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Firm to pay renters back for illegal fees

A New Jersey real estate company accused of illegal and unfair practices against its college tenants in Fredonia will pay more than $20,000 in fines and restitution under a settlement announced Thursday by the New York State attorney general's office.

Winter Palace Associates of Parsippany, N.J. is accused of charging illegal fees and failing to return security deposits to college students living in three of its Fredonia apartment complexes, state officials said Thursday.

"This real estate company was targeting students with unfair charges and contract language," said Russell Ippolito, assistant attorney general in charge of the Buffalo regional office. "With this settlement, we are protecting students from being preyed upon."

The state attorney general's office began investigating Winter Palace late last year after receiving multiple complaints from Fredonia State College students living off campus at Brigham Road Apartments, Campus Edge Townhouses and Temple Street Townhouses.

The investigation found some tenants' security deposits were never recorded or placed in a trust account, as required by law. Others were charged a mandatory carpet-cleaning fee, regardless of the carpet condition at the end of their lease.

Also illegal was language in the leases prohibiting subletting.

Security deposits were returned to all of the tenants, officials said. Winter Palace, which agreed to reform its practices, will pay a $15,000 fine, plus $5,000 in court costs. And the company will pay $2,625 in restitution for the carpet-cleaning charge paid by 104 former tenants.

A call by The Buffalo News to the offices of Brigham Road Apartments and Campus Edge Townhouses was not returned Thursday.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Dennis Rosen, who was assisted by Senior Investigator Peter Eiss.

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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