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Tenant wants out of lease after she says rent quadrupled in price

Ashlea Green thought she had found the perfect, four-bedroom apartment for her and her two daughters in the brand-new Monarch 716 complex near the SUNY Buffalo State campus.

When she heard the cost – $880 per month – she couldn't believe it, and she said she double-checked to make sure it was correct.

One day after Green signed a lease and paid a $400 deposit, she said, she learned the company that owns Monarch 716 intended to charge her $880 per room – or $3,520 per month.

As soon as she heard the higher number she asked the company to give her back her deposit and let her out of her lease.

So far, DHD Ventures has refused.

In fact, Green said the company told her it plans to charge her $2,000 for breaking her lease and to charge her the $3,520 monthly payments until it finds new tenants to fill the apartment.

Campus Walk and the Monarch 716 complex are off-campus options for upperclassmen at SUNY Buffalo State and are transforming the neighborhood.

"I'll probably get a lawyer. I'm not playing with them no more. They won't give me the number for the corporate office," Green said in an interview.

DHD Ventures did not respond to a request for comment made through its attorney, Corey A. Auerbach of Barclay Damon.

Experts in housing law in New York say it's difficult to break a lease, but Green's best chance is to argue the language in her lease is ambiguous.

"A lease is considered a contract and once you've entered into a contract, those contracts generally are viewed as binding," said Grace Andriette, interim executive director of Neighborhood Legal Services, the Buffalo nonprofit, and supervisor of its housing unit.

A model bedroom at Monarch 716. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

There are exceptions, as when an apartment turns out to not be habitable, or an illegal dwelling, or when a member of the military is called up to active duty, she said.

The experts said she has to decide whether she is willing to take the building owner to court, or she could give up her $400 deposit and hope the building owner doesn't try to hold her to the terms of the lease.

Because there's a "he-said, she-said" nature to the disagreement, if this case made it to court, it likely would turn on the information included in Green's application and the language of the lease itself, Andriette said.

Green, who lives on the West Side, said she found out about the new Monarch 716 development through a friend on Facebook. The $25 million, 592-bed complex opened in late August at 100 Forest Ave.

The two- and four-bedroom apartments feature granite countertops, 9-foot ceilings and faux-wood flooring. Amenities include a fitness center and bowling alley, along with an outdoor pool. The complex is not affiliated with Buffalo State, though it does market itself to college students.

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Green filled out an application Sept. 4 and DHD Ventures called her back and invited her to see the complex the next day. Green said she asked how much the four-bedroom apartment would be, and the employee told her $880 per month. Green said she never saw the apartment she would live in, but she was shown the Monarch 716 model.

Green signed the lease last Wednesday, and the only dollar number in the form was $880 per month, starting Sept. 8 and ending July 31, 2018, according to a digital copy she provided to The Buffalo News.

The first page does say Green is leasing a suite in a four-bedroom apartment, and it states the tenant will not share the suite with another person. Green said she didn't pick up on the language about leasing a suite, but she did ask about the prohibition on room sharing. She said she was told her daughters were OK under the terms of the lease because they would be considered "guests."

Last Thursday, one day after signing the lease, Green said she paid the $400 deposit and then stopped by the Monarch 716 offices to prepare to move in. It was then, Green said, that she first heard she'd be charged $3,520 a month.

The certified nursing assistant said her application included her monthly income of roughly $2,000, and she doesn't understand how the company would expect her to pay the higher rent.

She said she met with the Monarch 716 manager, Taylor Shelton, for an hour, and he said he would reach out to the corporate offices on her behalf. But so far the company hasn't returned her deposit and is insisting she will owe $2,000 for breaking her lease and $3,520 per month until the apartment is filled with new tenants, Green said.

"I just want to be off this lease," said Green, whose daughters are 7 and 1.

Nicole Hallett, a clinical assistant professor at the University at Buffalo Law School who represents tenants in housing cases, said a handful of misunderstandings appear to be at the heart of this case, which could very well end up in court.

"There could be a terminology problem," Hallett said, pointing to the language in the lease and noting that "suite" has different meanings.

She also said most landlords rent out full apartments, not individual rooms, so that makes Monarch 716, which caters to student tenants, different and also may have led to confusion.

"This seems like an unusual case," Hallett said.

The Monarch 716 apartment complex in Buffalo on Aug. 26, 2017. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

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