Some students say pricey housing still has problems

by Koran Addo

Sophomore Katie Thayer said one year in the dorms was enough, which is why she was excited to move into her new luxury apartment in Jefferson Commons this fall.

After two months, however, Thayer decided she will not live there next year.

Several students such as Thayer have recently retreated from traditional residence halls in favor of student luxury apartments such as Jefferson Commons and The Melrose. While they moved in with expectations that their several-hundred-dollars-per-month rent would pay for amenities and services not typically found in dorms, some students said they are not getting what they are paying for.

Of more than 80 Melrose and Jefferson Commons residents interviewed, approximately one third shared stories of confusing billing charges, unhelpful staff or poor maintenance.

Jefferson Commons staff did not respond to interview requests, but Melrose officials said they do their best to provide good customer service and that it is up to students to work more closely with them to address problems.

Confusing statements

Going into the lease-signing at Jefferson Commons, Thayer said she was under the impression that heat, water and garbage disposal were included with rent.

She said before signing she asked management to explain one more time what she would be responsible for paying.

“All of a sudden they were, like, ‘You’re signing the wrong lease. We forgot to tell you that’s the old one.’ It was almost like they were trying to deceive us,” she said.

The lease Thayer and her roommates signed gives them a $21 per month electricity allowance, with students paying extra for any amount over that.

“I’ve asked four or five times to see my bill, and I haven’t seen it yet. Are we supposed to take their word for it?” she said.

Thayer said she has complained to the staff about everything from her utility bill to not receiving her mail.

“The staff needs better training, and they need to show more concern for residents,” she said.

A month after moving in, Melrose resident and University student Tyler Cooper said he got a bill for almost three times what he was supposed to be paying.

When he went to the front office to ask why his bill was so high, he said he could not get an answer.

“There were eight people working, but no one could handle it,” Cooper said.

In the couple of months that he has lived at The Melrose, he said, he has had frequent problems with the billing system. He said he has been charged three late fees while trying to get his billing issues resolved.

“When isn’t there a problem with the invoices?” said Nick Schaser, another Melrose resident, who said he has been to the office repeatedly because of confusion with his billing invoice. “Living here is fine, but the front desk and leasing office could use some improvement.”

University Student Legal Service legal assistant Barb Boysen said landlords have an obligation to explain fees and billing statements to tenants, and that if students believe they are being taken advantage of, they should check with her office.

Melrose managing director Jennifer Dilley said it is possible students have invoice troubles, but that they need to seek managers to answer questions.

“If students say they are having trouble with their invoices, I believe it,” Dilley said. “We have managers on site that can help. We are obligated to explain charges, but mistakes happen.”

Junior Erin Ryan, however, said she could not get answers and as a result recently moved out of The Melrose.

“When I signed the lease, the office told me that my heating bill wouldn’t be over $30 or $40,” she said. Bills were soon much higher, she said.

“We had to start leaving the oven open to heat the place,” Ryan said. “It wasn’t worth the money.”

Staff are unhelpful

Ryan said she complained repeatedly about water leaking into her bedroom, not having phone service and that Melrose staff were unhelpful.

“They just looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know what to tell you.’ They couldn’t help with anything,” she said.

She said when staff did maintenance, they often entered her apartment with little notice.

“They would just barge into my apartment whenever they felt like it. One time they came into my bedroom at nine in the morning on a Saturday,” she said.

Junior Emily Renner said the maintenance staff at The Melrose is unorganized.

“They have come into my apartment three or four times since August to check and see if my new furniture is here,” she said. “It’s almost November. When they say they are going to do something, they should just do it.”

Melrose resident Lindsey Revier – a former Daily employee – said she chose the apartment complex because it was clean and safe. But she said since moving in, she has had problems with the staff.

“Every time you go to the office, they look at you like you’re an idiot,” she said. “They can’t or don’t fix anything. They ignore my requests. Sometimes they will just stare at you.”

Jefferson Commons resident and University student Kari Handeland said she feels she is not getting what she is paying for. Her main concern is that some amenities that were selling points, such as the hot tub and workout room, are closed too often.

“If services are closed half the time, should we be paying the same rent?” she said.

Junior Chris Dillon said two semesters at The Melrose is enough, and that he plans to move out in December. He said he likes the amenities but has a hard time getting answers from staff.

Dillon said he complained to the office about a noisy neighbor who woke him up with loud music every morning, but staff did nothing for weeks.

“They told me they meant to talk to (the neighbor), but they hadn’t gotten around to it,” Dillon said.

Finding answers

Dilley said she encourages residents to ask for a manager if other staff cannot help them.

“We are committed to customer service,” she said.

Dilley, who started working at The Melrose this month, said she lives in the building to better understand what it is like for residents.

The Melrose is making improvements, she said. It is refurnishing all the apartments in response to complaints about the furniture being low quality.

“Word on the street was that the furniture wasn’t nice, so we got rid of it and replaced it all,” Dilley said.

Most Melrose and Jefferson Commons residents interviewed did not have serious complaints.

Junior Glenn Johnson said the cost of rent was at first a drawback to living in Jefferson Commons, but after the Dinkytown house fire that killed three University students in September, he started to appreciate it more because of the security features.

Sophomore Leanne Haugrud said she enjoys living at The Melrose.

“It’s nice and safe, and it’s a step up from the dorms. I’m not sharing a bathroom with 42 other girls,” she said.

Interviews for this article were conducted over three weeks via telephone and in person outside each apartment building. They were not part of a scientific poll.