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- PHOTO BY HOLLY RAVAZZOLO
- Tenants at the Michelangelo say they were offered discounts or maintenance in exchange for a good review on Yelp (or to change a bad one).
The 34 complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau about Asprient reflect what tenants have told the RFT: They were promised things that were never delivered, blamed for maintenance problems, ignored, and taken advantage of. The BBB retains complaints on its website for a three-year period.
One complaint reads, "I feel since I was from out of town I was severely taken advantage of. ... Landlord messaged me saying the apartment was cleaned & ready; apartment was filthy with dirt, dust & debris everywhere, paint peeling in bathtub, fruit flies everywhere. He told me he'd waive the $60 cleaning fee since the apartment wasn't cleaned. ... [Then] I found mouse droppings on personal clothes & belongings, which had to be thrown away, in winter time, & they put mouse traps everywhere. Heater didn't work in winter, they tried getting money for me for that, accusing me of breaking the wires (I didn't even know where the heater was) & took 2 weeks for them to repair — I was without heat for that long."
Asprient responded to the complaint in writing. The company wrote, "I will say, It is VERY convenient that we are just now receiving this complaint and hearing about these issues when she is getting ready to move out next week! It is obvious that she is preemptively positioning herself for a security deposit refund when she knows she has trashed the place and won't be receiving a full refund. ... If she leaves the unit in bad shape she will be charged for the damage. We are quite confident it will be in poor shape considering when we visited last year to fix the window she broke, we found dog feces and urine all over the apartment floor. It is a shame that in this day and age that tenants feel the need to preemptively complain to the BBB in an attempt to extort a higher deposit refund right before they are to move out."
Asprient has responded to every visible complaint on the BBB website, with strikingly detailed (and feisty) replies in every case. Only four of the 34 claims have been marked as "resolved" on the BBB website, meaning that tenant and landlord have come to a mutual agreement.
A representative from the BBB says that Asprient's B rating is "not the best," but that complaint volume "is a part of why they have a B rating." As far as the BBB is concerned, there are "no red flags" indicating that Asprient is an illegitimate business, which is one of the agency's chief concerns.
And the company does have its defenders. Tom S. writes on Yelp, "Although I have read some complaints in prior reviews. I can honestly say that my experience has been a great one. I am confident that with any future dealings they will be dealt with professionally and quickly. Thanks Asprient! I couldn't be happier at this point."
And Marissa B. writes, "I have rented from a few different agencies in the St. Louis area, and this one is by far the best I've dealt with. I highly recommend this agency."
But on Yelp, Asprient has received about twice as many one-star reviews as five-star reviews. Several one-star reviews note that the writer was contacted by the company and offered money in exchange for a better review. Two tenants, one of them Ilhan, confirmed to the RFT that they personally were offered discounts or maintenance for a good review (or to change a bad review); all five tenants who spoke to the RFT confirmed that they knew someone who had that experience.
The Riverfront Times contacted Asprient to discuss the various claims against them. The company was given thirteen specific questions about various lawsuits and complaints.
In response, Asprient's attorney, Ira Berkowitz, provided this statement, included in its entirety:
"Asprient Properties is committed to providing quality apartments at affordable prices. We take our renters' concerns seriously and encourage them to work with us to resolve any individual issue. With nearly 1,300 units located in vibrant neighborhoods where young professionals and graduate students want to live, Asprient Properties has many satisfied renters who enjoy living in a property that has been totally renovated and offers a great value."
Two hours later, Berkowitz sent an additional email. "As Asprient's attorney I will be carefully reviewing and researching your article. I trust you will not take liberties or misrepresent the facts; that you will make sure your sources are accurate and if quoting private or public sources, such as Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council, that they can back up their statements with accurate data — otherwise my client will not hesitate to take legal action against you, them and the RFT. I would appreciate that instead of using words like 'most complaints for a landlord of this size,' that you will publish the actual numbers of complaints and total number of units.
"I have had success in the past in claims against authors and publishers of articles written that were not fully and accurately fact-checked and sourced."
The lawyer then directed us to an article about his success in a $10 million suit against a newspaper in Florida. He did not mention that the verdict had been overturned by the judge, a decision that was later upheld in appellate court.