Owl House Properties excluded from campus housing website due to student feedback
Owl House Properties has plans to replat 1933 and 1937 Dryden Road, pictured above, and replace them with a four-story apartment complex. Courtesy Allen Sellers
At this time, Owl House Properties will not be included on the new housing website as a result of feedback from students, according to Elizabeth Leaver, Housing and Dining operations director for the South Colleges. Students who rented from Owl House Properties were recently asked to fill out a survey asking for their feedback on whether or not the company’s properties should be included on the website that H&D launched.
According to Leaver, H&D partnered with Off-Campus Housing, a third-party company, to create this website as a resource for students looking to live off campus. The website includes current listings close to campus, a resource to match with roommates, and a variety of other resources to help with budgeting, communicating with landlords, applying online for apartments and more.
“We wanted to give as much information to our community about leasing an apartment in the Houston area,” Leaver said. “We also wanted it to be a resource with a variety of listings that would support these populations.”
The website includes a disclaimer that states that any properties currently listed on the website are not endorsed or approved by Rice University, nor does it constitute a warranty by Rice as to the quality, safety or any other features of these properties.
Although the website includes this disclaimer, Leaver asked Anna Margaret Clyburn, former Student Association president, if she would be willing to provide feedback on Owl House Properties to decide whether to include their properties on the website, according to Clyburn. Clyburn had previously signed a lease with Owl House Properties, but did not end up living in the property.
Clyburn sent a survey asking for input on Owl House Properties to all college presidents to share with their colleges. According to Clyburn, as of Friday, April 2, 46 students responded to the survey. The survey asked students if they “found Owl House Properties to be a safe, reliable, and responsible group to rent from.” To this question, according to Clyburn, 28.9 percent said “somewhat,” 28.9 percent said “yes,” and 42.2 percent of people said “no.”
The survey also included a space for students to explain their responses and according to Clyburn, students mentioned multiple issues with the management company including pest issues, reliability and timely responses to issues with facilities and other problems with the property. Some students said that they had no problems with their properties and only had positive interactions with the company, according to Clyburn.
The survey did not ask students whether they were currently renting or have rented from Owl House in the past. Ben Bahorich, CEO of Owl House Properties (Will Rice College ’10) said that now the company is completely different from what it was a year ago, as they have made significant changes as a response to criticism.
“Maybe a lot of the negative responses on the survey are from people who are not necessarily current residents and are remembering experiences when we really were ill-prepared to handle our business in the past,” Bahorich said.
The responses from the survey and general student concerns with the company led to the decision to not list Owl House Properties on the off-campus website, according to Leaver.
“It is important that if they are marketing to Rice undergrads that they work through common issues with current student tenants and the student government to understand how to improve,” Leaver said.
Bahorich said that he was disappointed to hear that Owl House Properties would not be featured on the website. The company met with Rice H&D on Friday, April 2 to discuss how they can improve.
“We understand there is room for improvement for a small business like ours striving to meet expectations and maintain a personal touch,” Bahorich said. “Our number one goal is to take care of the concerns and needs of our residents on a timely basis and in an appropriate manner.”
Bahorich said that he felt his company was singled out in regards to the survey. He said it would be beneficial to get a more balanced perspective by including a survey of all off-campus housing providers.
“My understanding is that no other data was gathered on other housing providers because surveys were not sent to students currently in the other off-campus housing options listed on the Rice website,” Bahorich said. “This means that over 96 percent of students in off-campus housing were not asked about their current living situations regarding safety and the reliability and responsibility of the companies or people that manage their homes or apartments.”
Clybrun said she was only asked to collect input on Owl House Properties.
Bahorich said that the company has made significant adjustments to address maintenance issues over the past year. These include adding a 24/7 maintenance hotline, adopting a system that tracks maintenance requests, adding complementary pest control visits and hiring two full-time maintenance technicians.
Owl House Properties sent an end-of-the-year survey in 2020 to all of their tenants asking about their satisfaction level with the company and, according to Bahorich, 92 percent of tenants responded somewhat or very satisfied. The survey included responses from around 20 percent of tenants, according to Bahorich. Bahorich also said that the portion of tenants that replied “very satisfied” increased from 26 percent to 42 percent in one year.
Students in the past have expressed concern about Owl House Properties. While some students now seem to be having positive experiences with the management company, for some, troubles with the company continue.
Luke Cantu, a community assistant for Owl House Properties and a Junior at Baker College, said that in his experience as a tenant the company communicated very well, and were flexible and understanding.
“I don’t see why they should not be a part of the website,” Cantu said. “They are a positive option for OC housing and they are receptive to change and suggestions given by tenants. They should be an option for students to be aware of especially given their proximity to campus.”
Cantu said that although Owl House Properties is pricey, they allow students to have a stress-free leasing situation, due to the proximity from campus, inclusion of utilities and their communication.
Sam Holloway, a Brown College senior, has rented from Owl House Properties twice in his time at Rice. According to Holloway, Owl House Properties has listened to students by becoming more responsive, which was a complaint student renters have had in the past with the company. Holloway, however, said he has still experienced many issues with his current residence and despite their responsiveness, his problems remain unresolved.
Holloway said began having issues with the company as soon as he moved into the property, due to damage and cleanliness issues from the previous tenants which, according to the lease, were supposed to be resolved before he moved in. Holloway contacted the company stating that they were in violation of the lease, and only then did the company respond and agree to cleaning the property and making repairs, even though they initially rejected Holloway’s request.
“It is my impression that they sort of know that students are not going to put in the time to investigate their rights and what they can expect from their landlord,” Holloway said.
Bahorich said that the company has changed its process with move-in to prevent this type of issue in the future.
Since then, Holloway said he has had issues with pest infestations including mice and flesh flies, which are flies that eat the flesh of dead animals. According to Holloway, when he had communicated these issues to Owl House, they responded by constantly denying and evading the problem. Although Owl House did eventually respond to the issues by sending pest control, their response to the solution was not nearly as aggressive as it should have been, Holloway said, and the problem has yet to be resolved.
“They've been promising ever since I found a mouse in my bed in November to get our attic sealed, to do some substantive work on the pest problem,” Holloway said. “And here we are in March, a pest controller comes out and has no idea that the attic remains unsealed since that time, and also has no idea that [a] huge animal was up [in the attic] having moved into our house that's not sealed. It's like we're having health hazard level issues … and yet they still haven't followed through with the promise they made in November to get that dealt with.”
According to Bahorich, pest issues are common in these types of residences. The company's policy is to engage a third-party pest control professional, and due to the persistence of the pest problems at Holloway’s residence the pest control company performed work on-site more than 20 times.
“Unfortunately it took a while to realize that the pest control company we were using for most of that time was not performing at the high level we expect,” Bahorich said. “Therefore, we replaced this vendor with a provider that has proven to be detail-oriented and more responsive to resident concerns.”
Besides the pest infestation, Holloway said he has had issues with plumbing, appliances and general issues with the poor construction quality of the house. Because of these issues, Holloway said that he did not think it was responsible for Rice to list Owl House Properties on the website for off-campus housing.
“The effectiveness of the maintenance is poor and considering how much maintenance is needed due to the poor construction quality due to them not fixing issues … you're not getting what you are paying for really,” Holloway said.
Bahorich said that Holloway’s unit in particular had an unusual amount of maintenance issues, and he said he apologizes for the number of issues and the inability to solve them in a timely manner due to the complexity of the issues. The company has switched to an in-house general contractor team to resolve issues with renovation construction and timing, according to Bahorich.
Another student, Sammi Johnson, junior at Duncan College, and her roommate, Blaise Willis, junior at Duncan, expressed similar concerns about Owl House management. According to Johnson, the management team is extremely irresponsible in responding to requests of the tenants and her unit has had constant problems since moving in.
According to Johnson, one of the most recent problems they have had to deal with was being locked out of their garage for which they never were given a key or a fob, although they have been requesting a key since their move-in in the fall. According to Willis, the landlord did not respond to their request for a spare key till many hours after their initial correspondence.
“When we asked him to fix the garage, he sent us a video on YouTube of how to pick a lock,” Johnson said. “We said we were not going to do that, and did not get a response back for the entire day.”
In response to this issue, Bahorich said that the YouTube video was sent as an optional idea for fixing the issue temporarily.
“This was shared in hopes of restoring access to the garage door as soon as possible and was offered as an optional idea,” Bahorich said. “After we restored access on Easter Sunday, we replaced the old doorknob with a keyless model the following day.”
To restore access immediately, the maintenance technician took the doorknob off the garage door, which left a hole in the door, according to Johnson. The hole raised concerns for Johnson about safety, as one could reach into the house to open the door if they really strained, which according to Johnson, the maintenance technician did not care to respond to adequately and used disrespectful words.
Bahorich said the disrespectful words were a misunderstanding for all parties involved. He said that the landlord had sent the message Johnson was referring to, to a different tenant in the building and when the tenant was asked if he was satisfied with his interaction, he said that he had a good rapport with the technician.
Besides this, Johnson and Willis have also struggled with termites, roaches, ongoing construction, paint issues and safety issues.
In response to the termites, Bahorich said that their maintenance technicians were on site nine hours after receiving the service request, and pest control experts were there four days later to investigate the issue. He said that they did not delay the inspection and treatment at all.
Bahorich said that as a previous off-campus student he really understands and cares for the needs of students, and is passionate about building high-quality off-campus properties.
“Those who know me personally understand that I have a strong passion to develop and manage the best homes and apartments within walking distance of Rice,” Bahorich said. “I garnered this passion while living off-campus on Bolsover Street when I was a junior cramming for Mech-E finals into the wee hours of the night.”
Willis said that they had gone into this lease giving Owl House Properties the benefit of the doubt, and hoped that they had bettered their management since the issues that arose last year surrounding the company.
“They really had a chance to turn around their act after that whole [situation] last year,” Willis said. “I wanted to give them a chance just because we had a short time window to make our decision and we were told things were better. But it is really not better.”
The property that Johnson currently lives in is going to be renovated to create four bedrooms by splitting the living room into two bedrooms and an added bathroom. The renovations have resulted in a total rent increase from $2100 to $4380 a month, according to Bahorich. Anna Alves, a freshman at Hanszen College, planned to live in this unit next year, but said that after hearing Johnson’s warnings about Owl House Properties on Twitter she decided not to sign the lease with Owl House.
“It is clear that they are preying on Rice students and it’s upsetting that they are doing so during a time that has been difficult both emotionally and financially for so many people,” Alves said. “Although I understand that the rent for the top floor will be going up because of the renovations and four people living there instead of two, it is ridiculous that they are more than doubling the price and charging us what was initially the price of the entire house.”
In response to the issue of raising rent, Bahorich said that this was a result of the renovations and increase in the number of bedrooms in the unit. He said that the unit rent is increasing in order to bring a sustainable level of income to the property, and that the price per bedroom remains around the same.
Clyburn said that because of arising student concerns she was not in favor of adding Owl House Properties to the off-campus housing website currently.
“I am hesitant to say that Owl House should never be listed because I would love to provide them the opportunity to make changes; however, I would not be in favor of putting them on the website without requiring some evidence that student experiences and feedback had been taken into account,” Clyburn said.
[4/16/2021 11:49 a.m.] This article has been edited to reflect that “flesh flies” eat the flesh of dead animals.
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