West Campus Pie in the Sky: An Apartment High-Rise Nightmare
By Katie Berger
Dust coating floors and countertops. Missing living room furniture. Rats living in utility closets. Trash rooms piled high and overflowing into the hallway. Valuable packages sitting exposed in the lobby.
These were among the conditions for residents at The Standard, the latest in a series of newly constructed high-rise apartment buildings in West Campus. The Standard opened to residents August 7, with over 900 students moving into the unfinished building.
Marketed as “setting a new standard for living in the heart of West Campus,” the building promised an expansive pool deck, sauna, yoga studio and an arcade, among other amenities. Students were promised a luxurious living experience when they signed to live at The Standard, most of them nearly a year in advance.
Internal emails owners of the building have sent to residents, obtained by Reporting Texas, and supporting interviews show that rather than giving University of Texas students a key to luxury living, they’ve given them a high-rise full of headaches.
On move-in day, resident Matt Fields entered his brand-new unit to find his common area missing all its furniture except for a partially assembled pool table. “Two burners on the stovetop didn’t work,” Fields said.
“The place was filthy—the construction workers left behind their own trash, like we found empty soda cans and Dorito bags on the floor. The door frame to our balcony is missing a piece, but they painted over it and it’s like they expected us not to notice.”
His experience is not unique. Dozens of residents shared similar issues in a resident-run GroupMe during the days following move-in, also recounting experiences with faulty Wi-Fi connection and flooding during a rainstorm.
Kelly Gray, director of public relations for Landmark Properties (the owners of The Standard), blamed pandemic-related supply chain problems for construction disruptions.
“Construction materials shortages have been exacerbated by the pandemic. There were some common area and non-essential room furniture that was delayed because of supply issues. To better manage expectations as we welcomed students, we communicated those delays with residents and their families prior to move-in.”
Even though students were alerted to the missing common room furniture, that was the least of their worries. There were many more issues that arose in the following days that even the student employees of The Standard never saw coming, Maggie Vereb, a former student ambassador, said.
“In one word — unorganized,” resident John Trevino said.
The Standard did not print enough parking passes for residents that purchased them, as acknowledged in an August 11 email to residents, leaving its garage open to the public for weeks after move-in. This allowed non-residents to park in the garage and resulted in every spot being occupied for several days, forcing some residents to park elsewhere.
The trash chutes at The Standard lock and unlock so that two chutes are not open on different floors simultaneously. When the chutes’ locking mechanism remained locked for multiple hours one day, residents had no choice but to leave their waste in the trash room. With 900 residents doing this, trash built up in the rooms and overflowed into the hallways over the following days, so badly that The Standard contracted a third-party cleaning service to remove move-in waste, according to an August 26 email sent to residents.
Following the incident, The Standard told residents that they would review surveillance cameras for residents not putting trash down the chute and issue fines of $25 per bag per day. Gray said that “initial trash chute issues were the result of a safety mechanism, which can be confusing to new users,” and that The Standard “used the opportunity to educate residents on how to use the trash chutes that are located on every floor.”
Many students have found rats—primarily in their utility closets—but some have escaped into kitchens. Trevino discovered he had a rat when he “found food that was previously in a trash bag laying out on the apartment floor. It had little bite marks taken out of it.”
Trevino said a third-party exterminator sent by The Standard placed a rat trap in his utility closet but never came back to block the hole where the rat came from, leaving the opportunity open for more rodents to enter in the future.
Since move-in, residents have also expressed safety concerns.
“Anyone can access the building from the parking garage [which is completely open], and you don’t need a key to get up the elevator to someone’s room,” resident Jack Miller said. “The front door has been zip tied open for a few days.”
All The Standard’s units lack of keyless deadbolts, meaning anyone with a master key to the building can enter any unit at any time. Several residents mentioned maintenance workers entering their rooms unannounced.
Miller said he consulted UT’s Legal Services for Students for help drafting a letter requesting a deadbolt be installed.
“I paid $40 to get this letter sent by certified mail just to get something my apartment should’ve provided anyways, because lacking a keyless deadbolt violates Section 92.153A of the Texas property code,” Miller said.
Miller received a deadbolt on his door three days after serving his letter to The Standard. He encouraged other residents to follow suit by making and distributing a template for students to create their own letters and request deadbolts as well.
As of Oct. 1, the Austin Code Department has inspected and closed 22 complaints against the property in the last 3 months. Gray said The Standard is “working with a local vendor to resolve complaints regarding the deadbolts.”
Residents’ concern about security issues with the building skyrocketed when a man named Zachary, an employee of a third-party security patrol company (Sundown Security) contracted by The Standard’s construction team, was added to the resident GroupMe by a student where he went by the alias “Minion.” Many residents found Zachary funny at first, joking with him and inviting him to enter their units when he offered to personally deliver packages and inspect their broken appliances amid the chaotic move-in.
However, residents grew skeptical and reported Zachary to management when he began telling them outlandish things like “he took a bullet for Greg Abbott,” and “he saw someone jump off the Quarters Parking Garage a week earlier,” Miller said.
“He came into our room at 2 a.m. asking to see me and make sure I was okay,” Serena Martin, another resident, said. “I had only talked to him once before. I was scared.”
Management told residents in a mass email that as soon as initial complaints about Minion were brought to their attention, he was immediately terminated by Sundown Security and received a notice of non-trespass by the Austin Police Department. Management also asked residents to cease all interaction with Zachary.
Gray said a new security company has been hired to patrol the premises overnight.
In recognition of the multitude of issues faced by residents during their first month, The Standard refunded half a month’s rent to each resident.
“While we strive to provide a seamless and smooth a move-in experience for residents, we acknowledge that there were challenges during and in the days following move-in. We are thankful for the patience and understanding our residents demonstrated and as a token of our appreciation we issued a partial rent credit. Initial move-in for a community of this size always has its challenges,” Gray said.
Legal concerns with lease
Fields, who sought legal counsel from three different lawyers about breaking his lease, dug into the lease and found that The Standard inserted a clause that makes leases essentially airtight.
“This is the crazy thing,” he said. “If you read through our lease, under the amenities section—it’s so messed up—it says we are not promised any amenities. In other words, The Standard is technically not legally obligated to have functioning Wi-Fi, appliances, furniture, the pool. All the reasons you probably signed at The Standard, they’re technically not legally obliged to give to us. There’s very little we can do about that.”
Several other students have also sought legal counsel and found that the lease they signed constitutes a dead end.
There were no lawsuits filed in the Travis County district court as of Oct. 1, but The Standard does have one complaint against it with the Better Business Bureau.
The Standard advertises their mission as “to provide residents with extraordinary spaces for extraordinary living.” Resident Ariana Kravetz said that slogan is laughable, a complete joke when compared to the building they now occupy.
“I really feel for the people who agreed to live at The Standard and just have to take this crap every day,” Fields said. “I have no faith that we’re going to see a turn-around this semester. Money wise, what’s their motivation to actually fix things? Because we’re already locked into these airtight leases.It’s tough.”