IU graduate student Abdul Aijaz didn’t even make it a week in the house before he canceled the lease.
Aijaz and his wife, Gwen Kirk, an Urdu instructor at IU, drove from their wedding in Utah last August to move into their new house in Bloomington. They were renting the house from Parker Real Estate Management. They were excited about the house with its three bedrooms, its location on 11th Street and its big porch.
But when they picked up their key and walked through the door, Aijaz said what they saw wasn’t what they expected. The walls were dirty. There was a stack of molding wooden pallets sitting in a leaky basement. The kitchen floor leaked. Cigarette butts were stuck in the vents. Windows were broken.
When Aijaz and Kirk confronted Parker Real Estate, Aijaz said they were told the lease was unbreakable and the company couldn’t be held responsible for damage done after the couple moved in. Aijaz said they were told that to break the lease, they would have to sign a form, pay a $250 cleaning fee for each of the three bedrooms, lose their deposit and rent they had already paid and continue paying the rent until another tenant could be found for the house.
“The place was completely unlivable,” Aijaz said. “We hadn’t even been there for 12 hours yet, and they tried to put the damage on us.”
Parker Real Estate released a statement denying allegations against their housing. But Aijaz and Kirk are not the only former tenants of Parker Real Estate to voice complaints against the management company.
Members of the Bloomington Solidarity Network, which looks to help tenants put pressure on landlords against whom the tenants have complaints, stood outside Parker Real Estate’s office on Walnut Street on Thursday afternoon to protest what they said were harmful practices.
“Everybody mistreats tenants here,” said Camille Vanden Dries, one of the protesters with BSN. “It’s a culture of exploitation. Obviously they feel the bottom line is worth more than other people’s lives.”
Vanden Dries held a sign with other protesters that read, “PARKER REAL ESTATE HAS BEDBUGS.”
The sign referred to the experience of another former Parker tenant, who did not wish to give her name, who said she found bedbugs, mold and cockroaches in her apartment the day she moved in. She had already signed the lease, paid a security deposit, paid a cleaning fee and paid a lock-changing fee. She moved out immediately, but she said she was never fully reimbursed for her expenses upon finding an unlivable apartment.
Another Parker tenant, Kelly Saunders, dealt with a rat infestation during her time in a Parker property. When she broke the lease, she said she was required to continue paying rent until a new tenant could be found. She said she has been paying rent since December despite no longer living there.
Parker Real Estate handed out a printed statement denying all allegations of tenants and former tenants.
“In good faith, Parker Real Estate entered into written contracts with the former tenants involved and has investigated all of the claims that have been brought to our attention,” the statement read. “We stand by the results of our investigations and by the terms and conditions of the contracts signed by our former tenants.”
Parker Real Estate offered no other statement or answers to questions.
After BSN began protesting, Parker Real Estate sent letters to tenants that also denied the allegations and reassured current tenants that the company cared about their satisfaction with their living arrangements.
But Aijaz said when he and Kirk went to IU’s Student Legal Services, their complaint about Parker Real Estate was not the first the office had dealt with.
“I think this company needs to take a hard look at its business practices,” Kirk said. “But I highly doubt they’ll do that. If anything, I think there should be better ways to protect renters, especially when such a large part of the population is students who haven’t rented a place on their own before.”
Kirk said she wished IU had a list of recommended companies to rent from or a list of warnings about companies with repeated problems. The Monroe County Apartment Association has 33 regular-member companies, but not all local companies are members. Parker Real Estate is not. It leaves a lot of organizations for renters to sift through when finding a place to live.
Landlord and tenant problems are some of the most common issues brought to Student Legal Services, director Stacee Williams said. However, IU cannot recommend properties or property management companies to students because IU policy prevents the University from promoting one local business over another.
Aijaz and Kirk were able to break their lease and got some of their money back after they threatened to sue the company, but they were never fully reimbursed, Kirk said. They are currently living in a 450-square-foot apartment on campus.
Vanden Dries said Parker Real Estate has not yet responded directly to their complaints.
“If they want to deny everything we’re saying, why do think we’re protesting them?” Kirk asked. “For fun? I don’t see protests outside any other realtor’s office today.”
As the protesters stood on the sidewalk with their bedbug banner, many passing drivers honked their horns and held a thumbs-up out their windows.
“Good job,” one motorcyclist said.
“Fuck Parker,” another driver yelled.
“Be careful renting out there,” Vanden Dries said in reply.
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