The Drake University Tenants Union is leading student tenants in a rent strike against Drake Real Estate, in response to alleged continuous poor conditions and loss of income due to COVID-19.
A petition signed by 50 of the more than 130 students living in Drake-owned apartments or houses was sent to Drake Real Estate on April 14 with a list of demands to be met within five business days. Since the demands were not met in time, the signatories will refuse to pay rent for the month of April.
“Drake University has been putting in zero work into these properties, and making bank off of them, all the while ignoring students who are living in illegal and unsafe conditions,” Autumn Ellisor, a Drake University Tenants Union leader and current tenant said.
The Unions said if the demands continue to be left unaddressed, they will continue to refuse rent payment and they will report maintenance issues to the city inspector.
“This strike has an interesting twist though because of COVID, we are in part striking to not pay rent at all,” Ellisor said.
In a response from Adam Voigts on behalf of Drake Real Estate in a letter the students involved, it said they intend to follow the recourse available under the lease if rent is not paid.
Ellisor said while tenants could lose their security deposits, which is equal to one month of rent, they cannot currently be evicted because of COVID-19.
Voigt also said Drake properties are already inspected every 18 to 24 months by the City of Des Moines
However, Olivia George, who has lived in Drake properties for over a year, said she and other students have lived with mouse infestations, doors that don’t lock properly, and other unsafe conditions. All of which have gone ignored by Drake Real Estate.
George said that she expects college housing to be “a little shitty,” but these issues have made the residence uninhabitable under Iowa law.
Hannah Cummins, a former tenant of Drake housing, said she was released from her lease early because “the conditions we were living in were so unacceptable.”
Cummins said Drake Real Estate was difficult to communicate with and always required numerous emails that ultimately went ignored.
Four of the five demands in the petition are about communication and maintenance issues that students have continually faced.
The Union demands:
- Communication between tenants and Drake Real Estate be functional for all involved.
- Reparations for abuses against tenants.
- Future abuses of Drake Real Estate tenants must be avoided.
- Drake Real Estate and Administration should be staffed adequately in order to maintain and ensure livable conditions for tenants.
Voigts’ response said that, at the time of the petition, all maintenance submitted to the third-party property manager had been completed.
He said communication expectations with the third-party property manager have been reviewed and “going forward, all work orders will be acknowledged upon receipt and tenants will be notified when the work order has been completed.”
As a result of COVID-19, the tenants also demand rent forgiveness for the months of April, May and June. The petition states, “As students who have been affected by a disaster beyond our control, we need help.”
Adam Voigts said that adjustments have been provided to all students who requested accommodations.
Jeanna Hertaus, who did not sign the petition, said she was able to work with Drake Real Estate to move out during COVID-19. She also said she has not personally experienced the same maintenance issues as other students. However, George, who lost her income and has no reason to be on campus due to the pandemic, said she was not given the same amount of rent reduction as other students she had spoken to and has had issues with the treatment from the company.
Drake Real Estate did not respond when contacted for a comment.
More information will be published as the rent strike continues.
Updated May 6, 2020: this article was updated for grammar, and to correct factual errors involving the recourse Drake Real Estate would take which previously stated was terminating the leases and allowing for eviction. As well as Ellisor’s comment on the down payment, which is equivalent to one month, not two.