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Aspen Heights Towson tenants file lawsuits against student housing complex that charged rent before building could be occupied

Aspen Heights, a 13-story mixed-use building at 101 York Road, will be used for Towson University student housing.
Aspen Heights, a 13-story mixed-use building at 101 York Road, will be used for Towson University student housing. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Two Aspen Heights Towson tenants are suing the student housing complex for charging three months of rent despite the building not having received occupancy permits, and denying their requests to cancel their leases.

The complaints, brought this month by a Towson tenants’ rights attorney representing guarantors on the leases of two Towson University students, assert that Breckenridge Group Towson Maryland and Breckenridge Property Management 2019, which manages Aspen Heights Towson, continued to charge the tenants rent even though they failed to deliver their apartments on time, and “misrepresented that [the tenant] was not permitted to terminate or cancel the lease despite Defendants’ failings,” according to one complaint.

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Matthew Vocci, an attorney with Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, is requesting jury trials for both cases, writing in the November complaints that Breckenridge Property Management not only included illegal provisions absolving the company of liability should the building fail to be delivered at the start of the tenant’s lease, but asked tenants to essentially ratify that clause by asking them to sign a delayed move-in addendum in September when Breckenridge Property Management was unable to deliver the apartments at the start of the tenant’s lease, Vocci said.

Citing construction delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the student housing complex, a 13-floor, mixed-use building at 101 York Road, notified tenants one week before the scheduled Aug. 22 move-in date that they would not be able to move in.

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Aspen Heights Towson pushed back the prospective move-in dates several times, saying that there were not enough county inspectors available to visit the site — the building was issued its final use and occupancy permit Nov. 18, after failing to pass multiple other inspections, according to county spokesman Sean Naron.

The occupancy permit for tenants living on floors 3 through 6 were issued mid-October, with the first group of tenants moving in Oct. 17, nine weeks after the scheduled move-in date.

Tenants had agreed to pay a full month of rent in August prior to the delays, and were charged for September and October rent as well.

The management company said in an October email it would credit back rent for tenants who found their own accommodations for the number of days they were unable to occupy the apartment.

Aspen Heights Towson through a public relations representative declined to answer questions for this story, including how many tenants have had their rent abated.

Aspen Heights Towson at the outset of the delays gave tenants gift card options. If tenants chose to find their own accommodations, they were given a $500 gift card. Those who chose to share a hotel room at the Sheraton Baltimore North — the alternative housing option offered by Breckenridge Property Management — with another Aspen Heights resident received a $250 gift card.

The company gave out gift cards in multiple rounds as delays mounted.

Those who chose to live in hotel rooms alone did not receive any compensation. Jess Jorden had been given $2,500 in gift card money, which she has not spent, the complaint states.

The management company “gave families untenable options, which were to live elsewhere or to live in a hotel either with or without a roommate,” Vocci wrote in the complaint. “These were the options despite that a global health pandemic was occurring, and people were being warned to limit social interactions with others.”

Under state law, a landlord may not use a lease that compels the signee to waive or forgo any right or remedy provided by applicable law, according to the complaint. The Maryland Code also stipulates that “if the landlord fails to provide the tenant with possession of the dwelling unit at the beginning of the term of any lease, the rent payable under the lease shall abate until possession is delivered.”

The landlord is also legally required to pay back all money given as prepaid rent, deposit or security, according to state law.

Both tenants have sought to terminate their leases and have never occupied their apartments, Vocci said. Aspen Heights Towson directed them to find replacement tenants if they wished to cancel their leases, according to the complaint.

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Vocci in the complaint noted that under the Maryland Code, “The tenant, on written notice to the landlord before possession is delivered, may terminate, cancel, and rescind the lease.”

In both cases, David and Veronica Jorden, Millersville residents and guarantors on their daughter’s lease, and Fuad Arogundade, an Aspen Heights tenant, and Suraju Arogundade, his guarantor, are seeking in excess of $75,000 in damages each, as well as other court costs and attorney fees.

Texas-based Aspen Heights Partners has about 19 student apartment buildings in the Midwest and Southeast.

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