Last August when Cordell Cox, 21, moved into Rise on 9th, he thought he was getting a private room. So he was surprised when he entered his apartment for the first time and saw that he would be sharing not just a bedroom with his roommate — someone he didn’t know — but also a bunk bed.
“I’m 21, and now I feel like I’m living in the residence hall again,” Cox said.
Lease-signing season is in full swing for college students. With the decrease in enrollment at MU in recent years, there is more housing than potential tenants, leaving students with many options when choosing where to live.
That means more competition among the apartment complexes and more advertising directed at the target market. Some complexes are offering incentives to get students to sign leases, such as Visa gift cards and six-month or ten-month leases for those who will only be in Columbia for one semester or who aren’t staying for the summer.
The offers are so attractive, you might be tempted to sign a lease without a full reckoning of what you’re getting for your money — and that might be a lot of money at a downtown apartment complex.
The Missourian spoke with students who were surprised when they moved into their apartments and wished they’d fully understood what they were getting.
Concerns from tenants
Rise on 9th was still being built in downtown Columbia when Cox signed his lease last spring. He was shown only the kitchen, living area and bathroom of a sample unit, not what the bedroom would look like, he said.
Cox, a junior, said that when he signed his lease, it somehow wasn’t clear to him that he would be sharing a bedroom. When he realized what he’d gotten into, he said he was shocked.
The room he thought was going to be his — the apartment’s second bedroom — is locked. Cox said when he asked the management if he could move into that room, they told him he could for an additional $300 in rent from both him and his roommate. His rent is $589. The website for the complex called his floor plan, “2x2 Terrace 2 Shared.” Cox said he interpreted that as sharing the apartment, not a bedroom.
The Missourian reached out to Rise to talk to someone about Cox’s situation and received no response.
Aside from the management’s response to his sleeping arrangement, Cox has found the staff there friendly and helpful. He said the dryer in his apartment broke the week before Thanksgiving and it was promptly repaired.
Meanwhile, he and his roommate share a room with a full-size bunk bed, two desks and two dressers. The furniture takes up the entire room, leaving just enough space for the two men to pass each other.
“It’s brutal,” Cox said.
Like Cox, Celine Pence, 20, was caught off guard when she moved into her apartment.
She was excited about moving into a two-bedroom apartment at District Flats with a friend in August 2016. But then she saw that her bedroom didn’t have any windows.
“It literally looked like a prison cell,” she said.
Pence said she and her roommate had picked out a different unit but the people living in that unit decided to re-sign their lease at the last minute so Pence and her friend were switched.
Like Cox, Pence was shown a model unit of an apartment at the complex, not the unit she would be living in.
She said when she went to the office, the man she talked to wasn’t helpful and said it was the previous management that had helped her secure her original unit.
“Finally, after I started crying in front of him he was like, ‘Okay, let me see what I can do,’” she said.
The apartment complex was completely full. Pence said the man told her he’d tried to get people to move, but no one would.
She said in the end District Flats let her out of her lease because they hadn’t notified her they were switching her to a room without windows.
Her roommate, whom Pence said had an “amazing” bedroom, stayed at District Flats, but the room, which Pence couldn’t sleep in even one night, remained vacant.
Pence was able to sign a lease last minute at a four-bedroom apartment at Brookside Downtown with random roommates.
Despite the bumps in the road, both Cox and Pence said they enjoy living downtown. Cox likes the proximity to the bars and not having to worry about finding a ride home or catching an Uber.
Pence is a journalism student and said it only takes her about three minutes to walk to class at MU from her apartment.
“I do have a car, but for a lot of people who don’t it definitely makes it a lot easier for them so they don’t have to worry about catching a shuttle,” she said.
Too high a price?
MU junior Channing Phillips signed a lease at District Flats for August 2016 to July 2017.
“I think overall it was a convenient location for me, but it was way too overpriced,” she said.
Phillips signed a lease on a two-bedroom apartment with three other people. She and her roommates each pay $695 for rent. Both bedrooms had a set of bunk beds with two people sleeping in each room.
“It was terrible,” Phillips said. “Two desks, two dressers and no room to walk. I wish I would’ve known how small the rooms were before I signed.”
She said she didn’t look at the room size before signing.
The appliances were up to date, but she had problems with the dishwasher.
“We always had to get that thing looked at,” Phillips said.
She was also disappointed in the front office.
“The management had no idea what was going on. They constantly did not have answers to our specific questions,” Phillips said.
"We take concerns seriously and we certainly do our best to handle any concerns as quickly as possible," said David Cochran, who became District Flats' property manager in March. "A lot of these issues were with old management and does not reflect what we currently do here."
After her lease ended in July, Phillips decided to move back to her sorority house.
Joe Antonacci, 20, moved into the brand new U Centre on Turner between Fourth and Fifth streets on campus, after living at District Flats last August. At U Centre, he pays $765 for rent, at District Flats he paid $700.
He’s happy with his apartment, though he said it has some flaws. He says it’s obvious the construction team had to rush and finish it, so there are craftsmanship problems.
“My room door didn’t close or lock at first,” Antonacci said, “My bathroom cabinets used to not open all the way.”
Antonacci also had problems with the dishwasher, which might have been installed incorrectly.
“Our entire dishwasher was messed up, so it flooded the apartment.”
Even with these events, Antonacci prefers U Centre over District Flats and re-signed his lease for the following school year.
Haley Dzarknowski, a junior at MU, was randomly assigned to a handicapped accessible room at TODD without any notice.
“When we originally signed, we were able to preference what floor we wanted to live on, and our first choice was the third floor,” Dzarknowski said. “They didn’t give any notice or anything that this unit would be the handicapped one, so we spent about eight months believing we’d be living in the (one) we signed for.”
When Dzarknowski and her roommates moved in, they noticed an emergency button outside their front door and that the floor plan was opposite the one they’d seen on line.
Their kitchen was different, too, Dzarknowski said. Instead of having a microwave mounted above the oven, it’s on the counter where it takes up more space. The kitchen sink is shallower, causing dishes to pile up very quickly, she said.
The bedroom posed challenges, she said.
“My bedroom closet ended up being tiny compared to the one that was originally promised, and I had to do a lot of improvising to make the layout of my furniture more functional,” Dzarknowski said.
And yet, Dzarknowski said, she loves TODD, which exceeded her expectations, at $865 per month.
“The quality of the apartments and the service of the people who work here is amazing,” she said.
She said she previously lived at a downtown apartment complex that wasn’t kept as clean and where “service was awful,” so her new housing is a big improvement. “The amenities are incredible as well,” she said. “I love the pool and the gym. They’re kept up really well and are super convenient.”
Away from downtown, the Missourian spoke to students living at two apartment complexes who had problems with their utility bills and size of their apartments.
MU Junior Clark Stith has lived at The Den for two years. When he signed a lease there as a freshman, he didn’t quite understand his utilities package.
“I wish I would’ve known about (The Den’s) method of charging for utilities,” Stith said. “It’s based off how much you use, rather than a set amount each month. I would rather have a set amount.”
The size of his apartment also bothers him.
“I would say the worst part about The Den is how small it is,” Stith said.
Although Stith is not re-signing at The Den, he will miss the “community and the people.”
Tre Warfield, 21, lived at The Den during his sophomore year at MU.
The amenities closed the deal for him.
“It’s very convenient to have a pool, fire pit, grills, a gym and a hammock downstairs,” Warfield said.
But like Stith, Warfield was unhappy with the size of his apartment.
“It was hard to entertain in that small space,” Warfield said. “You could have five guests, max. After that, it was too crowded.”
The Den’s property manager Morgan Martin responded saying the complex used to have a $30 utility cap. However, they noticed that a lot of units’ utility bills were not reaching that amount. To save their residents from overpaying, they decided to have residents pay for the amount of electricity used.
As for complaints about room size, she said she’d heard those before. She emphasized that The Den was built with amenities meant to get residents out of their apartments and socializing as a community, she said.
Paige Reed, 21, lives at Aspen Heights in South Columbia. She said with its two-floor layout and open kitchen, the apartment feels like home.
“Apsen Heights feels more cozy,” she said. “I really like the space itself. It actually feels like a house.”
She shares the apartment with two others with rent set at $450 per person, but her main concern lies in the high utility rates.
Their first bill was a surprising $225 for only three people. The bill was split three ways and each roommate paid $75.
“It’s on the higher side because it’s not factored into the actual lease itself,” she said.
According to previous Missourian reporting, triple-digit utility bills have been a concern for a long time and may be the result of the way the complex was constructed, not resident use.
Another matter of concern for Reed stemmed from the security at Aspen Heights where crime has been a concern in the past. The apartment is gated and at the principal entrance on 3600 Aspen Heights Parkway, there’s a security guard who checks visitors coming in on weekend nights, Reed said.
She finds the security to be more tedious than truly protective.
“It’s been problematic,” she said. “Anytime someone wants to pick you up, they have to call.”
Regardless, Reed plans to live at Aspen Heights again. She had lived at The Domain for two years and felt she didn’t have enough room.
“Even with higher utilities, it’s been cheaper all around,” Reed said.
Associate Director of MU’s Department of Residential Life Kristen Temple said the most common problems she sees among students arise from not reading the lease closely enough.
That’s part of the purpose of Off-Campus Student Services at MU — to educate students about each step in the lease-signing process.
Student legal services will look over leases for free, she said. They won’t give you legal advice, but they’ll look through the lease and point out those parts that a first-time renter might not notice or understand.
Temple said her primary advice for someone looking to sign a lease for the first time is to make a list of what you want before you start looking at places.
“Don’t get distracted by the fancy ads, don’t get distracted because a place gave you a water bottle or because they’re promising you a Visa gift card,” Temple said.
Nearing the end of her college career, Reed regrets not taking longer to make a decision.
“A lot of people were scrambling to get housing,” she said. “Taking your time and weighing the pros and cons of the place you live at is important.”