Aspen Heights move-in delayed for hundreds of tenants

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 | 8:17 p.m. CDT; updated 5:41 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 1, 2013

COLUMBIA — Driving from Columbia, Ali Colwell was 10 minutes away from her home in Kentucky when she received a call Friday from Aspen Heights saying she wouldn't be able to move into her new house Wednesday.

"I had been hearing for the past few weeks about people not being able to move in on time, but it was getting so close to that I just assumed that my house was ready," Colwell said, who is starting her junior year at MU. "This past Friday afternoon, they called myself and my roommate, which means they gave us less than five days notice."

She said Aspen Heights told her that she would be staying at The Grove for 30 to 60 days. She was offered $800 in compensation for the inconvenience.

"I don't think I would've minded if they would've told me, 'Oh, we're a week behind schedule,'" Colwell said. "I get that ... but to wait until the very last minute to tell us it could be two months or more."

Aspen Heights spokesman Stuart Watkins said all the tenants who would have to stay an extended period of time in an alternative housing complex should have been notified in early July and received a confirmation last week. He said about 80 students will be living at other housing complexes until about mid-September when the Aspen Heights complex should be finished, but it could be later given unforeseen circumstances.

Aspen Heights residents were supposed to move into their houses Wednesday and Thursday, but 500 to 600 residents will have to wait to move in until Aug. 17 or later, Watkins said.

The students who are in Columbia would be put into a hotel paid for by Aspen Heights and receive $400 in gift cards as compensation, and students who wait until Aug. 17 to come to Columbia would receive $600 in gift cards, he said. Even though the residents wouldn't be staying in their house, the students' first monthly rent is due to Aspen Heights on Aug. 1, Watkins said.

$800 in rent credit or gift cards

For the 80 students living at an alternative complex, they could be required to pay Aspen Heights for two months rent before actually moving into their house because rent is due Aug. 1 and Sept. 1. 

"They would be paying rent just like they would be at Aspen Heights," Watkins said.

Aspen Heights is giving those tenants $800 in gift cards or $800 worth of credit that could be used toward rent. The lowest rent Aspen Heights advertises on its website is $539.

"Basically the $800 is given for the inconvenience of having to live off-site," Watkins said.

Watkins said the residents would not have to pay rent for the other complexes as well as for Aspen Heights. He said the 80 residents would be staying at other complexes such as The Cottages, The Grove, Brookside Downtown and Brookside Townhomes.

Colwell said she didn't want to pay Aspen Heights to live at another place that would be cheaper.

The rates at The Cottages start at $458, according to its website.

Watkins said Aspen Heights chose housing complexes because of how similar they were to what the Aspen Heights houses offer.

“We’re responsible in our lease to find these residents an alternative housing option, and we wanted to select options that have a lot of similarities to Aspen Heights,” he said.

Leaving the lease

Upon hearing the news, Colwell said she was “freaking out” about what to do with her living situation. She said she and her roommate got through it with the help of their parents.

Colwell began trying to find a way to walk away from the lease. Because she's planning on studying abroad in the spring, she didn't want to live about half of her first semester at The Grove and then move again to Aspen Heights for the last half.

She said a clause in the lease she signed allowed her to walk away from the lease because she was told her house wouldn't be ready on short notice and not in writing.

"It doesn't seem fair to us, and they're just putting us in a really bad situation," Colwell said.

Watkins said he has no knowledge of anyone being released from their lease with Aspen Heights.

Construction delays

The housing complex is behind schedule because of the rainy spring and a labor issue earlier in the year during construction, Watkins said.

He said this is the first time Aspen Heights has delayed opening one of its complexes, but that it happens often in the industry. He said Aspen Heights is appreciative for the other complexes working with the company. 

"This is actually fairly common in the student housing industry," Watkins said. "So it's not unheard of for a company to contact some of their competitors and sign an agreement for our residents to live with them until different proportions of the property go online."

He said the majority of responses he’s seen from students and parents have been positive, and there are still students signing even though they know they won’t be able to move in right away.

Even though people do have to wait to move in, Watkins said it hasn't put a damper on the company's attitude.

“It’s extremely upbeat here, and there are almost no lines for the people that are moving in,” Watkins said.

Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.

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John Schultz July 31, 2013 | 9:02 p.m.

Seems to me that the proper thing to for Aspen to do would be to waive the rent for the months the students aren't actually in their apartments, as well as appease them with financial compensation for their ineptness.

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