“Downtown living just got better!” 13th & Olive’s slogan declares.
That is what Mack Hunter, Josh Trott, Ben Gordon and Daniel Alonso expected when the Olive building opened in late September. For $659 a month each, they were expecting to settle in an apartment that included a free parking garage, 24-hour clubhouse, fitness center and resort-style pool.
“My one hesitation was that this place seems too nice for me and my dirty outdoor lifestyle,” Hunter said.
Instead, the tenants say they found a defective unit.
The living room was covered in dust, and the carpets were stained with grease. The dishwasher didn’t work. Fire alarms in two of the bedrooms were broken. One of the windows in the living room “looked like somebody shot through it,” said Trott. The molding in the doorway and doors was cracked, and the hallways smelled of cigarettes.
These four young men were not alone. Other tenants moving into the $89 million housing project in September said they also faced unfinished and faulty units, broken pipes and malfunctioning appliances. Some tenants say management and staff were slow to respond because so many people were having problems.
These problems aren’t new. Residents who moved in to 13th & Olive had similar problems last year, as reported by the Emerald.
Most of the problems this year appear resolved after the initial turbulence in construction.
Pat Walsh, a Eugene Capstone representative, admitted there were some problems, but noted that difficulties should be expected with a new building.
“Units that had problems of any sort were the exception,” Walsh said. “In fact, there were only a few out of 13th & Olive’s 1,300 bedrooms.”
He said the problems were quickly resolved and tenants were assured that things would operate smoothly.
“All maintenance issues are to be addressed as soon as they are reported by the resident,” Walsh said.
Several new tenants of 13th and Olive agreed. Casey Bethel said his heater wasn’t working when he moved in late September. Now that it is fixed, he says there’s nothing to complain about.
“It’s perfect here,” Bethel said. “It started up very badly, but I will definitely live here next year too.”
13th & Olive is owned by Capstone Collegiate Communities, a $1.5 billion in-project-costs company based in Alabama. The apartment complex is the largest downtown redevelopment project in Eugene’s history, bringing in more than 1,300 tenants. This is one of the more modern and expensive housing complexes in town, with rent starting at $659 a month per bedroom.
The project has finished its two phases in two years, promising to provide a convenient and high-end lifestyle to University of Oregon students.
The new part of 13th and Olive was operating under a temporary certificate of occupancy when it opened. It had to meet six minimum standards required by the City of Eugene Rental Housing Code: smoke detectors; plumbing; operable heating system; structural components capable of resisting heavy loads; prevent water leakage into living areas; and doors and windows equipped with locks, according to the Eugene the Planning and Development Department.
However, a temporary certificate of occupancy doesn’t require other standards, such as clean carpets and working appliances, be satisfied.
City of Eugene Building Department official Stuart Ramsing says problems like dust and unsanitary conditions “are beyond the City of Eugene’s obligation.”
Tenants who moved in this September say they received no notice that construction was ongoing before they moved into the complex — which they had expected to be finished.
Shirley Chan and her three roommates described their apartment as a construction site rather than a high-end apartment.
“The floors were just so dirty,” Chan said. “The outside of our door was not completely painted. It was halfway painted, and painting supplies and random tools were left outside of our apartment.”
Chan learned from a construction worker that her room was not finished. During the first two weeks, she lived with construction workers constantly working in her apartment.
“They were bringing in dirt and everything, and they were really loud all the time,” Chan said. “They were like really making themselves at home.”
Two weeks after Chan moved in, her apartment flooded due to malfunctioning laundry units.
“The water just came out super quickly, like buckets and buckets, gallons and gallons of water coming out,” Chan said.
The apartment flooded three more times over the next two days until the problem was fixed by maintenance personnel.
According to Walsh, management is expected to follow up to ensure work is completed. Tenants say that did not always happen.
Kari Offerdal also found water leaking through the apartment ceiling when she moved in this fall. She says it took a week for maintenance personnel to help.
“I don’t know if it is unsafe, but there was definitely permanent water damage there,” Offerdal said. “And when they came in to fix it, they were using a hair dryer.”
Two days after Trot, Gordon and Alonso moved into their four-bedroom apartment, the water pipe under the kitchen sink burst, flooding the apartment. The tenants say workers were at the scene immediately, but used the tenants’ personal towels and trash cans to contain the mess, and didn’tclean up afterward.
When Hunter joined his roommates four days later, the pipe was still broken. His parents, who were helping him move, were dissatisfied with what they paid for.
“My parents looked at the room and realized it’s a terrible place to live,” Hunter said. “It wasn’t finished and wasn’t safe.”
Hunter and his parents took their issues to the office, but couldn’t reach the managers. Instead, the four tenants were told they could stay in a hotel until the pipe was repaired.
Though Capstone would pay for the hotel, they turned down the offer because they didn’t want to live in a hotel while they went to school. Additionally, the four roommates did not want to wait for a reimbursement from Capstone.
During their three-week stay at 13th & Olive, no one came to fix the pipe. The four men have since moved out and have decided to pursue legal action against the complex.
13th & Olive management representatives said they tried to resolve the problems according to terms of lease. Manager Amanda Blazer offered the four students an alternative unit in an unfinished part of the building on Monday, Sept. 29, as required by the contract. Trott said the new unit was in good condition, but he found the noises and messes from the ongoing construction disturbing.
Alonso, Hunter, Gordon and Trott found attorney Laura Fine Moro, who has provided legal services to Oregon students for 14 years, through ASUO legal service. With her counsel, the students voided their lease and moved out on Oct. 9.
Fine Moro sent Capstone a letter with vacancy notice and expectations that a full refund be given upon move out.
Fine Morro said that under Oregon State Landlord and Tenant Agreement laws, landlords are obligated to provide a habitable unit. The unit has to be clean, all plumbing has to be working and everything has to be in proper working order, Fine Moro said.
“(13th & Olive) has an obligation to tell tenants if the apartment is still under construction, and they have to lower the rate,” Fine Moro said. “The law presumes that whatever the rent is charged, that is the fair market value. Anything that diminishes the apartment reduces the value of what should be paid, and the landlord owes the refund.”
Walsh believes that Capstone fulfilled its obligation under the contract. He pointed out that an alternative unit, a reimbursement and a temporary accommodation were all offered to the four students.
“13th & Olive management and the general contractor followed up several times with the unit’s residents to ensure things were operating smoothly,” Walsh said.
Fine Moro said the students are trying to negotiate a resolution with Capstone. If the negotiation fails, it will take Alonso, Gordon, Trott and Hunter to court with the rental company.
The four roommates had nowhere to stay after moving out of the apartment complex. They spent over a week sleeping on couches while hunting for a house, and trying to settle with Capstone. Today, Trott and Hunter are living together in a house near campus. Gordon is living in another house near campus, while Alonso is living at his fraternity house.
“This thing just adds time, adds stress,” Trott said. “I was exhausted the whole time throughout the process of going to the lawyer, and I just have it on my mind all the time. I just can’t get it off. It’s just stress all the time.”
Follow Tran Nguyen on Twitter @tranngngn