30 and 40s at night, you should have your heating system working.”
Apartments Downtown responded with an emailed statement that said all boilers are now on, and many have been on for a week.
“Please understand that these boilers like anything else can have mechanical issues, furnaces can have pilot lights that go out over the months they are off,” according to the statement. “These issues are addressed immediately as well as complaints from tenants accommodated … (I)ssues are dealt with a sense of urgency and resolved in a timely manner.”
Joe Fazekas, 22, who rents a $705 a month studio apartment, is one of the tenants who spoke up.
Fazekas said he called Apartments Downtown to turn on the heat because he was sick and on doctor’s orders was to stay home.
“I was freezing,” Fazekas said. “There is no way it was above 65 at night, that’s for sure. I was constantly wearing a coat. I have a thermostat, and I cranked the thing up to 80, but it kept blowing cold air.”
After a week and half of calls, emails and maintenance requests, nothing happened. His mother Lydia Schumacher said she called and was advised the company was in the middle of installing units that provide heating and air conditioning and to get her son a space heater in the meantime. Apartments Downtown denied recommending a space heater, which Laverman said is also a violation of city code.
It wasn’t until Fazekas and Schumacher contacted the city, and Laverman sent a formal violation notice on Oct. 17 that the heat was turned on. That was on Monday.
“I just don’t think people should have to go through this,” said Schumacher. “The only reason I got involved is because my son was sick.”
The Gazette spoke with two other Apartments Downtown tenants, who said their apartments were well below 65 degrees this month without the heat turned on. Alec Bramel, the University of Iowa student liaison for the Iowa City City Council, said he’s spoken with a dozen students who’ve complained to him about the lack of heat in their apartments.
Laverman said this is a recurring problem with Apartments Downtown, which he said also operates under other names including Michael’s Properties, AUR and Apartments Near Campus.
Laverman said the company often puts off addressing tenant’s problems, until the city starts to take action.
“The problem is by the time you get out there, they turn on the heat,” Laverman said. “We go through this every year.”