Imagine: a newly renovated one-bedroom loft apartment with granite countertops and in-unit washer/dryer located in the heart of the Central West End. Advertisements for "The Michelangelo" boasted a fenced dog park and free WiFi. It could be yours for just $800 per month.
When Leah Dublin, 25, started looking to move from Kentucky to St. Louis for graduate school two years ago, that's the apartment she says Asprient Properties described to her. She signed the lease remotely. But when she arrived, she says, she found something quite different.
The moment Dublin walked in the door, the apartment seemed much smaller than she had been told. There was no washer or dryer in the unit, just a coin laundry in the basement. Dublin wasn't convinced that the countertops were granite — unless granite tiles, complete with caulking between them, are now a thing.
And outside, the "dog park" was a courtyard. Tenants paid for their own WiFi. Dublin began to suspect that the photos in those advertisements had been touched up.
The Riverfront Times spoke to Dublin and four other residents who lived in the Michelangelo at the same time. All report similar experiences, from the company's initial enticements to the arguments over the security deposit at the end of their leases. Some mention they were promised a game room and a fountain in addition to the dog park and free WiFi. But the "fountain" was apparently a flower pot. The game room was the basement laundry area.
Dublin recalls a series of interactions that began early in her leasing process. "I should have known that something was up," she says. When she hesitated to sign the lease, an Asprient rep warned that she wouldn't get an apartment unless she committed immediately.
At one point, Dublin asked to see the floor plan for her new apartment. She says they told her that because of the renovations, they didn't have current blueprints. Someone offered to draw the layout for her, she says, but never delivered.
She signed anyway, but her unease continued even after moving in. Dublin and her fellow tenants say they had trouble reaching Asprient employees by phone or email. Voice mails and messages were rarely returned. (Dublin was told that the staffers she needed to reach were changing departments; another tenant was told his contact was on vacation — only after two weeks of radio silence.) Maintenance requests were filled slowly; Dublin's promised in-unit washer/dryer wasn't installed for a full month.
Although tenants noted that the maintenance workers themselves were friendly and helpful, the property managers didn't seem on board.
"I feel like once they realized, 'This is a young woman moving in from out of town,' they played to that," Dublin says.
Dublin found herself feuding with her landlords over parking: They told her it was optional, but kept charging her even after she tried to cancel the spot — and even though she later found out they'd leased her parking space to another person at the same time.
Roaches were another problem. "It was hard to sleep knowing that there were cockroaches around," she says. "It was just awful."
An Asprient representative told Dublin that the building-wide roach problem was her fault. Another tenant in the building provided emails showing she was also told it was her fault and charged for pest control. (Meanwhile, a third tenant says she requested more thorough bug spraying for weeks before Asprient finally moved her dishwasher and determined that construction crews hadn't closed up the holes behind her kitchen appliances and cupboards — apparently that's how the bugs were getting in.)
But for sheer pettiness, nothing could top the toilet seat.
When Dublin's toilet seat broke, maintenance replaced it — with a seat that had clearly already been used, to the point it was speckled with both paint and dried urine, she says. Adding insult to injury, they charged her $20 for the honor, only removing the charge when she complained repeatedly.
"It was very obvious that they were there for my rent check, that was all," Dublin says.
All told, between the not-really-free WiFi, surprise laundry costs, mouse traps and bug spray, and parking fees charged while she didn't have a car, Dublin estimates she lost $800 while living with Asprient. And that's not counting the security deposit, which the company failed to return. She calculates that she spent around twenty hours arguing with Asprient on the phone or in person.
But some of the costs of living at the Michelangelo couldn't be tallied in terms of time and money.
"That year in my life was already hard because it was my first year of graduate school, but not having a home where I felt safe and secure and in control made it a much more trying year," says Dublin.
At the end of her lease, Dublin moved across the street. She recalls several young couples making the exact same change.
"Only after moving into a better space managed by a much more honest company did I feel my life in St. Louis really take off in a positive direction."