Split ends 

An ongoing rental dispute at a Lambros Realty property underscores what housing advocates are calling a troubling practice.

Seventy-one-year-old barber Ford Johnson received a June 26 bill from the property management division of Lambros Realty for $1,931.85. It included three months of unpaid rent, a small charge to replace a kitchen blind and a $250 administrative fee.

Johnson had moved out of the apartment on April 30 in response to a notice from Lambros that it would be converting the building into condominiums. He contends property management staff verbally accepted his 30-day move-out notice before April 1, only to later renege when he couldn’t present the promise in writing. In the meantime, Johnson had already signed a new lease.

“It’s not enough money to get attorneys involved,” Johnson laments. “It’s just wrong.”

The reason Lambros denied the move-out notice was because Johnson’s lease extended through July—the month before the entire building was vacated. Johnson says he unknowingly agreed to an extension by signing his rent check the previous December, three months after receiving a piece of registered mail from Lambros detailing the terms of the new lease.

This method for extending tenant leases has proven legal. Fair housing advocates call it a disturbing trend nonetheless and hope to advise renters of what they may be agreeing to by not checking their mail.

“We get a number of cases where this practice has been problematic,” says Denver Henderson, director of the ASUM Renter Center. “It’s rare that we actually get these disputes resolved.”

Dan Spoon, a lawyer and customer of Johnson’s, offered to do some pro bono work on behalf of his barber. Lambros CEO Bruno Friia responded to the second of Spoon’s letters, stating that all of the June charges were pursuant to the tenant’s lease agreement.

Friia tells the Independent that his company keeps a record of all tenant interactions and found nothing on the day Johnson claims he walked into the Lambros office to present his move-out notice. Lambros’ method for extending leases, he adds, is the industry standard for large property management firms across Montana.

“Mr. Johnson was a longtime tenant with us and he’s renewed the same way for two previous years. So, to all of the sudden cry foul, doesn’t make sense,” Friia says.

Christel Beckman, one of Johnson’s neighbors, knowingly agreed to her lease extension, but regretted it once she learned of the renovation. “I was stuck in this situation that I couldn’t move out of,” she says. “You shouldn’t force people to live in a construction zone.”
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