Monocle Management to refund illegal rent penalties to tenants Judge OKs settlement in class-action suit

November 15, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore judge has approved a settlement that will refund money to thousands of tenants of a Bethesda limited partnership accused of operating a "rent incentive program" that cost low-income renters as much as $100 a month in illegal penalties.

Tenants of Monocle Management, which operates thousands of

apartments in Maryland, filed a class-action lawsuit last year, charging that Monocle lured residents with deceptive advertising that made rents seem $100 lower than they were. The tenants said that when they signed leases, they were told they could pay the advertised rate only if they turned in rent by the fifth of each month -- amounting to a late fee of about 25 percent.

Circuit Judge Ellen M. Heller approved an agreement this week under which Monocle will reimburse tenants $70 for every time they had to pay the extra $100.

Former tenants will be reimbursed $50 of every extra $100.

The plaintiffs included several tenants at Notting Street Station apartments, a 300-unit garden complex Monocle operated in Northeast Baltimore.

Attorney Thomas J. Minton, who represented the tenants for the Public Justice Center, a nonprofit public-interest law firm in Baltimore, said a key aspect of the settlement is an end to the practice that led to the lawsuit.

Monocle tenants now can use the $100 discount coupons regardless of when they pay rent, he said.

Monocle's attorneys did not return calls yesterday about the settlement.

Attorneys published claim forms for past tenants in local newspapers this fall, but have received fewer than 200 responses, said Karen Webber, executive director of the Public Justice Center.

Monocle tenants seeking forms may call the Public Justice Center at 625-9409.

Now notifying past and current tenants begins in earnest. Attorneys for the apartment residents say they will take to the radio to spread the word.

They also are trying to have meetings with tenants -- one was scheduled for last night at Suitland High School -- but Monocle has objected in a motion to the court, arguing that the meetings violate the terms of the settlement unless all parties are represented.

Tenants' claim forms must be postmarked by Dec. 31 to be eligible for reimbursement.

Pub Date: 11/15/96

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