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Monday, November 18, 2019 — Houston, TX 54°

Student concerns with Owl Housing Properties continue

yifei-zhang-bolsover
Illustrated by Yifei Zhang

By Sammi Johnson     10/22/19 10:39pm

About 30 students who signed leases with Owl Housing Properties are now living in off-campus temporary housing, including four different AirBnBs, following delayed renovations on the original properties, according to company president Ben Bahorich (Will Rice ‘10). 

Earlier this year, the company was subject to complaints about maintenance and pest issues, along with concerns about the fairness of their leases. Bahorich said that the company has responded to the concerns by making changes internally to personnel and software. However, new student complaints have arisen following students’ placement in temporary houses with no stable move-in date. 

Owl Housing Properties owns 21 properties and leases homes to over 100 Rice students, according to Bahorich. Bahorich said construction on the properties intended to be leased was supposed to be completed sometime in July, and the company had budgeted an extra month in case of any issues or delays. However, a month before classes started, Bahorich said students were contacted to arrange temporary living spaces paid for by Owl Housing Properties with the claim the students could move in within two or three weeks. 



While students were originally informed that the construction on the properties would be finished by the Sunday before the semester began, tenants will begin moving into their houses no earlier than Oct. 27.  Bahorich said delays were due to personnel issues.

(Editor’s Note: The Thresher granted anonymity to some students speaking about their rental contracts to protect them from legal repercussions.) 

Lack of Housing Options 

One anonymous student said they did not intend to move off campus, but they were kicked off campus during room draw. Because they did not anticipate moving off campus, they said they had a hard time finding an available house. The student said most of the houses available at the time were owned by Owl Housing Properties. 

“I kind of knew about [other housing companies], but I feel like those places go pretty fast,” the student said. “I know there are a couple on Bolsover that aren’t owned by [Bahorich], but those were already taken by the time I tried looking for places. They are the closest places, and my search radius was limited to places nearby.” 

Multiple students said their search for housing was limited by distance because they have to walk or bike to campus. 

“I knew about the article [about Owl Housing Properties] last year, but I didn’t know it was this bad,” a student said. “I didn’t have any other options, because all the other houses in the nearby area were taken and I don’t have a car or a bike on-campus, so I just wanted to find some place close-by.” 

Another student said a spreadsheet of houses available near campus was sent around his college to students who had been kicked, but all of the open houses listed were managed by Owl Housing Properties. 

“This was our first time going off campus,” the student said. “We didn’t know many options or companies for off campus properties. They were the most accessible at the time that they had so we just went for that.”

While some students did not want to move off campus, one anonymous student said his group chose to move off-campus to focus more on academics. 

“We thought that moving off-campus would allow us to focus more on what we really care about rather than getting sucked into random on-campus events all the time,” the student said. “So I think the main goal of moving off campus was getting to focus on what we really want to do, and unfortunately, I don’t think we’ve had the space to do that yet.”

Miscommunications

According to one anonymous student, Owl Housing Properties signed a lease with their five housemates for a six-bedroom duplex property. The student said Owl Housing Properties had promised the house would be demolished and completely reconstructed with granite countertops, luxury flooring, six bedrooms and low rent near campus. 

“Owl Housing Properties made it sound really good,” the student said. “When we read that, we were like, this is way too good to be true, this is the perfect opportunity for us. It was almost kind of fishy from the start.” 

The student said communication between their housemates and one of the real estate agents was bad from the beginning, because the agent would not let the students see the house and pressured them into signing the lease. 

“They would be like, we get you have a lot of questions, but if you don’t sign this lease right away, we are going to sign with other people,” the student said. “Sort of blackmailing us to get us to sign really quickly even though we didn’t know much about the house, which led to lots of arguments among our friend group.”

According to the student, the company told them the reason they could not see the property was because the house was going to be demolished and rebuilt. The student said that they were not given much information about the progress of construction over the summer, but now the company sends them weekly construction updates. 

“When you tell people that we’re getting a brand new house that’s going to be constructed in three months, they say there’s no way that’s going to happen,” the student said. “We were just so blinded by the fact that they had all these lavish promises they laid out in front of us.” 

Another anonymous student said Owl Housing Properties used predatory tactics to try to coax their housemates to all sign the lease for this school year. The student said that the real estate agent would call the students individually and tell them that all their housemates except for them had signed the lease. However, none of the housemates had signed the lease at all. 

“They’ve actually been sending us text messages and they lie to us too,” the student said. “we know that none of us have signed the new lease yet, which is kind of furthering our anger with them. They’re really trying to play us at this point.”

Another anonymous student said they signed a lease with the intent of renting a two bedroom apartment with another student, but they were not allowed to see the property before signing because it was under renovations. When the student finally received the apartment, it was a 1.5 bedroom, leading the student  to move back on campus last minute. 

“Why would I pay $800 a month to live in a studio?” the student said.” the student said. “Owl House Properties tried to say we couldn’t break out of the lease, but I said it was signed on good faith and I would pay part of the security deposit but I’m going to break out of the lease, and they threatened legal action.” 

Bahorich said that sending a demand letter from the legal department after breaking leases without legitimate cause is standard practice. 

To avoid any more discussion of legal action, the student said they paid the security deposit in full to break the lease and moved back on campus after a discussion with one of the coordinators at their residential college during O-Week. The student and their roommate, whom Owl Housing Properties had randomly set up to live together off campus though they had not known each other beforehand, both broke the lease and now live in a double together.  

Temporary Accommodations

When some students returned for the fall semester, they were placed in a combination of AirBnBs and other unoccupied properties owned by the company, according to Bahorich. 

“At first we didn’t think too much about where they would go besides ‘this place can fit this many students,’” Bahorich said. “It was more about size. But then we realized we were putting too many [in one place]. We were thinking short-term.” 

Multiple students requested additional AirBnBs to accommodate the amount of students in their groups after being given an inadequate amount of space for the tenants. An anonymous student said that Owl Housing Properties originally offered their group of eight students a three bedroom and one bathroom AirBnB when their house was still under construction by the move-in date. 

According to the student, their housemates found the space inadequate and asked for another property. Owl Housing Properties then provided them with an unrenovated apartment unit for two of the students to occupy. 

“There are some problems with it,” the student said. “The person who is supposed to live with me wouldn’t live there.” 

According to the student, the un-renovated apartment unit has no warm water and is relatively old. They said they contacted Bahorich, who provided them with a third property in Montrose for their housemate to move into alone. Now, six of the students in their group are in the three bedroom, one bathroom AirBnB while the other two are temporarily living alone in separate apartments, all paid for by Owl Housing Properties. 

“[My housemate] was pretty upset about the whole situation,” the student said. “Because of it, she broke down in front of the owner of the company, Ben. Since then he has felt very bad for a very long time. He’s been buying us stuff and doing a lot for us, so I really appreciate that.” 

Another student said that their group of six was split between three properties. Three of the housemates are in a temporary house in Montrose, and the other three roommates are split between two temporary apartments. The student said one of his housemates is living alone in an unfurnished apartment, while they live in a single bedroom apartment next door. 

“It’s really kind of cringy and corny, but it’s nice,” the student said.” The other one is completely unfurnished, and kind of old, and I would say kind of messy and dirty as well. Me and another person share a bed in a one-bedroom apartment. It’s a one room apartment, and there was already a king-sized bed in there, so we just unfortunately have to share that.” 

Reparations

To accommodate the displaced students over the past three months, Owl Housing Properties has paid for their rent at their temporary living spaces, provided compensation for Ubers used to get to campus, paid for storage units for furniture, bought furniture and household items and said that they would hire movers to pack and unload all the displaced students’ belongings on their move in date to compensate for their mistakes, according to Bahorich. 

“I think [Ben] understands that their company really let some people down, and I think that they’ve done everything in their power to remedy that, so overall in my book he’s good,” Samantha Fowler, a McMurtry College senior, said. “I get people being upset, but because they’ve been so helpful throughout this process, I think it’s overall been net positive.” 

Bahorich said three months ago, he was thinking about the situation from a business perspective. After meeting with displaced students in person, though, he said he decided to disregard the money the company was losing and focus on making students feel comfortable. 

“It happened when I was face to face with these parents and students, talking to them about the problems they were facing and the stress,” Bahorich said. “In that moment, I was just like, I get it. It’s not about the rent money. It’s about making sure that these kids get taken care of.” 

While Owl Housing Properties has paid for the students 'AirBnBs for the past few months, one anonymous student said that Bahorich attempted to get money to cover the costs of the housing from the students’ parents. According to the student, Bahorich made an unannounced visit to their temporary home to ask for their parents contact information to request funds to house the students. 

“After all that they put us through, and he came into our house and was like let me talk to your parents and ask for money for this service we’re providing you,” the student said. “I was like, how can you have the audacity to do this? But right now [Owl Housing Properties] is covering everything.” 

Bahorich said that he had asked for donations from some parents to cover part of the rent that the students would have paid during that time period.

To address previous concerns brought to Owl Housing Properties, Bahorich said one of the real estate agents, Ronnie Reynolds, who has been subject to multiple student complaints, has been moved to the accounting department. However, he also said she still communicates with some students she worked with before switching roles. He also said the company stopped using their previous lease in favor of a standard Texas lease contract following complaints about a clause in the old lease claiming the lease would be terminated if the property was not delivered to the tenants within 90 days of the original move-in date. 

“Housing stress is almost a whole nother class in my life right now,” an anonymous student said. “It’s a major focus on trying to find a new lease, it’s been something on my mind carrying over from all of nearly February or March of last year through the summer. We just have not had a stable housing situation. A firm date on when they could have the house to us would have solved so many issues.” 



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