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Los Angeles Daily News

Wednesday March 07, 2012

Online-Only Rents Spur Tenant Suit

By Dakota Smith, Staff Writer

Tenants rights groups have filed a lawsuit against a major Los Angeles apartment management firm, arguing the company illegally tried to force tenants to pay their rent online only.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of four Crenshaw residents Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that Jones and Jones Management Group is discriminating against tenants by instituting an online payment policy to collect monthly rent payments.

The company manages more than 30 buildings throughout Los Angeles County, including numerous buildings in the San Fernando Valley.

"It's a way of intimidating and bullying people who are old, who are elderly, and who are least likely to have Internet (access)," said plaintiffs' attorney Patricia Van Dyke.

After complaining about the new policy, renters were told they had to sign special waivers to exempt them from paying online, a move designed to intimidate the tenants, says Van Dyke.

But Jones and Jones representatives said the online payment policy has not been used as a pretense for evictions or other negative actions.

"The objective was to `go green' and make it easier for residents to pay rents by having an online method," said Ellen Kaufman Wolf, an attorney for Jones and Jones.

Kevin Miller, chief operating Officer of Westside Rentals, a Los Angeles-based home-finding service, said online rent payment options are increasingly popular with companies that manage or own large apartment

"Imagine having to collect 600 checks," he said.

But Miller said he wasn't aware of any companies requiring online rental collection service.

The lawsuit follows a bill introduced last month by Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, that allows renters to continue to pay by check or money order.

The bill came in response to complaints from residents in a Jones and Jones managed apartment complex in Marina Del Rey.

"The fear is that other landlords will want to follow (with online requirements) because it is more efficient to collect payments," Lieu said. "There's less paperwork, it's immediate."

But the law is on the side of renters, said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival.

According to the lawsuit, an inspector with the Los Angeles Housing Department sent two letters last year to Jones and Jones Management in response to renters' complaints, warning the company that it's illegal to not allow renters the opportunity to pay by check or other means.

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