Tenants have won a major victory in a case involving excessive rental fees charged by landlords.

A class-action case that includes two Corvallis apartment complexes has been settled in favor of residents, with the defendant, Horizon Realty Advisors of Seattle, ordered to repay tenants who were affected by the excessive charges.

Horizon Realty was charging incoming tenants a $400 restoration fee for carpet cleaning and touch-up painting that would not be undertaken until the tenant departs.

The case, which was settled in Lane County Circuit Court on May 31, included three apartment complexes in Eugene plus the Union and Grand Oaks facilities in Corvallis. All three of the facilities in Eugene and the Union are described on the Horitzon Realty Advisors as student housing. The Grand Oaks caters to general tenants.

“This is a huge deal,” said Dawn Duerksen of Duerksen & Associates Inc., a longtime Corvallis property management firm that has played a leading role in the Corvallis Rental Property Managers Group, which is working to help solve tenant-landlord issues via training and outreach.

“I bring this up at our meetings all the time because there are a lot of people in town that still do it. This is an ongoing problem.”

Duerksen and city housing officials noted that a 2010 state law put limits on the fees that property managers and landlords can charge. Basically, Duerksen said, landlords only can charge refundable security deposits.

The class action affects tenants who paid the nonrefundable restoration fee between Dec. 23, 2014 and Dec. 22, 2015 at the Union, the Grand Oaks and the Chase Village, Stadium Park and Forest Hills complexes in Eugene.

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Those affected by the fee have until July 15 to apply for a refund (see this story online for information on how to apply for a refund). Horizon is required under the terms of the settlement to notify the affected tenants in writing with information on how to get their refunds.

Frank Gibson, an attorney with Hutchinson Cox in Eugene, handled the case. and noted that "class-action notices are often discarded as junk mail. Anyone who rented in one of these complex between Dec. 23, 1014 and Dec. 22, 2015 should keep an eye on their mail for the notice."

The case was initiated by Liz Miller, a third-year University of Oregon law student who was confronted with the fee when she moved into Chase Village last August, Gibson said.

“When Liz told me about the charge,” he said, “I wondered who was charging the fee and how many other tenants had to pay it.”

Miller chose not to participate in the suit and instead found two Chase Village residents, Lane Community College students Dillon Redican and Jessica Gold, who were willing to serve as the class-action plaintiffs.

Gibson’s complaint alleges that Horizon’s policy violated the state law on landlord fees (ORS 90.302) by both charging and requiring the fee and by not describing the restoration charge in their rental agreements.

Horizon did not admit that the fees were illegal, Gibson said, but the company has agreed not to charge them in the future. More than $245,000 has been refunded to tenants covered by the litigation, with another $44,000 still uncashed said Gregory Beckel of Horizon in a court filing.

Horizon representatives did not respond to an email and a phone message seeking comment on the case, and local representatives at the Union and Grand Oaks also declined comment.

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.