Lawsuit filed against Cottages owners

Stephanie Sansoucy

Three tenants file class action lawsuit against the two companies that own The Cottages of Boone

Three Appalachian State University students filed a class action lawsuit against Capstone Properties and Capstone Collegiate Communities Boone, the two companies that own The Cottages of Boone.

Senior political science major Jonathan Schneider, junior nursing major Deanna Reary and freshman management major Langdon Clay are currently listed as the plaintiffs of the suit, which was filed Sept. 20.

The plaintiffs are represented by Paul Capua of the Capua Law Firm, which is located
on Depot Street.

History of The Cottages

Capstone Properties created CCC-Boone to develop The Cottages. In return, CCC-Boone hired Capstone to manage and operate The Cottages, according to the suit.

In the lease, tenants agreed to start paying rent Aug. 1, with a move-in date set for Aug. 15. Due to more summer rain than was expected, The Cottages pushed back the original move-in date to Aug. 18, but there are still some buildings that have not been completed as of Sept. 25.

In the original lease agreement, tenants would be able to opt out of their lease if no housing was provided within 30 days of Aug. 15, according to an Aug. 15 article in The Appalachian.

“Tenant may cancel this lease if possession of the Apartment unit has not been delivered, due solely to Landlord’s inability to deliver, within 30 days of the commencement of the Term,” according to the lease.

The Cottages sent an addendum July 25, which removed that paragraph from the original lease.

Watauga County Planning and Inspection last visited the site Sept. 25. At that time, there were 73 buildings completed out of 92 total planned, including the clubhouse, said Jennifer Storie, a member of the planning board staff.

Plaintiff and defendant responses

The three students in the lawsuit are all currently living in The Cottages, but were placed in hotels before they were able to move in, according to an email from Capua.

Other residents from The Cottages can enter the lawsuit if they contact Capua’s office or if the class suit becomes certified. For the class suit to become certified, there must be a class certification hearing, according to the email.

Currently, there are no set hearings or cases. Cases like this typically take between six months and a year and a half, but Capua and the students hope to have the quickest case possible.

In the suit, the plaintiffs asked for a jury trial because they believe that  “local residents would understand the nature of landlord-tenant issues in a small, college community,” according to the email.

The students decided to pursue legal action after they felt the defendants “exploited their inexperience in collecting certain fees from them they should not have been asked to pay.”

The students were also sold on the idea of an inclusive community and were not provided that when they were forced to move into hotels, according to the email.

But, the students still hope their lawsuit will help other students in a similar situation.

“The students recognize that, by serving as representatives to a possible class of individuals with similar experiences, they may be able to help others,” according to the email. “In addition, the students and class members, if the class is certified, may be able to recover damages and penalties.”

The Cottages of Boone received the complaint, said Jen Wilson, a Capstone spokesperson.

“We take any and all allegations seriously,” Wilson said. “Our legal team is reviewing and will respond appropriately within the legal process.”

Charged with four counts

The defendants – both CCC-Boone and Capstone – are charged with four counts total in the lawsuit.

CCC-Boone is charged with two counts, and the other two counts are against both CCC-Boone and Capstone.

The first charge, called “Unlawful Fee Against CCC-Boone,” claims CCC-Boone charged unauthorized administrative fees under N.C. General Statute 42-46.

This statute lists what fees landlords can charge tenants. Aside from rent, tenants can be charged late fees, complaint-filing fees, court-appearance fees and second trial fees, according to the statute. There is no mention of administrative fees.

The plaintiffs ask for a return on the administrative fee, which is $200, including interest, and “other damages authorized by law,” according to the suit.

The second count, against both CCC-Boone and Capstone, is titled “N.C. Debt Collection Violation.”

In this charge, the plaintiffs claim that the administrative fee they were charged was considered a debt, under N.C. General Statute 75-50. Debt is described as any obligation owed, due or alleged to be owed or due from a consumer, according to the statute.

Therefore, the administrative fees were unlawfully collected, according to the suit.
For this charge, the plaintiffs said they are entitled to $4,000 for each separate instance of unfair debt collection. They also ask for actual damages and reasonable attorney fees, according to the suit.

The third count is also against both Capstone and CCC-Boone, and claims both used unfair and deceptive trade practices.

The plaintiffs claim that the defendants systematically overcharged the plaintiffs and, by requiring an administrative fee, the defendants were intentionally and unlawfully attempting to avoid the security deposit accounting requirement, according to the suit.

The fourth charge claims that CCC-Boone failed to provide fit and habitable rental units, failed to obtain certificates of occupancy, and deliver the agreed housing in the manner and timing agreed to in the lease.

The plaintiffs also claim that CCC-Boone charged tenants a full month’s rent, but only allowed them to live there for part of the month and failed to reimburse tenants for their out-of-pocket costs and expenses, according to the suit.

For this charge, the plaintiffs ask for actual and consequential damages, including rent abatement.

Story: CHELSEY FISHER, Senior News Reporter