If you received a Notice, Equity Residential’s records show that you lived at an EQR property in California between September 3, 2010 and October 23, 2017, and that you were charged at least one late fee under the “5% or $50” late fee provision in Equity Residential’s standard lease. The Court has allowed, or “certified,” a class action lawsuit on behalf of tenants who were charged such fees. You have legal rights and options that you may exercise before the Court holds a trial. A trial may be necessary to decide whether the claims being made against Equity Residential are valid. The Honorable Jeffrey S. White, a Judge in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, is overseeing this lawsuit. The case is called Munguia-Brown, et al., v. Equity Residential, et al., Case No. 4:16-cv-01225-JSW-MEJ (N.D. Cal.).Top
The lawsuit is about whether the late fees that Equity Residential and its subsidiaries charge to tenants in California comply with California law. Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that Equity Residential violated California Civil Code Section 1671(d), which governs certain fees in residential leases. Plaintiffs allege, among other things, that the late fee amount was not based upon a reasonable endeavor by Equity Residential to estimate and recover the actual costs incurred when tenants pay their rent late. Defendants contend that the late fee provision is lawful. The Court has not yet decided whether Equity Residential violated the law.
You can read the Plaintiffs’ Complaint HERE. (The case also includes a separate class that covers tenants who lived in Equity Residential’s Woodland Park property in East Palo Alto and who were parties to leases with a prior landlord, rather than parties to Equity Residential’s lease.)Top
In class action lawsuits, one or more people called “Class Representatives” sue on behalf of other people who have similar claims. The people together are a “Class” or “Class Members.” The Class Representatives are called the Plaintiffs. The persons or entities they sue (in this case, Equity Residential and certain of its subsidiaries) are called the Defendants. One court resolves the issues for all Class Members. The Court has appointed the Plaintiffs’ lawyers (names and contact information below) to represent the Class.Top
The Plaintiffs are asking the Court to find that Equity Residential’s “5% or $50” late fee provision is unlawful, and to require Equity Residential to return all late fees that its California tenants paid under that provision. Equity Residential will have an opportunity to try to reduce the amount that it must return by the amount of any “actual costs” it can prove it incurred as a result of Class Members’ late payments of rent. Equity Residential cannot recover money from Class Members as a result of this lawsuit.
Plaintiffs also seek recovery of attorneys’ fees, the costs of bringing the lawsuit, and interest. The Court has not yet ruled on the merits of any of the positions taken by Plaintiffs or Equity Residential.Top
No money is available now because the Court has not yet decided whether Equity Residential did anything wrong, and the parties have not settled the case. There is no guarantee that money or benefits will ever be obtained as a result of this case. If they are, you will be notified, and will be given information about any monetary award to which you may be entitled.Top
This case covers two classes of tenants who were subject to two different late fee policies.
You receivied the Standard Lease Notice because you are a potential member of the “Standard Late Fee Class,” which consists of tenants who were charged a late fee described in the standard Equity Residential lease: “5% of the outstanding balance, or $50, whichever is greater” between September 3, 2010 and October 23, 2017.
The second class consists of tenants who had non-EQR leases while living at the Woodland Park Property in East Palo Alto, California when it was owned by Equity Residential from December 1, 2011 to February 2016. These tenants were charged a flat $50 late fee. This class is called the “Woodland Park Preexisting Lease Class.”Top
If you received the Standard Lease Notice, we believe you are a member of the Standard Late Fee Class. You will automatically be included as a member of this class unless you take affirmative steps to exclude yourself from this case. This class consists of people who: (1) lived at an Equity Residential property in California between September 3, 2010 and October 23, 2017; and (2) were charged at least one late fee under Equity Residential’s “5% or $50, whichever is greater” late fee provision. Both current and former tenants can be part of this lawsuit.Top
If you are still not sure whether you are included, you can get free help by calling, writing, or emailing the lawyers in this case, at the phone number or addresses listed below in Question 12.Top
If you do nothing, you will automatically be included as a member of the Standard Late Fee Class, which means that you will keep the possibility of getting money from this lawsuit. If you remain part of the class and the Plaintiffs obtain money as a result of either a trial or a settlement, you will be notified about how to obtain any share to which you may be entitled. If you do nothing now, regardless of whether the Plaintiffs win or lose, you will not be able to sue the Defendants as part of any other lawsuit about the late fee charges at issue in this lawsuit. You will also be legally bound by all orders and judgments of the Court as to the Standard Late Fee Class. If Plaintiffs lose the case, you will not be penalized or have to pay anything to Equity Residential as a result.Top
You have the right to exclude yourself from this lawsuit. This is also called “opting out” of the class. If you exclude yourself, you won’t get any money from this lawsuit even if Plaintiffs obtain it as a result of a trial or settlement. You will keep the right to pursue your own claims with lawyers of your own choice, provided you pursue those claims within certain legal deadlines. If you do exclude yourself so that you can start your own lawsuit against Equity Residential, you should talk to your own lawyer right away to determine any deadlines you have.
To ask to be excluded, you must send an “Exclusion Request” in the form of a letter sent by mail stating that you want to be excluded from the Class in this case. The letter must include your name, address, telephone number, and signature. If you were sent a Notice on or after June 2018, you must mail this letter postmarked by August 20, 2018 to the Claims Administrator at the following address:
Equity Residential Claims Administrator
P.O. Box 404041
Louisville KY, 40233-4041Top
If you do not want to participate in the Class Action, and you were sent a Notice on or after December 2018, then you must postmark your exclusion request letter by February 19, 2019 to Equity Residential Claims Administrator, P.O. Box 404041, Louisville, KY, 40233-4041. An exclusion request letter must state that you want to be excluded from the Class in this case and include your name, address, telephone number, and signature. If you previously were sent a Notice prior to December 2018, the deadline to exclude yourself has passed.Top
The Court appointed the Plaintiffs’ lawyers in this case to represent the Classes (“Class Counsel”). Those lawyers are: Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho in Oakland, California; Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, California; and Nicholas & Tomasevic, LLP, in San Diego, California. The Court determined that these attorneys are qualified to represent the interests of the Classes in this lawsuit. More information about these firms, their practices, and their lawyers’ experience is available on their websites: www.gbdhlegal.com, www.clsepa.org, and www.nicholaslaw.org.
The following attorneys from the firms are handling the case, and you may contact them with any questions you have about the case:
Linda M. Dardarian, Esq.
Megan Ryan, Esq.
Katharine Fisher, Esq.
GOLDSTEIN, BORGEN, DARDARIAN & HO
300 Lakeside Drive, Suite 1000
Oakland, CA 94612
Jason H. Tarricone, Esq.
Margaret McBride, Esq.
COMMUNITY LEGAL SERVICES IN EAST PALO ALTO
1861 Bay Road
East Palo Alto, CA 94303
Craig Nicholas, Esq.
Alex Tomasevic, Esq.
Shaun Markley, Esq.
NICHOLAS & TOMASEVIC, LLP
225 Broadway, 19th Floor
San Diego, CA 92101
You may if you want, but you do not need to hire your own lawyer, because Class Counsel represent the Class of which you are a member. For example, you can hire a lawyer to appear in Court for you if you want someone other than Class Counsel to speak for you. If you hire your own lawyer, you will be responsible for the charges that lawyer requires you to pay for representing you.Top
If Plaintiffs prevail at trial, Class Counsel will ask the Court to require Equity Residential to pay their attorneys’ fees and expenses. If there is a settlement of this case, Class Counsel will request either that Defendants pay the fees and expenses, or that the Court allow a portion of the settlement fund to be used to pay attorneys’ fees and costs. Any such award of attorneys’ fees would be subject to Court approval. You will not have to pay Class Counsel any fees or expenses out of your own pocket.Top
Unless the case is resolved by a settlement or legal ruling, Class Counsel will have to prove the Plaintiffs’ claims and damages at a trial. If the Plaintiffs prevail, Defendants will have an opportunity to try to prove that damages should be reduced, or “offset,” by the “actual costs” Defendants have borne as a result of late payments by Class Members. Defendants cannot recover any money from you in this case. The trial has not been scheduled yet. It will take place in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, 1301 Clay Street, Oakland, CA 94612. During the trial, the Judge will hear all of the evidence to help him reach a decision about whether the Plaintiffs or Defendants are right about the claims in the lawsuit.Top
You do not need to appear in court or otherwise participate in the trial to be a Class Member or to be eligible for a monetary recovery should the Plaintiffs prevail on their claims. However, it is possible that an extremely small percentage of the class members may be called to testify as a witness in either a deposition or a trial. You are welcome to attend any trial at your own expense.Top
If the Class obtains money or benefits as a result of a trial or settlement, members of the Class will be notified about how they may qualify to receive a portion of any money or benefits obtained. We do not know how long this will take.Top
You may view the Court documents HERE, where you will find the Court’s Order Certifying the Class, the Plaintiffs’ Complaint, and Defendants’ Answer to the Complaint. You may also contact Class Counsel at any time by calling, writing, or emailing them at the contact information in question 12, above.Top