We’re not in San Francisco or Seattle, so we can afford to rent an apartment in Boise, right? Sure we can, sort of. For now. But there is a housing shortage in Boise, and it largely favors landlords. It certainly doesn’t help low to mid-income families, and there are plenty of those.
The problem is there are more families than housing, and there just isn’t enough competition or any really good options for those low to mid-income families, so many of them overextend themselves. Instead of spending about 30% of their income on housing they spend 50% or more. This leaves them little left over for food and medical care, and even if they can afford those “luxuries” many families are 30 to 60 days from bankruptcy.
So begins my story, one that while not entirely typical, still says something about the Boise rental market. I’m going to use the example of the apartment complex I lived in for two years because it, like many complexes, is owned by a corporation. That corporation, like many others, is focused on one thing: profit.
LC Communities owns properties in California, Idaho, Montana, and Colorado. In Idaho they own four properties, all in Boise. They are the Fowler, The Owyhee, Watercooler, and Edgewater Apartments. Only one is the typical spread out apartment complex with several buildings, and that is Edgewater. The rest are multi-floor apartments in large buildings in the downtown area.
The Edgewater Apartments brag of “resort style living.” More on that in a moment but suffice it to say that this is not exactly true. The company has owned the apartment complex for the majority of the time I lived there, and they have at times been making “improvements” and remodeling apartments as residents move out.
The thing is, the company has some odd policies for an apartment complex, ones that make it very Hotel California like: it is easy to move in, hard to leave, and fees, terms and conditions, and other policies heavily favor the company.
Most of the time though, you end up dealing with the local staff. And that is where the problems for me at least really got difficult. The problem is they seem to have lost sight of who their “customers” really are. More on that in a moment as well.
Counting Down the Issues
So while remodeling was happening when I initially moved into the apartment complex, the apartment I rented was not one of the remodeled ones. It was nice—it had a real fireplace, a decent kitchen, and okay appliances. They were old, as was the carpet.
Right away, the carpet was coming up at the door from under the flange that separated it from the tile there, and I put in requests that it be stretched and re-tacked, which it was, but it came up several times during my stay there. It wasn’t overly troublesome, but sometimes it is the little things.
It stained easily, and it seemed like old stains came up from below even after living there a short time. I had it cleaned a couple of times while I lived there and kept it well vacuumed, but it was clearly overdue for replacing when I moved in.
The neighbors are—well, interesting is a good word. For the most part they were nice, although several seemed to also have issues with apartment management, at least in the building I was in. I suspect that had as much to do with building location as anything else. Still, we had some younger people above us on the second and third floor (ours was a ground floor apartment). They were constantly throwing beer cans, cigarette butts, and other debris onto our patio.
I reported this to the management, and they told us they would take care of it. The behavior continued. I reported it again, and management told me those people would be moving out and it would stop. It did not. In fact, the last month of my lease I was hardly at the apartment except to clean, and nearly every time I returned, there were cigarette butts, one time three beer cans, and soda cans on my patio that had been thrown there from above.
You’d think in a “resort style living” community that screening would be pretty tight, but we had a couple move in next door that defaulted on the rent and left their remodeled apartment trashed. Of course, I could not help but see the three-day notice on the door, but the residents were clearly already gone, at least their patio furniture. But then, one day into the three-day notice I happened to see one of the maintenance people in the apartment. The window coverings were open after that, everything clearly gone. The three day notice stayed on the door, and no one officially entered the apartment after that at least that I saw, but it was part of a pattern of bending the rules and selective enforcement.
Landscaping and Snow Removal
You’d think that resort style living would include some good landscaping and snow removal in the winter, right? Well, wrong. Sort of. If you live in the front of the complex, they do a pretty good job with curb appeal. But go to the back of the complex, the forgotten buildings in the shadows (this is where most of the apartments, and mine was). The landscaping is adequate, but bushes and trees are often out of control. The downspout from the roof of our building had an extension that was often removed by the landscapers to mow and then left off. Laying sideways in the grass. Huge puddles formed whenever it rained.
The one epic winter we had in Boise? Snow removal was challenging for everyone, but deep in the apartment complex things were even worse. When snow was finally removed to the point where we did not need four-wheel drive to leave the complex, the company who did it piled the snow from our area on the sidewalk between the apartments and the covered parking. My son and I shoveled a path through the pile just so we and our neighbors could get to our cars.
Hey, that winter was challenging for everyone, even the city of Boise, so I can forgive some things, but the poor landscaping and the difference between the front of the complex and the back? Not the best impression for your residents.
The Divorce Fiasco
During the time I was at Edgewater, I got a divorce. Since I was staying in the apartment and my soon to be ex was moving out, she removed her name from the lease. When she did so, the office failed to transfer the garage I was renting, my covered parking space, and other amenities to my name. I came home late from work to find my space taken by someone else because it had been offered to them and was no longer mine.
It took three trips to the office to figure out what happened and get a credit on my rental account. Also, at the same time, when I tried to pay my rent online, the easiest way to do so, my online payment accounts had all been deleted, and two months in a row my payment appeared to go through from my checking account but did not and I got late payment notices and even once an eviction notice.
When I called to rectify the problem, I was forced to leave a voicemail for the apartment manager once, and the other time I left a message with the front desk staff that apparently never got to the manager. When I called to say I tried to resolve the issue, but no one had called me back, that same front desk staff accused me of never calling and trying to avoid paying my rent.
Of course, once the actual manager, a great gal named Debbie, checked their sophisticated phone system, she found my calls and called me to apologize. By then though, the damage was done. I was stressed out, frustrated, and ticked off. But with another 10 months on my lease, what could I do? Breaking it and moving would be too costly, although I looked into it. I got a rather curt response from the office personnel with the cost and nothing else about trying to make me a happy tenant instead.
Randomly Enforced Rules
At work again, I get an odd call from the apartment complex, so I call them back. “Is your dog outside?” they ask. I have a 13-year-old yellow lab. Of course, during the divorce fiasco, those records were deleted as well, but that’s another story.
“Maybe,” I said. “My son is home, so he may have let him out.”
“He needs to be out there with him.”
“What? He is leashed and we have been doing it this way for 18 months. He is never out there when no one is home, and I am sure Andrew will let him in soon.” In fact, by this point the dog was already inside. At the apartment, he rarely went out other than to use the bathroom. There was not really a space for him.
“Okay. Well, that could be a lease violation.”
“So you’re telling me that the way we have been doing this for 18 months is now a lease violation?”
“That’s correct. Technically, according to your lease, someone needs to be on the patio with him.”
“So watching him through the window is not enough?”
“Nope. The rule is in place for the safety and security of our residents.”
Another day, another call about a “golden retriever” on my patio, unaccompanied. Another call, this one when I was home and watching him on the patio myself. I watched the maintenance guy on his phone calling the office. I could not only see my dog at the time, I could see him.
One week later. My neighbors come from upstairs with two dogs, unleashed, taking them to their car. The same maintenance man bends down, pets their dogs who are still not leashed (a clear lease violation) and goes on with his job.
Several of my neighbors take their dogs out back of our building unleashed, and not one was ever reported. I did not report them: I don’t mind unleashed dogs as long as they are well behaved and under the control of their owners. It’s just the selective enforcement I objected to.
That wasn’t the only one. Kids ran free, unsupervised. I almost hit one with my car, one with my motorcycle, and nearly crashed on my bike avoiding another one who ran across the driving area in front of me. The child was maybe four or five. No parent was around.
Resort living indeed.
Ah, the Management
This is a story of both a hero and the rest of the staff and is in part where the problem lies. Once the divorce and rent incident was resolved after a few months of struggle, and the dog issue was resolved (as I guess they started to ignore the issue. I didn’t alter my behavior or that of my son or dog) I started talking to Debbie.
Debbie is a great apartment manager, except for one thing. In my case, she had to take control from her staff, who should have been qualified to handle my issues themselves. Since the staff messed up over and over again, I had to shift to talking to her all the time. If I didn’t contact Debbie directly when I had an issue, things went sideways.
Why is this? I think I know. I think the front of the house staff has lost track of who their customers really are. They are too busy enforcing policies and rules (when they feel like it) that they seem to have forgotten there are people on the other side of those leases, those phone calls, and those notices tacked to doors. Those people, the residents, not LC Communities, are the ones who pay their salaries.
An example? Sure. So with LC Communities, there is no rent grace period. Either you pay by the 1stat the latest or you get charged late fees. If you don’t pay by the 3rd, you get a three-day eviction notice. You can call the management to make payment arrangements and at least avoid the three-day notice issue. Maybe.
I work as a freelance writer, so one month I expected a payment on the 4th, so I emailed Debbie to let her know I would be a little late on rent. She emailed back and said that was fine, thanks for letting her know.
I came home on the 4thto a three-day notice, signed by the assistant manager Krysten. The funny thing? By the time I got the notice, I had already paid my rent online. So I ignored it. Still, imagine the panic when two weeks later I got a similar notice in the mail—one that although mailed from Boise on the 5thof the month (after I paid my rent) got to me on the 20th.
So even dealing with Debbie and letting her know what was going on wasn’t enough. Apparently, the assistant manager didn’t get the message, as critical as it was. The constant communication breakdown between the staff was constantly problematic.
That’s my story, as painful as it is. It’s over now and I was able to move on. But what does this mean for the general rental market in Boise? That is coming in Part 2 of this article.
Until then, just understand that Edgewater Apartments were a bad place for me, and several others I know, not because it is a horrible place, but because it is a mediocre place that promises greatness. It’s not the only one though, and the conditions indicate an overall problem in Boise.
Also published on Medium.