Free Utilities! Free stay over breaks! Free game room! Fully furnished! That’s all it took to get over 400 students to sign up to live in the West Chester Commons. From October, 2003, until just recently, the Commons seemed like the ideal place anyone would want to live in. With all of the amenities the tenants were promised, the expectations were high.Until the last few days in July rolled around and all of the tenants received e-mails or phone calls from the management at the Commons, stating that the move-in date was being pushed back from August 1 to August 7. For many, this wasn’t really a problem. But for some who had already left their summer jobs, rented U-hauls, or had jobs here in West Chester lined up, this posed an issue. Then, on August 6, another phone call was made to the tenants stating that the move-in date was being pushed back to August 14.
The move-in dates were just the tip of the iceberg…. On move-in weekend, management was only here on Saturday. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the tenants and their families had to completely rearrange their lives with the date conflicts in the first place, the management was only here on Saturday. What about the tenants who needed to move in
Sunday? They had to wait until Monday. So, they basically were paying for two days rent without ever being moved in. After the complications with the move-in dates, the tenants were finally able to move in to their “high-quality, offcampus… apartment,” read a Commons flyer that was advertised in a previous issue of The Quad. But was it really all that it was cracked up to be? After interviewing several tenants, I was surprised to find out the amount of unfinished projects reported from the tenants.
Nearly all of those who were interviewed reported that there were marks on their walls, the tops of the bars were disconnected from their base, marks on their floors and ceilings, missing or malfunctioning appliances and sticky carpet. The tenants who reported such claims were told to wait and write down all of their complaints on the West Chester Commons move-in report and they would be fixed as soon as possible. Those tenants are still waiting for maintenance to come and fix the problems. Granted, none of these are major problems that reduce the functionality of the apartment, but they certainly annoyed the tenants and their families who are paying for the apartment. Other issues that several tenants are concerned with are the broken promises the management, lease and fliers made.
A group of four girls who live on the first floor of the Commons showed me the advertising fliers that the management of the Commons had posted everywhere on campus last year.
It was surprising to read all of the amenities the tenants were supposed to have at this point but either do not have or will never have. Hot pink fliers distributed at the end of the Spring ’04 semester could be considered false advertising. They display a picture of Josh Hartnett and another picture of Britney Spears. The heading states “Why live in West Chester Commons?” and underneath the print reads, “We do.” It is of course obvious that Spears and Hartnett do not live in the Commons. The next hot pink flier lists the amenities/topics/advantages in the left column and the benefit or cost in the right. The second row heads “sports and activities.” Next to this title, there lists a box that reads “sports courts, computer lab, caf with flat screenTV!” After speaking with tenants and touring the groundsmyself, there were no sports courts, computer labs or cafs. There as a fully furnished kitchen on the first floor, and across from the kitchen there was a regular television, but no caf. When I asked former assistant property manager Jesse Barnholdt about the supposed “volleyball court, basketball court, sports court,” he told me that “we weren’t getting those.” Those courts were high on a lot of tenant’s lists. Many tenants were counting on those for entertainment and involvement during their time here. Another statement that several fliers, and the Commons’s website, make is that the tenants may “stay throughout breaks at no charge!!” When tenants were interviewed as to what this means to them, they all replied that at no charge means that it is free. This also insinuates that the tenants would be credited for their stay in their apartments during the breaks in which resident halls close and force the students to leave. At no charge means absolutely free. Many tenants feel that they should be credited for their stay during these breaks because that’s what the advertisements stressed so heavily. When one tenant asked Barnholdt if they would be credited for their stay during these times, he laughed and said no.
A game room was also promised in these fliers. The only game room present at this time is an open space on the first floor which contains two pool tables. By the way, the pool tables can be used for a $1.00 charge every time you want to play. Security is another reason that any student or parent would choose to live in a place. The fliers promise a “24-hour gated community,” while the website assures “card-swipe locks on all entrances.” The only entrances that require the electronic key are the glass doors that let you in to the building and the two gates that let you in to the courtyard. As far as the rooms go? They could be considered very unsecure. At least six tenants were able to break in to their rooms using plastic credit cards. When one tenant bought a chain lock to install on her door, she was told by management that she could return the lock because management was ordering better, stronger locks for every apartment. This was in the first move in week. The locks have yet to arrive. The security cameras are supposed to provide security, but do they? The tenants in the Commons went through a week or so inadvertently fighting with management about the trash situation. Students were piling their trash in the trash room or near/in the elevator. Management became irritated and posted signs stating they were going to fine each floor $10 per item of trash found in the halls or in the trash room. Four first floor tenants went to Barnholdt and asked him why the management didn’t review the security camera footage and penalize the tenants who were leaving their trash all over the place instead of the whole floor.
Barnholdt replied that it would take “at least two-weeks,” to do so and that the cameras were only there “to scare people.” The first week in September the fire alarms in the Commons went off around 2 a.m. All of the tenants who were in the building relocated outside to await confirmation that they could return to their rooms. When it took approximately 20-minutes for the fire company to arrive, the tenants grew nervous.
When it was all said and done, the management of the Commons had failed to give the fire company a key to shut off the alarms and the strobe lights. The lights themselves didn’t shut off fora while after the sirens were shut off.
The gym provides no sort of sanitary measures. There is no bottle of disinfectant to be found in the entire room. Students are expected to work out on dirty, sweaty machines, bring their own cleaning supplies, or not work out in that gym. There are several other amenities that were promised that also have failed to come through. “Bike racks,” “sun
deck with chaise lounges,” “a club house with flat screen TV an surround sound” and an “outdoor picnic area with grills” are no where to be found, yet the Web site still promises that they are included in the rent. Furniture is also an issue for the tenants. All of the apartments, whether a 1-, 2-, 3- or 4- bedroom were promised (taken directly from the Web site), “Living Room: Couch, Chair, Cocktail Table, End Table & Mini-Blinds; Bedroom: Desk, Chair, Bed, End Table & Mini Blinds; Kitchen: Full Kitchen Appliances, Refrigerator with Ice-maker, Dishwasher, Microwave Oven & Garbage Disposal.” Of these furnishings, the one-bedroom apartments did not receive a living room chair, an end table, or an end table for their bedroom. The one-bedrooms also only have two bar chairs while all of the other apartments have three. The single apartments lack a dinner table with chairs. None of the apartments received a “refrigerator with ice-maker.” When I asked former property manager Patricia Angelini about the one-bedroom’s lack of promised furniture, she stated, “There isn’t enough room in a one-bedroom.” As far as rent costs go, the tenants in the one-bedroom are paying $695/month while individuals in a four-bedroom are paying $575/month. And the price of the rent for next year has been on several tenants mind. Although many of the tenants will be graduating before next fall, many will remain. The ones that remain are worried that the rent will increase so much that they will not be able to afford the increased raise. In a recent interview with a former employee of the Commons, I was told that rent would increase “on average, 4 percent.” For a four-bedroom apartment, that’s an increase of around $26.00. On a one-bedroom, it’s an increase of around $ 31.0 0 , which would make the rent total $726.00. According to frustrated tenants, all of these empty promises should have been recognizable from day one, when the Commons started to sign leases. Hundreds of students lined up on High Street waiting for their chance to sign a lease a few months ago. Some students waited for six hours.
After the rates were announced,a sizeable amount of the students who waited in line that cold day packed up their blankets and chairs and left. The Commons has also turned over its employees quite a few times since its birth. There have been four employees who were with the company who are no longer employed with the Commons. That also provides interest into why things aren’t getting accomplished. The public now knows one side of the story. This was only part one of the Commons saga. In the next article of The Quad, I will let you know the management’s side of the story; what their expectations were, the reasons for the lack of guaranteed amenities, the lack of completion of the apartments, and their responses to the tenant complaints. The Commons receives shipments of supplies every day, so at the time of publication, some of this information may have changed.
The writer would like to thank Bethany and her roommates for their helpful information during the publication of this article