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Off-campus housing options prompt choices, risks

Lisa Schultz | Wednesday, October 5, 2005

While Notre Dame prides itself on having 80 percent of its students living on campus, one-fifth of the population resides off campus, adding responsibilities for the students who live there.

One of these students, Lori Clark, a 2005 Notre Dame graduate, said she felt “cheated” after her off-campus experience.

Before moving into the College Park apartment complex on Bulla Road last fall, Clark said previous residents warned her that students who leased from the complex were “notorious for not getting [their security] deposit back.”

But Clark and her three roommates put down a $955 security deposit in spring 2003, a requirement to rent an apartment. When she moved out two years later, College Park returned $177.99 of their deposit.

Gail Clark, Lori’s mother, faxed The Observer the deposit settlement dated June 29, 2005. Both mother and daughter took issue with two items on the settlement relating to “Cleaning & Damages.”

“We were charged $25 an hour for cleaning fees for seven hours when I know other places had crews charging $15,” Lori Clark said.

While Lori Clark knew they would pay for a cleaning crew to come in, she said she cleaned the place herself before moving out, so the amount that was left to do could not have amounted to seven hours of work. Also, she compared what she was paid to what her sister, who lived in Castle Point, paid when she moved out the same year.

“If there are [cleaning] companies half as cheap, they should be using those,” Lori Clark said.

Lori Clark said there was also a problem with a charge of $112.31 for “Unpaid Utilities.” Upon discussion with College Park and South Bend Water Works, Lori Clark discovered that the charge was for February 2003 use, a year and half prior to her residency.

Lori Clark said College Park ultimately told her to contact the water company to resolve the issue.

Both Lori and Gail Clark have spoken with College Park management, but no adjustments have been made to the deposit settlement. College Park management did not return multiple phone calls from The Observer.

Other apartment complexes

Local apartment complexes that lease to students have their own policies, but the timeline of renting a unit is relatively standard.

The first step to living off campus is to fill out a housing application, said Kristy Nozykowski, property manager at Clover Ridge Apartments on Irish Way.

At Castle Point, on Cleveland Road, students first receive a pamphlet describing the different units available, said Judy Logan, property manager. They then fill out a “guest card,” which gives Castle Point an idea of the students’ needs.

Students also receive a rate letter that breaks down the prices of each type of apartment, all of which are subject to change. Lastly, students get a packet that includes the application. Within that application, there is a seven-page lease agreement that requires a cosigner signature, Logan said.

At Clover Ridge, if one’s application goes through, a deposit is required to be placed onto the wait list. There is no penalty for declining housing when you are still on the wait list, Nozykowski said.

On the other hand, being on the wait list at Turtle Creek – located on Turtle Creek Drive – means one is guaranteed an apartment, but no address is assigned at that point, said Josh LaMore, Turtle Creek Apartments community manager.

LaMore said students have 72 hours to cancel once paperwork is turned in.

“The security deposit has to be turned in with the lease before you even have an apartment,” said junior Ray Jones, a second-year resident of Turtle Creek.

Turtle Creek charges $150 per person for the security deposit regardless of how many people are living in a unit, LaMore said.

“Basically, you forgo all rights to that money once you hand it over,” Jones said. “There are way too many things that can go awry throughout the course of the school year, and the inspection at the end of the year will always turn up something.”

In addition to paying a security deposit, Castle Point has leesees sign a three-page “community rules and regulations addendum to the lease agreement” which spells out any responsibilities the occupant has not addressed in the leasing agreement, Logan said.

Brian Vieth, a junior living in Castle Point, said he has a hard copy of his security deposit policy. He summarized the policy by saying that damage “which is obviously subjective to management’s behavior” and eviction would constitute losing the security deposit.

The type of scenario that would cause a renter to not get his deposit back is the difference between “common sense and extravagance,” Logan said.

“For example, normal nail holes are okay, but holes from a dart board are not,” Logan said.

At Turtle Creek, any damages prior to move-in will be addressed.

“Every resident has a move-in inspection form,” LaMore said. “Students record any damages so when it comes time for them to move out, they are not charged for damages they did not cause. We hope [the end of the year inspection form] comes back completely blank.”

Behavior can be reason for eviction and thus a loss of the security deposit.

“We tell our renters that everyone has a peaceable right to their home at all times,” Logan said.

Rental housing

Collecting security deposits is not unique to apartment complexes.

Mark Kramer, managing member of Kramer Properties, formerly Domus Properties, said he charges each student $500 for the security deposit.

Students have until the December prior to the leasing year to back out of the lease without losing money, said Kramer, who has rented houses in South Bend solely to students since 1989.

“[A deposit must be paid] the moment you want the house to be taken off the list and identified as yours,” said senior Brian James, who rents from Kramer Properties. “If you don’t put the deposit down, the house is still available for everyone else.”

Kramer said he doesn’t look to make money off security deposits.

“Security deposits are really not a profit source for us,” Kramer said. “We want students to get their deposit back because there’s less work for us for the following year.”

Similar to the move-in inspection form at Turtle Creek, Kramer conducts a walk-thru at each house with the students so that “there’s a list of flaws students won’t be charged for.”

Kramer also gives leesees a handbook that “spells out what to do [when moving out] so there’s no question.”

He said students get about 75-80 percent of their deposit returned on average. But Kramer Properties is not the only company requiring security deposits for student houses.

“Any time you rent a house, you always have to pay a housing deposit,” said senior Meghan Reagan, who rents a house from Lafayette Apartments. “It’s not just a thing for student housing.”

Reagan said she paid $218 for her security deposit.

“Half of it had to be paid at the time we signed the lease,” Reagan said. “The remainder was due when we moved in.”

The amount of money students pay for security deposits depends on who they lease from.

“We had to pay a deposit equal to one month’s rent,” said senior Marty Mooney, whose landlord is Greg Anderson of Anderson ND Rentals. “[It] was due when I signed the lease, about a year and a half before we moved in.”

Reagan said the security deposit naturally works in favor of the landlord.

“Any damage to the house other than ‘natural wear and tear’ [would cause us to not get our deposit back], so it’s pretty debatable,” Reagan said.

Words of advice

Even though paying security deposits does not deter Notre Dame students from living off- campus, it often becomes an issue when moving out.

“You are going to pay a security deposit no matter where you live if you’re not buying the property,” Jones said. “For me, the freedom of being off-campus far outweighed the chance that management could possibly hold back some of my [deposit].”

In light of her experience, Lori Clark suggests making copies of all contracts and using e-mail so all communication is clearly dated.

She also said students should examine their contracts closely.

“People should be warned they’ll be charged for their neighbors’ damages because it’s something you don’t think about,” Clark said.

She said her apartment unit had to pay $105 to patch a hole in the stairwell drywall caused by someone else’s party.

Renters said it is possible for students to get their security deposit returned.

“Ask questions about utilities, when the rent is due, late payment structure and the big rent,” LaMore said.

Nozykowski suggests students use Clover Ridge’s auto-rent program so monthly payments are not late.

With Castle Point’s most popular apartment choice for students – the Matterhorn – students should ideally have all paperwork filed the Christmas prior to the fall they want to move in, Logan said.

“Sophomores should start looking soon [for their senior year],” Kramer said.