Construction delays from University Realty have left dozens of Penn students without a home for months

Free breakfast and housekeeping come at a severe cost for the 70 Penn students displaced because of delayed construction on their apartment building. 

For over three months, students who were told that they could move into a new building at 4046 Chestnut St. on Aug. 15 have been shuttled from one temporary location to another as construction on the building continues to be delayed. 

Many students affected by this situation have been residing at an apartment without Wi-Fi located at 3201 Race St. Students say the walk from the apartment to campus can take up to 25 minutes.

On June 8, the real estate agency University Realty informed tenants who had signed leases for the building that they would not be able to move into their new apartments until mid-October, which was nearly two months after the original start date on their leases. 

Residents were given the option to cancel their lease and receive a full refund or live in the Homewood Suites hotel located at 4109 Walnut St. until the building's completion in October. They were also told that rent for all residents would be reduced from the original rates of $800-$1,000 to $650 for the duration of their hotel stay.

On Sept. 22, University Realty sent another email informing residents that they should be able to move into the building between Oct. 10 and 15 while waiting on the city inspection. 

Various students have said the conditions at the hotel were less than ideal. 

Wharton and Engineering junior Varun Jain said he appreciated the free breakfast offered at the hotel, but added that it was difficult to accommodate three people with one king-size bed and one sofa bed. Others have noticed mice in their rooms as well as in the common eating areas. 

Photo: File Photo

Another email dated Oct. 10 notified tenants that due to a change in the city inspection date, University Realty was "targeting" Oct. 21 for move-in and that they would "confirm 100 percent" on Oct. 17 after the inspection. 

The next day, residents received another email notifying them that "due [to] these unforeseen circumstances that are completely out of our control, the delay has been extended past" Oct. 21. 

University Realty also informed tenants in the email that the company had only booked the hotel until Oct. 21, giving them a three-week “cushion” beyond their initial delayed move-in date in case construction was delayed again. However, because the hotel was fully booked after the 21st, residents had to move to a new building, Vue32 at 3201 Race St., near Drexel University's campus.

“At Vue32, we don’t have Wi-Fi and we have to Uber back home late at night," Jain said. "I’ve been pretty stressed about it during midterms and recruiting.”  

Students said University Realty provided furniture for the students who chose to move into the apartments. They also hired movers and a shuttle to help them move. However, even though the building has Wi-Fi in the lobby and rooftop lounge, tenants do not have Wi-Fi access in their units.

Jain said he doesn't think it is worth the money or the effort for temporary tenants to set up Wi-Fi themselves. 

“In the middle of the year, it’s hard to find a new place to live other than the Radian or some other expensive apartment,” Jain said. “We just want some action or greater compensation for everything we’ve been through.”

Photo: Camille Rapay

University Realty Leasing Manager Brian Feller said the company initially planned for everyone to vacate the hotel, but close to 25 percent of tenants were allowed to remain because some reservations were cancelled at the last minute.

After originally moving out of the hotel, Wharton junior Jess Kim asked management to move back and they allowed her to return. A Nursing senior, who wished to remain anonymous to avoid jeopardizing her housing situation, was also supposed to move out. After calling University Realty, upset about having to relocate, they allowed her to stay. She said they asked her not to tell other residents.

“That just shows they’ve been very manipulative with the information they share with their tenants,” the student said. “It’s a very messy situation.”

On Nov. 13, Feller told residents that "the construction will be completed by the 15th of the month, so we hope to move tenants in by the 18th or 19th." A day later, residents received another email notifying them that their newest move-in date would be Dec. 1 at the latest because of "electrical issues." 

Moving in on Dec. 1 would be 107 days later than the original move-in date of Aug. 15 that students were told about when signing their leases.  

University Realty initially notified tenants that they would provide a private shuttle between Vue32 and Penn's campus for tenants, but received multiple complaints about this transportation system. In their Nov. 14 email, University Realty management said they would shut down the shuttle service and give every tenant $100 in Uber credit. The firm also said it would reimburse tenants for "transportation and storage costs."

Feller explained University Realty has to wait for a certificate of occupancy before residents can move in. He added that the real estate agency has not experienced issues like this before. 

“We’ve been in the student housing industry for over 10 years now and we’ve never had any issue like this before,” Feller said. “We’re responsible for the delay even though it’s out of our control, but the accommodation has been a significant undertaking on us in terms of working hours and finances."

Some of the students involved in this housing debacle have already discussed taking legal action. 

The Nursing senior said that some residents had already begun reaching out to lawyers. More than 35 residents have created a shared document titled "Compensation," detailing the repeated delays in the construction of their building, various factors in the situation that have inconvenienced tenants, as well as text and email exchanges demonstrating poor communication between University Realty and tenants. 

But experts say they are skeptical that residents will be able to gain legal recourse. Phil Lord, the executive director of the Tenant Union Representative Network, a tenant service and advocacy organization, explained in an email that due to a clause in University Realty's lease, the company is not liable for late move-ins. 

“If they have breached additional promises made since the original notice of the delay, [that] may be a basis for some legal action,” he said. 

Lord added that students with another option should consider cancelling their leases because promises made by the landlord are "unreliable." 

“We try to keep tenants as updated as possible, but we can only give updates when we have them,” Feller said. “We’re very disappointed by the delays.”

Nonetheless, some residents continue to be frustrated with the lack of communication. “I know they’re dealing with their own problems, but we want more transparency,” Kim said. “As residents, it’s really difficult for us not to have our lives together when it’s already November.”