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Renters adjust to landlord

Katlyn Smith | Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a two-part series about Kramer Properties and Campus Housing, which both lease off-campus housing to students in South Bend.

Senior Carolyn Conley was one of over 300 students who signed a lease with Kramer Properties before learning via e-mail last spring that Campus Apartments would be managing her off-campus property this year.

“I was a little surprised that they told us by e-mail because that seems like something more important, maybe a phone call or a letter in the mail,” Conley said.

Mark Kramer, owner of the local management company Kramer Properties, sold a portion of his portfolio to Gross & Cohen Real Estate Investors two years ago, but maintained management of the properties to ease the transition process. Kramer sent an e-mail to students about the change in management in February.

“We felt that was the most efficient and quickest way,” Kramer said. “We urged them that if they had further questions, they could call our office, and many of them did.”

As a result of negotiations between Kramer and Gross & Cohen, the terms of the lease students signed with Kramer were still valid after the transfer.

Gross & Cohen chose Campus Apartments, a national management chain, to manage the properties, including Notre Dame Apartments.

“I hadn’t heard of Campus Apartments so I was a little confused as to why Kramer hadn’t given us any indication that he was going to sell our house, but it wasn’t a really big deal,” Conley said. “I know everybody’s had a couple issues this summer with like the dishwasher being checked and needing to get everything set up.”

After Campus Apartments hired new staff members in August, Conley said management has improved.

“I think they’ve come up with a pretty good team so everything’s been running smooth since then,” Conley said.

Conley said the team keeps in touch with students on a regular basis. For example, Campus Apartments delivered free HotBox Pizza to student residents earlier this semester.

“They’ve been really good about timely response,” Conley said. “Their office is really accessible, so even though I don’t need to contact them very much, they seem like they are doing a good job of staying connected with the students.”

Danielle Champagne became regional manager of Campus Apartments’ South Bend office in August. Champagne said student complaints have been “minimal.”

“We do quarterly inspections,” Champagne said. “We go through and we fix problems that students sometimes don’t tell us about.”

Champagne said faulty appliances are typical when students move into properties.

“Whenever students aren’t here for two months, appliances sit, and sometimes they don’t know how to properly use the items,” Champagne said. “Next year, our goal is that, when students go in, to go in with them and show them how to use every piece of equipment in their house.”

According to Champagne, Campus Apartments has already made the necessary improvements as a new management company in the area. The company has updated its website with an interactive map of properties’ floor plans and is hiring a leasing agent to add to the three-person, full-time staff.

“We have a very steady staff who are young and fun and energetic, who are just looking to plan events and get to know the residents individually,” Champagne said. “Notre Dame students are a tight-knit community, so we just want to make sure that we are helping them in any way possible.”

Champagne recognized the advantages of being a part of a national chain serving colleges and universities across the country.

“I think being a national chain helps us because we do have a lot of structure that if ever we need something, there’s always someone there,” Champagne said.

Champagne expects a strong leasing season for Campus Apartments, which manages more than 68 houses and 44 apartments in the area.

“I think they are just going a little bit slower this year as opposed to last year,” Champagne said.

Rent depends on the property’s location, amenities and other factors. Conley pays $475 per month for a five-person house on Wayne Street. Champagne said that rent would stay the same for next year.

Campus Apartments also offers students around-the-clock emergency maintenance and ADT alarm systems.

“It’s up to their discretion and their parents’ discretion to activate it,” Champagne said about the security systems.

Senior Colin Parker, who also lives in a house managed by Campus Apartments, said he has not had any safety or security issues this year.

“I feel very safe because we have been good about locking our doors even when we are home, turning on the security systems when we are home,” Parker said. “I don’t think Campus Apartments has had much to do with that.”

When the house’s shower was clogged and wasn’t running, Parker said Campus Apartments responded the following day.

 “We took that issue first to Campus Apartments,” Parker said. “They did a very good job of turning it around and calling somebody.”

Parker, who had signed with Kramer during the second semester of his sophomore year, advises students considering off-campus living to shop around early.

“Go over to Campus Apartments and look at their options,” Parker said. “What was valuable to us was proximity to campus but also to other college students.”

The second installment of this series will examine the changes Kramer Properties has experienced since selling many of its homes to Campus Apartments. It will run in tomorrow’s Observer.