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Take my apartment complex, please …

I’m in Austin these days and I got a little, teeny, tiny studio apartment. It’s claustrophobic small, but that’s all I need thanks to the insane hours required to survive on my horrific Great Recession pay rate. Things were fine for the first year. But a few months ago the complex was sold to a company based out of California called Greystar. My experience since ranks right up there with an unmedicated root canal.

Rent went up immediately of course and all tenants had to get insurance on top of that. A lease showed up on my door with that info, I filled it out and turned it in. A few weeks later another lease showed up on my door, this one with a slightly higher rate. I took that one to the office and asked what was going on. No one could say, they were “in transition” and everything was a mess. Well it was only a few more bucks, so I signed that lease too, and handed it over together with a certificate for the now mandatory renters’ insurance. 

The new insurance requirement has to cover over a hundred thousand dollars in damages — to the complex. The only way that is affordable is if the deductible is so huge it swallows up any chance of getting reimbursed for personal items, unless you happen to have a safe full of gold and diamonds in this working class apartment complex. Between the big rent hike and the new insurance premium, the monthly cost on my tiny home away from home has now increased almost 20% since Greystar took over. I wish that was the end of it, alas, it is just the beginning.

Next up, there was an “inspection” of my apartment one day when I wasn’t home. Surprise surprise, Greystar couldn’t help but notice the window blinds are old and brittle. They’ll have to be replaced, and for some weird reason parts and labor are my responsibility. Ditto for several neighbors. Aside from how much that stinks, the larger message was crystal clear and my neighbors all read it perfectly; if the dishwasher breaks down or the garbage disposal stops working, better to do without than risk getting billed for those expensive repairs in these hard economic times.

The next Greystar scheme was to remove the night drop for rent checks. Now rent can only be turned in during business hours and only when someone is in the office during those hours. For most tenants who work nine to six or well beyond, that means either taking a little time off every month or driving like a madman during lunch, hoping there’s someone actually in the office when we arrive, and that there’s no traffic jam going either way. For many tenants that added up to attendance issues at work and a lucrative round of late fees added on to the increased rent and insurance premiums for Greystar. 

A few days ago I came home and found an eviction notice for non payment of rent on the inside of my door. That alarmed me, because not only had it been paid, I used a registered cashiers check. Visions of thieves partying down on my check came to mind. Now I have to take time off from work on super short notice, head off to the bank, and track down what went wrong. 

It isn’t just me. All over the complex neighbors are telling their own personal stories of how this company is screwing up, and the screw ups always favor the company. One of the most common involves pet deposits. In an amazing coincidence, Greystar notified tenants who have been here for years they have no record of them. It’s not hard to see how swell that might work out, as those happen to be exactly the tenets most likely to have long ago lost track of their pet deposit receipts.

Anyway, back I go, photo copy of cleared cashier’s check in hand. Just to be safe, I even got another bank check in case the other had been embezzled. A nice young lady looks over my documents, pulled up my file, furrowed her brow, and said she had no idea why that notice was placed. “No problem,” I said, “mistakes happen. Here’s another check for June though while I’m here. By the way, you guys gave me two leases a few months ago and I turned them both in, but I’m not sure which one applies. I asked you to look into that and never heard anything back, can you follow up on that?”

Oh, they followed up alright. They “discovered” I had never turned in a signed lease despite the two I had handed over, and in another amazing coincidence favoring Greystar, they inform me I now owed big bucks because of it. Specifically, the differential in the month to month rate, plus weeks and weeks worth of late charges on those differentials, times several months. If I’m doing my math right, that could be thousands of dollars on a tiny, $500 a month apartment.

I asked him them how many months and what differential and how much for late charges, especially in light of having given them that other cashier’s check, but so far no one can figure that out (it’ll be funny if they say I agreed to it when I signed the lease they say I never turned in). I pointed out it’s tough to pay a bill or manage a rent balance when the landlord won’t say what is owed or has been credited. They said they’d get back to me. Past experience tells me either they’ll never get back to me, and another threatening late notice will materialize at some point. We’ll see.

Here’s the thing, I sympathize with any front line office workers who are overworked and understaffed, honest mistakes can happen. But I’m not willing to subsidize them. Thankfully, I have options, I have other resources, but a lot of people living here don’t. They’re barely getting by paycheck to paycheck. If they have to move it’s an expensive ordeal, for many of them with families, the cost is so high it’s just not possible without planning and saving for months. They’re stuck for the time being. It’s starting to look to me like those folks are being targeted and preyed on.

I’m curious about this new owner, Greystar. Is it really possible an office could be so hapless, or does this sound like something more sinister? Is this company familiar to anyone and if so, are they reputable?

Comments

  1. says

    I work as a maintenance person in a large apartment complex. Have worked for several more as an independent contractor. You’re getting screwed, obviously.

    I’ve seen this many times. Companies sell off properties because they are not profitable. The new owner comes in with big ideas to turn the apartment complex around and promptly finds out just how bad off financially the complex is. No matter how much homework was done before the sale, a complete picture of the state of a property is not known until the new management assumes control.

    So then the new management, strapped for cash right from the get-go, tries to subsidize maintenance etc. directly from the tenants’ wallets. Crazy new rules, raised rent, charging for basic maintenance… your story is typical.

    What you may not know is how much power you, the tenants, have. Organize. Form a tenant council. Find legal representation – it is remarkably easy to find cheap or free fair housing legal help, since there is so much government oversight of landlords. Once you have a proper tenant council up and running, you will have an amazing amount of clout. My mother formed and ran one several years ago in her apartment community and she became quite adept at wielding the system to her and her fellow tenants’ advantage. Management despised her for it but could not help but comply with her perfectly legal demands.

    The management at the apartment complex you live in is counting on its tenants to be cowed, unaware of your rights, and isolated from each other. Band together, get legal representation and don’t hesitate to threaten to splash Greystar’s name all over the internet in a very unflattering way. If you do, I think you will be amazed at the results.

  2. M Groesbeck says

    If you have more options than most people in the complex, you might consider taking advantage of that relative freedom by getting in touch with a lawyer (or tenants’ rights group, as suggested by cgilder) who might be able to help force some ethical behavior for the sake of all of the tenants.

  3. Mr. Mattir, MQ MRA Chick says

    Given that Greystar is a ginormous national corporation, I’d suggest a website on which residents could document their problems with the new corporate lords of the plantation. Greystar’s website is here, and amusing Greystar-authored articles on managing corporate reputation are here and here.

    Do not let them get away with the “golly gee shucks we’re just a small time operator without the infrastructure to solve your problem” bullshit.

  4. says

    Is it really possible an office could be so hapless, or does this sound like something more sinister?

    Maybe they want to evict everybody, but without going through the court procedures. So they are just making things difficult enough that they hope everyone will leave voluntarily.

  5. Francisco Bacopa says

    Time to move dude. I would recommend finding the listings of a local management company that manages smaller rental properties for their owners. I have had good luck finding apartments that way and if you rent at the edges of a mostly minority area you can probably find a very good deal on rent closer in to town. Just don’t rent anywhere you see no trespassing signs or broken glass on the sidewalks.

    I was just in Austin yesterday. So weird seeing an extended distance from a hill. There are no vistas in Houston. Everything fades at short range into buildings or trees.

    Or you can try to fight the power. Good luck. When is your lease up?

  6. says

    You, sir, are being screwed. I also worked with a small management company who’d subsidize it’s self in this way, not only screwing tenants but also the owners.

    Best bet is to lawyer up and screw them back. Also, do a property search and have the lawyer file against the people or company who owns your complex.

    Management companies make their money on fees; late fees, maintenance fees, deposit “admin” fees. They’ll fee you up the ass.

  7. F says

    Despite the fact that this is all really interesting to me (I, too, work for a couple small buildings), others have covered the the comments I would make already, so I will leave this instead:

    One of the most frequently mistyped or misspelled words I notice is “tenants” when people mean “tenets”. Now you have delivered the awesome reverse,

    as those happen to be exactly the tenets most likely to

    Maybe I’m just too easily amused. But, thanks!

  8. Uncle Glenny says

    F -

    He spelled it correctly in an earlier sentence.

    Stephen -

    Did whatever lease you did sign and they admit to receiving commit you to a term of residence (for which you are obliged to pay the rent)?

  9. sithrazer says

    I could be mistaken, but I think different ‘tenants rights’ apply depending on whether or not there is a contract (lease agreement) between you and the landlord. I know that it is more difficult to evict a tenant with a contractual lease agreement than without.

    I don’t know if your lease with the previous owners would convey to you any of those rights and protections. If not, they may be sitting on the paperwork to make it easier to evict you in case you do try to take action and replace you with a more pliable victim renter.

  10. lanir says

    I lived in one of their places near Chicago. It wasn’t nearly that poorly run but they did have a rather nasty surprise for me after I’d paid whatever fee they wanted to look at the place and check my credit and whatnot. The building had asbestos and in some places, lead paint. And they also required the same insurance you mentioned. Whee.

    I couldn’t seem to get them to look at repair work seriously. Fortunately there was nothing really badly broken, just inconveniences. I was encouraged to simply drop my checks off in the drop box. The real problem came when I tried to get a friend on the lease. They had 11th hour objections, strenuously enough I had to scramble to help my friend find a temporary place to stay after dragging him over from out of state. That pretty much decided me on moving as soon as my lease was up.

    I gave them 2 month’s notice like the lease specified. Wrote it on a paper with my rent check as well as on the check itself since I knew I could requisition that later if I had to. They sent me paperwork afterward asking when my last day was and so forth. I never turned it in, it was completely unnecessary.

    Overall, the surprises and paying extra so their insurance could presumably be cheaper… Yeah. If I run into that ever again I’m demanding my deposit back and finding a new place to live. If they’re too chintzy to be in business they can damn well go out of business for all I care. I’ve no interest in subsidizing their costs. It’s not like I’ll get treated well if I do, rather the opposite I’ve found.

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