Apartment complex owners try to put animal house rep to sleep
The owners of the apartment complex long referred to as “The Zoo” are looking for tenants who don’t remember the raucous parties and couch-burnings of the past.
The Texas-based company that owns the Jefferson on 5th Street complex at 1253 West Fifth Street, JPI, has learned a thing or two in the last couple of years and this week launched a publicity campaign—complete with marketing expert flown in from Dallas—hoping to show students it’s committed to improving conditions at its facility.
“The reputation’s been here for 20 years,” said Rori Cherveny, director of community operations at the complex, but JPI wants to change it.
The Webb family of Chico owned the 128-unit complex for 15 years, during which time it became known for wild, unsupervised parties and general melees.
When asked if he thought “The Zoo” had improved since it’s been under new ownership, 23-year-old Matt Heyl said, “No, not really.”
Heyl has lived there for two years and said that he’s “been through everything.” He’s seen wild parties, fights, a shooting, things lit on fire and his car vandalized. He said he’s eager for August to arrive, when he can move into his new place. Until then, he said he’s “enjoying the peace and quiet” around there because most residents moved out June 30.
Scott Chalmers, whose Chico firm, RSC Associates, managed the complex for its former Colorado owners from March 2000 until it was purchased by JPI, said the trick to managing student tenants is “being consistent and making people responsible for their actions.” Chico police praised RSC for its tough approach, which included offering $1,000 in a “secret witness program” to anyone who reported residents’ criminal activity.
“We turned the property around,” Chalmers said. “After it sold in September 2001 and the new owners [JPI] took over, it went back to the old way.”
But Cherveny said JPI has a different management style. There won’t be any rewards for narcing on neighbors. “When you have to do that, that says you’re anticipating something.”
JPI already added an impressive new pool, leasing office, computer lab, recreation and fitness center and other upgrades in “Phase 1” of its “improvement and repositioning plan.”
Now, it’s ratcheting up the rules for current residents, having them reapply under new criteria if they want to keep living there. The screening process includes a background check for a history of violating leases or not paying rent.
JPI is also trying to distance itself from incidents like the February 2002 baseball bat beating death of a 21-year-old who was attending a party at the complex when he got into an altercation with another reveler. Those tenants, Cherveny said, were approved by RSC, not JPI.
Cherveny, a Chico resident since 1997, said Jefferson on 5th, which has a lot of vacancies this summer, is looking for students “who may not know the reputation.” The owners have learned more about the Chico market, she said, and as such plan to be even more involved in community business groups and politics. And they’ll continue to hold “town hall meetings” for residents on how Jefferson on 5th can be improved.
Another complaint of former residents was being suddenly stuck with new roommates, including much older non-students. (One doesn’t have to be a student to rent there, but five students live at the complex for free in exchange for serving as “community assistants.")
Emmet Welch, 24, is a former resident of the complex and was given the opportunity to get out of his lease early because of the new policy. When Welch moved in nearly a year ago, he was placed with three strangers. While he says it wasn’t a bad experience because his roommates were mellow and not the partying type, he was still eager to move out and jumped at the chance to end his lease two months early.
Now, the complex is ditching the "individual lease" structure whereby each tenant was responsible only for his or her "by-the-bed" rent of $250 to $320 per person. Instead, each four-bedroom, two-bath unit will rent for $900.