As landlords face complaints of dead rodents in walls and sewage backups at the properties they rent out in the off-campus area, some said they’re working to improve on the service they provide.
For Michael Groeniger, property manager at G.A.S. Properties, the secret lies in a more interactive approach.
“We’re more hands on. We’re out there a lot,” Groeniger said. “I think our system’s set up pretty solid. When we get a complaint, we’re there that day.”
From 2008 through May 2013, G.A.S. Properties had 18 city housing code violations, including a nonworking furnace and dead rodents inside of a wall, according to a City of Columbus Code Enforcement log.
The City of Columbus Code Enforcement Division aims to improve quality of life in Columbus areas by implementing and enforcing various city codes, including housing, health and safety codes, according to its website.
G.A.S. Properties rents out about 100 units in the campus area and owns all of its properties, Groeniger said.
The perception of off-campus housing quality is affected by many things, including the frequent turnover of residents who don’t treat the places as nicely as they would a permanent residence, and older buildings in the campus area, he said.
“This isn’t their (students’) home,” he said. “This is where they live for school.”
G.A.S. tries to simplify off-campus living for students by quickly returning deposit money, filling work orders quickly and compensating students for inconveniences, such as giving one tenant a month’s rent free when a work order kept her out of her unit for two days, Groeniger said.
“We try to make it easier for them and harder on us,” Groeniger said. “That way we can work, and they can just do their school stuff.”
Dealing with code violations is a team effort between landlord and tenant, Groeniger said.
“We don’t want the city to be against us, so we try to work on it pretty quickly,” he said. “The students usually listen when the city comes around, because they don’t want to be messed with by the city, let alone us, so it’s usually a pretty hand-in-hand situation. It works out pretty well.”
He said the city would typically come around for code violations like graffiti or furniture left on the porch.
Other landlords have been working to improve their service as well.
Buckeye Real Estate has amassed 112 city code violations from 2008 through February 2014, including a mice problem, a sewage backup in a basement and the lack of a smoke detector in a basement, according to the City of Columbus Code Enforcement log.
James Lentz, maintenance coordinator at Buckeye Real Estate, said graffiti, trash and interior furniture on the porch are three of the most common, though there were only two reports of graffiti listed on the Code Enforcement log.
Lentz said Buckeye Real Estate tries to prevent city involvement as much as possible.
Buckeye Real Estate boasts more than 1,000 units in the university area, Lentz said.
He said tailoring procedure to fit a certain demographic is important in the leasing industry.
“Everything we do is structured specifically to the specific needs of our tenants, who are majority students,” he said. “Everything is set up around student life and that culture that Ohio State brings. When you’re really geared towards that, it kind of takes care of itself.”
As far as complaints, go, Lentz said Buckeye Real Estate tries to take care of problems quickly.
“We try to get it taken care of before the city gets involved,” he said. “We have a crew that spends the majority of each day going from property to property cleaning up.”
A firm hand can be necessary in keeping up the quality of homes in the university area, Lentz said.
“We like to let the residents know what’s expected of them,” he said. “The more strict you are earlier in the lease term, the less you have to deal with it later on. You set the boundaries.”
The houses leased by Buckeye Real Estate are privately owned but managed and rented out by the company, so the policies and prices vary from place to place.
Oftentimes a tenant’s way of life affects the quality of the unit, Lentz said.
“I think it really has to do more with how people live than with the properties themselves,” he said. “I’m not going to say that every place down here is really nice and recently remodeled. There’s certainly a range. You get what you pay for in terms of that … I think the perception (of poor quality in the university area) comes with how people live.”
Despite its many units and tenants, Buckeye Real Estate works to act swiftly and efficiently in the maintenance of its properties, but the job can become difficult when residents aren’t forthcoming with damages and maintenance issues, Lentz said.
“It’s always in our best interest to do timely repairs,” he said. “If I’m made aware of something, I’m going to do my best to get it serviced as quickly as possible. A lot of things just go unreported.”
In comparison, NorthSteppe Realty, which owns about 100 different dwellings in the OSU campus area, had accrued more than 220 housing violations since 2008, including more than 40 since January 2013 and at least five in 2014, according to the City of Columbus Code Enforcement log. Among those violations were cockroach infestations and excessive trash buildup.
NorthSteppe made some changes to ensure the quality of its houses since a stranger was found to be living at a house on 12th Avenue in Fall Semester 2013, said Mike Stickney, broker of NorthSteppe Realty, in an email Jan. 13.
“We have made policy changes,” Stickney said. “We are inspecting our properties on a quarterly basis for safety, security and cleanliness issues.”
Jacob Dornhecker, a third-year in electrical engineering, said Buckeye Real Estate runs a tight ship with the properties it manages.
“They handle everything very professionally and are strict about things like the appearance of the front yard and turning in different forms,” said Dornhecker, who lives on 19th Avenue and rents from Buckeye Real Estate, adding that the company is much better and more timely in responding to maintenance requests than other agencies he’s leased through.
Though the prices are a little high for him, Dornhecker said he would rent from the company again.
“They are a well-organized agency and easy to work with,” he said.
G.A.S. Properties is also ahead of the pack for leasing agencies, said Nick Wilker, a fourth-year in agricultural business.
“(My apartment is) good compared to others I’ve seen,” said Wilker, who lives in an apartment near the corner Lane and Indianola avenues and rents from G.A.S. Properties.
The best way to combat the sometimes-negative perception of university housing is to treat the customer well, Lentz said.
“It sounds cliché, but we really just try to provide the best services we can to our tenants,” Lentz said.