Tenants who say they were duped into paying late-rent fees of more than $100 a month have filed a class-action suit against a Bethesda limited partnership that operates hundreds of apartments in Maryland, including a 300-unit complex in Baltimore.
Lawyers for the Public Justice Center, a nonprofit public-interest law firm, claim that Monocle Management is violating tenants' rights and consumer-protection laws with a "rent-incentive program" that attracts low-income residents with deceptive advertising.
The suit in Baltimore Circuit Court names as plaintiffs four tenants at the Notting Street Station apartments, a garden complex in Northeast Baltimore, and is filed on behalf of other residents of Monocle-owned apartments throughout the state.
Richard Smith said Thursday that he thought Monocle was "doing me a favor" when it offered him a two-bedroom apartment at Notting Street in 1992. He said he signed a lease for $100 more than the advertised rent because he was told that if he paid before the fifth of each month, he would owe only the advertised amount.
Mr. Smith has been late with his rent several times. On those occasions, he has had to pay $545 in rent instead of $445, plus a 5 percent penalty.
"My income can't handle this," said Mr. Smith, who is president of the complex's tenants' association. "I'm a normal person. I work for a living."
Monocle representatives did not return messages left at the company's headquarters and at Notting Street Station.
Assistant Attorney General Lucy A. Weisz, noting that she was not familiar with the Monocle case, said that in general, landlords can charge no more than 5 percent of monthly rent as a late fee. She added that she had not seen Monocle's ads and could not evaluate whether they were misleading under the law.