The cost of downtown living for Iowa City’s student renters

Houses and apartments for rent make up the vast majority of residential property near downtown Iowa City, and most of the tenants are university students, creating unique problems for property managers and renters alike.

By Lauren Sieben

Madison Sheets and Amanda Leppert moved into their downtown Iowa City apartment this year because it was, in a word, “easy.” The University of Iowa seniors were friends with a tenant who already lived in the building, and signing a lease with her eliminated the need for an arduous apartment search or long lines at leasing offices.

But the girls’ first few months living in Three Towers, near the intersection of Gilbert and Burlington streets, hasn’t been as easy as signing the lease.

“It’s okay, I live here”

The building — which is managed by Apartments Downtown — consists mostly of college-age tenants. Sheets and Leppert said they’ve lived in other student apartment buildings from the same property managers, but they’ve never lived in a building with as much partying or building damage as Three Towers.

Amanda Leppert and Madison Sheets pose in their downtown Iowa City apartment. The girls have had issues with loud neighbors since moving into the building this August. (Photo: Lauren Sieben)

Amanda Leppert and Madison Sheets pose in their downtown Iowa City apartment. The girls have had issues with loud neighbors since moving into the building this August. (Photo: Lauren Sieben)

“I called [Apartments Downtown] about stuff that was going on in the apartment and [an employee] told me that I should just call the police and not them, because they can’t really do anything if a kid’s like, throwing up in the hallway,” Sheets said.

Security cameras are hoisted to the tops of walls on each floor, protected by plastic casing. They’re a recent addition to the building after apartment parties this fall led to damages in the building ranging from inexplicable burn marks on the stairwell carpet to urine stains.

Leppert said she caught a man urinating in the front foyer of the building on the weekend of a football game. She threatened to call the police, but he was undeterred.

“I screamed at him, and then he said, ‘It’s okay, I live here,’ ” Leppert said.

Sheets and Leppert said that although their property managers have generally been helpful and responsive to other requests, they haven’t been successful in taming their rowdier tenants.

Since the bar age in Iowa City increased from 19 to 21, Leppert said she’s also noticed an increase of partying in the building. There used to be a “bar break,” she explained, but more underage students are hosting apartment parties because the 21-ordinance has left them with few other options.

“There’s people below us that party, there’s people next to us that party. It’s the whole building,” Sheets said.

Sheets, Leppert and their two roommates each pay $510 per month in rent plus the cost of utilities. The girls are graduating this spring, but even if they weren’t, both said they wouldn’t stay in the building, despite its proximity to downtown Iowa City.

The primary downtown players

Apartments Downtown did not respond to interview requests. The business is registered to James Clark, according to the Iowa Secretary of State website, and has been registered to Clark since September 1972.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen included Clark in its Iowa City’s Fabulous 150 list. In the article, Clark is described as owning and having developed “more Iowa City real estate than anyone else (301 parcels assessed at $93.6 million), providing housing to more than 1,000 university students, as well as businesses, mostly in the downtown area.”

One of Clark’s early developments was Pentacrest Apartments in 1978, near the intersection of Burlington and Capitol Streets.

Apartments Near Campus, another large property management company in Iowa City, is also registered under Clark’s name on the Secretary of State website. Apartments Downtown and Apartments Near Campus are both listed as “fictitious names,” which are also known as DBA names, short for “Doing Business As.”

The state of Iowa requires some businesses to register their DBA names. Using “fictitious” or DBA names is completely legal, according to the Iowa Secretary of State.

Among other business names that have been or are currently registered to Clark are Associated University Realty, AUR Downtown Apartments, DTA Iowa City Inc. and Iowa City Maintenance.

Apartments Near Campus declined requests for an interview.

Although Clark owns an enormous amount of student rental properties in downtown Iowa City, myriad other small and mid-size property management companies also rent to students.

Heritage Property Management, which owns a number of Iowa City-area rental properties, did not respond to requests for an interview. Prestige Properties, LLC was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

Legal action

Occasionally, the issues between a student renter and his or her landlord extend beyond the usual noise and party complaints. Student Legal Services at the University of Iowa offers legal advice to students facing a range of issues from drinking tickets to divorces.

Landlord-tenant disputes make up the largest number of civil issues that students bring to Student Legal Services, Supervising Attorney Greg Bal said. The most common dispute is over the landlord’s failure to return the rental deposit.

“The larger [property managers], they’re probably corporations, and who knows where the owners are,” Bal said. “Their incentive, I think, is to maximize their profit and to return as little of the deposit as possible. That’s the impression i get.”

In the 3 1/2 years Bal has been at Student Legal Services, the organization has only lost one case against a landlord.

“We do see certain companies’ names come up more often than others, but I’m not sure if that’s because they’re not complying with the law … or if it’s just because they happen to have more apartments,” Bal said.

A “cheap, fun place”

Many students embrace the challenges of renting downtown in exchange for relatively low rent costs and close proximity to campus. Although the rental market is dominated by students, many students don’t think the market saturation is a deterrent to home buyers.

Lauren Connolly, a senior at the University of Iowa, lives in a 3-bedroom apartment in Van Buren Village on South Van Buren Street. The building is managed by Heritage, and although there are a few unappealing aspects of the area — namely,  its location next to the train tracks and some neighbors’ “pot-smoking habits” — Connolly said she’s happy in the building, and with her low $300 monthly rent payment.

Connolly doesn’t think the abundance of student housing near downtown should necessarily scare people out of looking to purchase a home.

“I’m sure it would affect older couples and people with young children more than it would affect first time home buyers looking for a cheap, fun place to lay down roots,” she said.

Interested in the other side of downtown housing? Click here to read the rest of the package, including photos and a tour of a high-rise condominium building in Iowa City.


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: