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La Aldea residents unhappy

JACOB KONST/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Informational systems graduate student Stephanie Castillo signs a letter expressing dissatisfaction with La Aldea graduate housing on Saturday afternoon.
By Alexis Blue
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
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A group of 65 residents of the La Aldea graduate student-housing complex have come together to form a residents association because of their dissatisfaction with the apartments.

Members of the association, which formed last month, drafted a four-page letter, expressing their concerns over construction delays and disturbances, safety issues, and amenities at the apartment complex. They sent the letter to Residence Life and to Ambling Companies, the company that manages La Aldea.

The $20 million privately owned housing complex located at North Euclid Avenue and East Fifth Street, just north of Coronado Residence Hall, was supposed to be completed by mid-August, but many residents were surprised when they showed up on their move-in date to find they couldn't move into the complex.

Stephanie Castillo, a management information systems graduate student, said she received a letter telling her she would be able to move into La Aldea on Aug. 15, but when she arrived from New Mexico with her movers, the complex was not ready, and she had to stay with a friend and pay to put her belongings in storage.

Serhiy Porovskyy, a watershed management graduate student, said he ran into a similar situation. After traveling to the UA from Ukraine, he had to stay in a hotel for two weeks while he awaited the completion of his apartment.

Elizabeth Montano, the manager of La Aldea, said that while all residents were expected to be able to move in on Aug. 15, the building had not passed necessary building inspections by that date. About half of the complex's 157 residents were placed in hotels, while others stayed with friends and family while they waited to move into the apartments.

She said the development company reimbursed students for the cost of their hotel stays.

While Porovskyy said he was reimbursed, he said he still had to pay the entire amount of August rent to La Aldea even though he couldn't move into the complex until the end of the month.

Montano said La Aldea did not reduce rent since displaced residents were provided with housing.

Apartments in the complex cost $730 per month for a one bedroom, a two bedroom and two bath for $530 per person, or a four bedroom and four bath for $460 per person. All the rates include utilities.

She said the management team at the complex was just as surprised as the residents that the building wasn't opening in time.

"As a management team, we were very disappointed in the beginnings," she said.

Montano said she was preparing to give residents their keys when she was told that no one would be allowed to move into the complex.

"Telling the residents that they couldn't move in was really difficult," she said.

Montano said all residents were able to move in by Aug. 21.

But the building was still not entirely finished by that date, and the last phase of the building did not pass inspection until Dec. 1, Montano said.

Members of the resident association said that the construction throughout the semester has been a problem, and that the noise is disruptive and needs to stop.

"I wake up to workers in the morning," Castillo said.

Montano said that while workers are continuing to work on landscaping outside the complex, the noise inside the complex should stop now that the final phase of the building has passed inspection.

She said if residents continue to hear construction noise, it is probably coming from the nearby Park Student Union, which is undergoing renovations and is scheduled to open in January.

Montano said she understands residents' frustrations but said there are always loose ends when a building is new.

Residents also expressed concerns in their letter to Ambling that the companies' Web site stated that the complex would have a swimming pool and even offered rooms with a pool view. Provisions included in the lease prohibit the consumption of alcohol in common areas of the complex, including the swimming pool.

However, there is no pool at the complex, and Montano said there are no plans for one.

Montano said that many of Ambling's complexes do have swimming pools, and that is why a pool was listed on their Web site among a list of apartment amenities.

She said the leasing agreement, which all residents have to sign prior to moving in, is also the same for all of Ambling's properties, which is why a swimming pool is mentioned in its provisions.

She said the university would not allow a pool to be built at La Aldea.

The residents' letter also expressed concerns about pest problems in various apartments, security gates that are not kept locked and a lack of parking spaces for residents.

Residents say they were led to believe there would be on-site parking available because a flier titled "50 great reasons to live at La Aldea" included a statement that said residents would never have to fight for a parking meter again.

Montano said the statement was meant to suggest that students wouldn't need to worry about having a car at all, because they would be living on campus.

But residents say the information they received about La Aldea was misleading, and they say the complex is not what they expected.

"Many people who live here came from foreign countries, believing what we saw," Porovskyy said.

Claudia Benavente, who came from Chile to study cancer biology at the UA, agreed.

"We're not complaining for the fun of complaining," Benavente said. "We're paying for things that they said they'd offer and they're not being offered."

Because of the inconveniences that residents say continuing construction has caused throughout the semester, they have asked Ambling Companies to consider a retroactive rent reduction for all residents and to allow current residents to end their leases without paying the $800 termination fee.

Ambling responded to the letter early this month by sending typed responses to each of the 65 residents who signed it, apologizing for any inconveniences and misunderstandings, and inviting each resident to meet individually with management.

"Rather than addressing them as a group, we want to hear each individual resident's concern," said Elizabeth Horner, vice president of marketing and communication for Ambling Companies. "Our residents are our number-one priority."

Although the association's letter was also addressed to Residence Life, Director Jim Van Arsdel said that while the university is leasing the property for La Aldea, the complex is not run by the university.

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