By Cassidy DeStefano, news editor
Halloween of 2015 held an unconventional horror for third-year English major Lily Tiarks.
“I woke up and there was a cockroach on my face,” she said. “I’m from the desert (New Mexico) so it didn’t really bother me, but when is there ever one cockroach?”
Tiarks said the insect incident was just one of a host of problems she and her roommates faced while living at 204 Hemenway St., Apt. 5 last semester. From mailbox malfunctions to faulty fire alarms, the issues that cropped up during one fall semester in the apartment were enough to make Tiarks file a request to move.
“We spent a long time trying to prove that the apartment was not fit to be lived in,” she said. “We kind of went in there ready for a fight.”
The apartment building at 204 Hemenway St. is one of approximately 10 on-campus properties owned and operated by local real estate enterprise Alpha Management Corp. Alpha representative Benjamin Behani said the company leases living spaces in 132, 136, 164, 171 and 204 Hemenway St.; 97, 109 and 115 St. Stephen St.; and a selection of properties on Huntington Avenue and The Fenway. Since the start of the partnership, a number of students have spoken out in opposition to the real estate company’s alleged unresponsiveness and inhospitable living conditions.
Northeastern University’s (NU) relationship with Alpha has been notoriously rocky. The Boston Globe reported that in May 2014, the university brought Alpha’s chief landlord, Anwar Faisal, before the Boston City Council, accusing the company of negligence toward its tenants when they complained about “dangers and indignities,” including rat infestations and bedbugs.
The Globe continued its dive into these allegations with an investigation by its Spotlight Team. According to an article released the same month as Faisal’s hearing, NU is one of Alpha’s most frequent customers as well as one of its most familiar foes.
“Northeastern […] has paid him millions in leases to house students because the university has a shortage of dorms,” the May 6, 2014 investigation said. Still, an undercurrent of dissatisfaction among residents of Alpha properties indicates a breach in communication between students and their contractor.
“From my experience, the thing is they won’t pick up on their maintenance line, or they don’t really respond to you when you file an issue,” said senior journalism major Kelly Kasulis, a resident of 115 St. Stephen St.
Kasulis has lived in the apartment since August and suffered only minor inconveniences, including breaking her stove and getting locked out. Although both of her issues were ultimately addressed, she said that Alpha workers were not clear about their timeline.
“I filed a complaint, they said, ‘Okay we’ll send someone,’ but then I received no self-congratulatory follow-up that said ‘We did what you asked,’” she said. “I just had to figure out for myself if they had done it or not. They’re not helping themselves in that sense.”
Alpha representatives declined multiple requests for comment.
According to a statement from university spokesman Matthew McDonald, only a fraction of NU’s students are affected by these communication issues.
“Currently, only about 6 percent of the students the university houses on campus live in master-leased housing,” the March 28 statement said.
Still, students who do choose this housing option, often because it is cost-effective, say they experience discomfort at home. Jonathan Hale, a senior criminal justice major and Tiarks’ neighbor down the hall, agrees that the work order system to address tenants’ issues is in need of reform.
“They just need to be more responsive,” Hale said. “When I first got here, the place was disgusting. I was told it was going to get cleaned, and a few days later someone showed up and cleaned it, but I know for my neighbors, nobody came.”
Hale also noted recurring problems with the washing machines in the building, the light fixtures in need of repair and the power going out sporadically.
“They have a number to call for maintenance issues, and so I call that and usually someone answers and says they’ll do it and they just don’t,” he said.
Tiarks said the inconvenience stems from not only Alpha but also its partnership with NU’s Facilities Division, where there seems to be an ambiguity in responsibility.
“Our situation wasn’t any individual person’s fault, but the whole system that they have is really bureaucratic and difficult to work through,” she said.
The breaking point for Tiarks and her roommate Patricia Rudy, a third-year anthropology major, was when one of their roommates was trapped in the bathroom.
“At midnight, my roommate was taking a shower, and the bathroom door broke and locked her in there,” Tiarks said. “So I called the police, who sent over three officers. They took off the doorknob but still couldn’t get the door open, and then they suggested she jump out the window.”
After officers kicked down the barrier and broke their roommate out, Rudy said they did not deliver on their promise to supply a new door.
“There was a verbal assurance that our door would be getting replaced, and then a full two weeks passed and what we got was more of a panel of wood,” she said.
After dealing with a leaky shower, a broken front door and a series of backlogged work requests, Rudy also packed up and moved.
“We got to the point where Lily’s dad called or emailed someone in housing and was like ‘Hey, why aren’t any of these problems in the apartment getting dealt with?’” she said. “It was kind of offensive that we had to pull in someone’s parent and that nobody cared to fix it when it was just us.”
Rudy said that NU can work to amend the issue by refocusing its energies on collaboration with its long-standing leasing partner.
“I think if they’re going to lease properties they really need to streamline the process of getting things fixed by providing us with a direct connection,” she said. “Because we got the impression that we were always their last priority.”
Kelly Kasulis is a former editor of The News.
Photo by Nola Chen