A class action lawsuit against Equity Residential, the largest owner of apartment buildings in the United States, has been certified as a class action by a Florida judge.

Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Jorge Labarga made the certification ruling. The suit charges that Equity Residential violated Florida law by charging tenants an extra 60 days' rent plus a one-month penalty fee for terminating their leases early.

The Illinois-based company also allegedly charged tenants an extra two months' rent if they stayed through their lease term but failed to give 60 days' notice of their intention to vacate.

Plaintiffs in the case include tenants and their co-signers who moved or left their Equity residential Florida apartments from December 1, 1998 to date, who signed an Equity form lease and who received a demand for fees resulting from "insufficient notice," "early termination," "cancellation," "lease fulfillment," "no notice given," or "liquidated damages."

"Tenants in this state who terminate early are required to only pay rent for the days the property goes unrented. You shouldn't have to pay any extra penalty," attorney Rod Tennyson said.

The suit charges that Equity has collected millions of dollars of illegal fees from tenants of its 33,000 rental units in Florida. Besides charging illegal fees, lawyers said the company is very aggressive and "hard-nosed" in its collections practices.