On Your Side Investigation: Free rent promotion in Springfield
In times like these, can you imagine, not having to pay rent all summer long?
A woman in Springfield thought that's what she signed up for, but now says she might have to pay thousands of dollars.
Perhaps you've spotted the signs in downtown Springfield. It says "Free Summer Rent" at Park East Apartments. That got Kristina Murdaugh's attention.
"It was pretty appealing and I thought, what could hurt to inquire?" Murdaugh said.
She took a virtual tour and picked an apartment.
She got this email that says "Housing Application". She filled out the paperwork, which included the lease agreement. She signed it.
The next day she got an Adverse Action letter. Moving in wouldn't be as easy as she thought. She'd need a guarantor, a co-signer. Murdaugh says that's not a option. Or pay two months of rent immediately.
"Which to me negates the entire advertisement, right? I wasn't prepared to pay that. That was the whole point," Murdaugh said.
She moved on and found a different place. Then she got a message from Park East reminding her she needed a co-signer. Or pay the two months rent.
"I was totally floored by that to be totally honest. I don't have that money. I can't meet your terms," she said.
Also in that application email is a Signing Bonus Addendum. Its fine print explains the free rent promotion.
It reads: "No payments are due in June and July." But one condition reads: "Resident must have a guarantor or pre-pay."
"Shame on me for missing one line of fine print," Murdaugh said.
Since she signed the full lease, there's another thing. In the payment clause, it reads: "Resident accepts financial responsibility to pay all rent for the duration of the contract."
Even if she doesn't move in, the agreement says she has to pay for a year's rent.
"That's an $8,000 mistake apparently," she said.
She contacted Park East and got an email from the general manager saying, "I do apologize that you did not understand the process." The email goes on to say "Everything was put in documents that you signed and has your signature." They can offer a payment plan.
On Your Side called Park East. We got an email from the general manager saying their "qualification guidelines are clear and consistent."
We asked for an on-camera interview and got no response. So we went to the office. We were told they can't discuss anyone's lease.
The general manager did tell On Your Side if Murdaugh contacts him, they might be able to work something out. She hasn't done that.
Murdaugh says if she's sued, she'll get an attorney and fight it.
"I signed it because I thought I was getting an apartment. And I do feel like I was misled," she said.
Always go through all the paperwork before you sign. Read the fine print. When you can, have a trusted person review those documents before you sign. Also understand promotions and ask what happens if I don't qualify?