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Attorney General files lawsuit against Joplin landlord

Reported July 13, 2011 at 6:40 PM CST by Zach Fletcher:  Missouri’s top law enforcement officer files a lawsuit in Jasper County circuit court against a Webb City landlord.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has filed suit against David Box Jr. for unlawfully increasing rent after the tornado.

“I intend to investigate and prosecute consumer fraud in the city of Joplin with fierce aggressiveness throughout the pendency of the emergency declaration period,” says Koster.

Box Properties sent a letter to tenants at the Northside and Classic Townhouses just days after the tornado giving them three days to decide to pay up or move out.

The attorney general’s office received 13 complaints from Box Properties tenants whose rent had been increased.

“Nothing - even tornado damage – would merit tossing people out and giving them three days notice either to accept a 25% increase or pack their things and move out,” Koster says.

Many of the residents say they are glad to see action taken.

“I like the neighborhood, I like my neighbors,” says Tamra Sherrell, a Box Properties tenant.  “I don’t have any problems with the landlord himself.  It’s just I can’t afford the rent.”

Sherrell has lived in the Classic Townhouse Apartments for nearly a year and a half.  She was paying $475 per month for the two-bedroom apartment but was told her rent would go up $120 dollars and now plans to move because of the big increase.

“They pushed us to do something so I guess we’re going to get a new start somewhere else fresh,” Sherrell says.  “Hopefully we don’t have to go through the same thing we went through here.  It’s hard to struggle as a single mother so I’m hoping this will help someone else that is over here, single and taking care of their kids.”

Last month an attorney for Box Properties said this increase was planned ahead of the tornado but had not yet been implemented.  Now, he says they are working with the attorney general’s office to settle the case.

Koster is asking the court to fine Box Properties $1,000 for each violation and to pay full restitution.  He also wants Box to pay all court and investigation costs.

In addition to the price gouging accusations, the attorney general also says Box was not properly registered to conduct business in the state. 

Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:34 PM CST:  The Missouri Attorney General announces a lawsuit against a Webb City landlord accused of price gouging.

Attorney General Kris Koster announces a lawsuit against box properties.

After the May 22nd tornado, we talked to several renters outside of the devastation area in Webb City who were given notice that their monthly rent was going up–some as much as $100.

Each was given three days to decide if they want to pay more when their lease is up or move.

Box properties told us the rent increases were already planned as a result of property tax hikes and financial struggles.

Koster’s lawsuit alleges box properties unlawfully raised rent prices after the tornado.

Reported June 15, 2011 at 7:05 PM by ERICA EDWARDS:  Many victims of the May 22 tornado are looking for new homes but finding a place to rent could be more expensive today than it was just a couple weeks ago, before the storm.

The loss of hundreds of homes might have changed Joplin from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market, but that change could be impacting renters.

Some residents say their rent is being raised $75 to $100 dollars a month – and they want to know if that is price gouging.

Attorney Charles Genisio says it is not price gouging.

“In a typical landlord-tenant situation, when their rent is due, that’s when their landlord should give in writing any changes,” says Genisio.  “(In month to month), if a lease is terminating many leases, not all, are going to say both parties need to give that 30 day notice of what their intent is.”

Webb City resident Justina Morris-Archer says she received a notice on her door stating her monthly rent was going up $100.

“I can’t stay here – I really don’t think I can,” she says.  “Where am I going to go?  Move back in with my mother and her two bedroom house?”

Resident Nita Payton says not everyone who got notices had a lease that was coming to an end.

“There’s a young woman here in the complex whose lease was not up, and she has a small child and she’s going to have to move back in with her parents,” Payton says.

Box properties, the company that owns and manages both Nita’s and Justina’s homes, says it had been having financial difficulties and the increases were already planned before the tornado.

Genisio, the company’s attorney, says Box Properties is not acting maliciously.

“Box Properties has been taking a look at their business as a whole, and deciding what they were going to do with their business as a whole – the awful coincidence is this tragedy happened,” says Genisio.

One renter was concerned that he would lose his home if he went on camera, so he asked that we keep his identity anonymous.

He says his rent went up $75 a month and only had three days to respond.

“I contacted the A.G.’s office, they are sending me some paperwork to fill out.”

For those who are trying to reach the Attorney General’s office, there is an 800 number.  But it has also set up a mobile office at Missouri Southern’s command center.

It’s open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The number for the attorney general’s office is 800-392-8222.


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