Rainmaker asked me why one should not rent from Apartments Downtown, and I thought I'd post my reply for others to consider. Forthwith:
Well, I suppose that if there is a property you are hell bent on renting, it would not be impractical to rent from AUR (The corporate entity that encompasses both Apartments Downtown and Apartments Near Campus is called Associated University Realty; they go by a number of names and have been known to change it up when their current name develops too horrible a reputation).
Most rental companies in this town have at least a slight predatory streak, owing to the fact that since it's a college town, they can set whatever bullshit stipulations they want and students HAVE to rent from them. We don't have the luxury of going elsewhere for housing, nor do we have the clout to demand changes in a rental agreement. If one potential tenant is too demanding, there are ten more lined up ready to sign their lives away.
AUR is the 800 pound gorilla in the IC rental market though, and it takes the predatory practice to a whole new level. For one, the way they advertise is classic bait and switch. A 2 bedroom apartment for $600? Sounds great, till you get in the office and they tack on $35 a month for the wood floors, $50 a month for a shitty cable package, $170 a month for a utilities package and anywhere from $25 to $100 a month for parking.
When I rented from them, their maintenance was relatively prompt, but I have heard horror stories about how they showed up unannounced and walked right in, in one case when the tenant was in the shower. I never had to pay for any maintenance they did on my place while I was living there, but if for some reason you do, I don't know if you would be getting a fair price. Reason being, the company they use for maintenance (Iowa City Maintenance) is owned by them, which means they can charge whatever they damn well please and there is very little oversight. They own so much property the conditions range from brand new to totally decrepit, and the decrepit units don't get adequate attention; they are currently being sued by three former tenants who were standing on the fire escape outside their window when the whole thing fell off the side of the building and they all hit pavement from 30 feet up.
But here is my REAL problem with them: They steal rental deposits, because the law makes it more profitable for them to do so than face the potential consequences.
The way they do this is with a clause in their lease that reads:
Tenants understand the rental unit in its entirety must be cleaned to an "A" standard according to the landlord at the expiration of the lease to avoid a minimum per hour charge of $25 per person (8-10 people on a cleaning crew) plus a $25 service charge per apartment
Buried in three pages of legalese that doesn't really stand out. But do the math: That's $200 to $250 per hour for cleaning. Professional maid services charge $75 per hour, and they are doing it for profit. Landlords are not allowed to profit from rental deposits. And it gets worse: their cleaning crews are employees of their maintenance companies, and are issued a form where they fill in "time began", "time finished" and then instructed to "round up to the nearest 15 minutes" when calculating time spent cleaning a unit. So, even if they spend 5 minutes cleaning a unit, from 12:00 to 12:05, you get billed for the time till 12:15, which at their rate of $3.25 a minute costs you 32 bucks for work they didn't do and you didn't need. I'd be willing to bet that when they move to the next unit, they are double billing too, unless they just hang out till the clock hits 12:15.
The reason they do this is simple: Iowa landlord-tenant law limits damages for bad faith retention of the rental deposit to the return of the deposit plus $200. College kids are more or less naive, apathetic, or just too busy to recover this money, and AUR knows it. They get sued every year by a handful of tenants who won't put up with their shit (myself included) but the money they keep far outweighs that which they have to return.
So, in summation, if you do decide to rent from them, and you are a good tenant (you know if you are) make sure you document, via writing and photographs, every single nail hole, paint chip, carpet stain, and any other damage that exists when you move in. And, when you move out, BE THERE for the move out inspection, make the inspector state explicitly if your unit meets the "A" standard mentioned in the lease, and if so, have him sign something to that effect. Again, take pictures of the condition of your place on move-out. I did most of this stuff (I regretfully did not take pictures) and it came in handy when AUR retained $150 of my rental deposit for (30 minutes) of "cleaning charges" even after their inspector told me the day before that my apartment was "the cleanest place I've ever seen". It took six months and a small claims case, but I got it back, plus court costs.
So, caveat emptor. These people are unscrupulous, but you can beat them if you know what you are doing. Good luck.