Students encounter many problems with landlords

By John Odtrowski

Kristy Heppner moved into her first apartment this August to find cockroaches, missing chairs and burned out light bulbs. Heppner, sophomore in ACES, is one of several students who moved into apartments this fall and found problems that needed fixing.

Although Heppner and her roommates did not file a request with John Smith Properties to take care of the roaches, a different tenant in the same building did.

“We received a message from the new resident,” said Allen Cameron, president of John Smith Properties.

Cameron said the tenant complained of seeing a cockroach.

“That report was the first we had had of a cockroach in the building,” Cameron said.

Cameron said within a day and a half he sent exterminators to the apartment to take care of the roaches.

“I can’t guarantee that a cockroach doesn’t enter a building, but I can respond to it,” he said.

As for the chairs, Heppner and her roommates negotiated an early move-in, and John Smith Properties believed that the current chairs were old and needed to be replaced.

“In this case, we were getting new chairs for them,” Cameron said.

Cameron said John Smith Properties have received zero complaints in the last five years at the Tenant Union, an organization that assists students in finding good apartments.

Esther Patt, coordinator of the Tenant Union, said its main goal is to work to prevent unanswered problems by landlords.

“The Tenant Union has complaint records on hundreds of landlords,” Patt said.

The records allow students to determine which landlords are more likely to address problems in a timely manner, and they can be requested via e-mail. Patt said all students who have not refunded their SORF fee have access to the Tenant Union.

Mitch Kesler, representative of University Commons, which owns properties on- and off-campus and operates certified housing, said that the most common complaints are usually minor problems that can be fixed easily.

“Problems are normally small maintenance requests,” Kesler said, using the example of a light bulb not working.

Kesler said complaints made to University Commons are prioritized by importance so that major problems are addressed before minor ones.

“That’s our number one priority – safety,” Kesler said.

For instance, he said a broken lock would take priority over a burned out light bulb.

“We explain to (tenants) in advance how we prioritize things,” he said. “Safety issues come first.”

Jill Guth, manager at JSM Management, said minor problems occur during move-in season.

“When you are moving in a lot of people, you’re obviously going to have some minor issues,” Guth said.

Cameron agreed with that statement.

“It would be very, very strange if we moved a lot of new residents in and things were all in perfect condition,” Cameron said.

Once the move-in season has passed, the amount of time a request takes to be answered usually drops because there are less coming in.

“We definitely have things done within 24 hours after the big rush,” Kesler said. “Our move-ins normally go very smoothly.”

Guth said move-in season is almost over, and JSM is responding to maintenance requests on a daily basis.

He added that since it is a busy time with everyone moving in, problems might not be addressed as quickly as they would later in the year.

Patt said 40 percent of campus landlords have no complaints, though this does not mean that those apartments are problem free. This simply means that those landlords quickly take care of any problems that do occur, she said.

Patt also said finding a good landlord is essential as leases are very difficult to nullify. She said a plethora of unaddressed problems might not be enough for students to back out of the lease.

The city inspector must declare the apartment unfit for living or students who back out of a lease risk being sued by the landlord, and courts generally decide in favor of landlords, Patt said.

“The law is just not very pro-tenant,” Patt said.

Andrew Wone, graduate student, said he made sure to use the Tenant Union before signing a lease.

After looking at several landlords, Wone settled on Roland Realty because they had very few complaints and were flexible with the terms of the lease.

“They were one of the few landlord companies willing to negotiate,” he said.

This is the second year of his lease, and he has encountered some problems. One of the floor tiles was loose, and the refrigerator leaked water so he reported the problems to Roland.

“They fixed everything I ever asked for,” he said. “They gave me a brand new (refrigerator), which was nice.”

Patt said that the best way to get a complaint addressed is to keep on complaining.

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” she said.

Kesler agreed with that sentiment.

“Be patient,” he said. “Realize that there are lots of people moving in. Be repetitive.”

Cameron also emphasized the fact that students should come to their landlord with any problems they might have.

“We’re completely reliant on our tenants to be our eyes and ears,” Cameron said. “I do encourage renters to communicate freely with their property managers and landlords. Many landlords and renters are looking for a win-win situation.”