As my roommates and I were rushed through signing our leases and choosing our apartment at Skyloft, we took a brief look at our future floor plan. While well-meaning, our leasing adviser — another UT student — failed to tell us that the unmarked rectangles extending nearly three feet into two of our rooms were massive concrete pillars. She also never mentioned that what looked like our unit’s pantry was actually an inaccessible utility closet or that the master bathroom was larger than two of the other bedrooms.
Our developer took advantage of our inexperience and roped us into an apartment much different than the one we thought we leased. Longhorns looking to lease must stay diligent while navigating West Campus real estate.
Like with many ill-informed Longhorns that pour into West Campus looking for housing, developer-generated urgency pressured us into signing. First, leasing agents told us there were only two four-bedroom apartments left. A week later, another agent said there were ten. My roommates and I felt we had to act quickly, regardless of the real number.
Gary Still, associate general manager of Aspen Heights, another new West Campus development, told me his building ran out of units in January 2018. He said other apartments sold out last November. This results in real-estate whiplash: forcing students who have just moved into their current living spaces to immediately find a new one.
“We don’t want anybody to feel like we’re car salesmen or anything,” Still said. “We want everybody to be comfortable with the decisions they’re making.”
Not all developers are as courteous. I talked to Rylan Maksoud, a Plan II sophomore, who took on the predatory leasing tactics of University House — another private West Campus apartment complex.
When apartment-hunting last September, Maksoud said a University House agent told him that unless he signed the same night he toured, his monthly rate would go up two percent every day afterwards — a tactic sometimes used by leasing agencies to pressure would-be tenants into quickly signing their lease.
“I burst out laughing,” Maksoud said. “I looked around, and everyone was looking at me. Apparently, it was not a joke.”
Maksoud said that after University House overbooked and illegally terminated the leases of Maksoud and several others, he sued them. He is in the middle of a legal battle that will be tried in front of a public jury in November.
Maksoud’s fight with University House reminds us that in the game of West Campus real estate, we must never forget that profit comes first and comfort second. As students who are often woefully inexperienced with leasing, we must take nothing for granted when looking for a place to live.
Make sure you’re assigned a specific unit and not just given a generic lease — something that came back to haunt Maksoud when his was terminated. If the unit you’re looking at exists, ask for a tour of it. If it is under construction, or cannot be toured, make sure to get the floor plan. Still encourages renters to ask leasing agents questions until they’re comfortable making a decision. Maksoud urges renters to remember that if the things you’re promised aren’t guaranteed in your lease, don’t act surprised if you don’t get them.
My roommate’s family is still lobbying Campus Advantage, Skyloft’s management company, for rent reduction to compensate for the pillar that has rendered nearly a quarter of his room useless. So far, Campus Advantage has only offered them a laughable compensation — a smaller bed and a folding desk.
Though many residents have been in the building for a little over a week, Skyloft, which declined to comment, has already given its tenants renewal forms. Urgency is the cornerstone of West Campus housing. It should come as no surprise that students who have been in their apartments for no more than a week feel pressured to sign on for another year. At least this time, however, they’ll have some idea of what they’re getting themselves into.
Buckner is a Plan II and journalism sophomore. He is an associate editor.