|The Grove at Orono, Maine
Apparently it isn't much fun because several University of Maine students are considering legal action over these problems, and more, at The Grove apartment complex near the campus in Orono.
Why does this story resonate here in relatively balmy Alabama? The Grove is the banner under which Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities builds and manages student-apartment complexes near some 40 universities around the country. Campus Crest CEO Ted Rollins belongs to one of the nation's wealthiest families--the folks behind Orkin Pest Control and parent company Rollins Inc. in Atlanta--and showed during an Alabama divorce case styled Rollins v. Rollins that he is willing to use the court system in an abusive fashion.
Are UMaine students about to be on the receiving end of courtroom cheat jobs like the one Sherry Carroll Rollins, Ted's ex wife, experienced here in Shelby County, Alabama? We might soon find out.
Published reports indicate students in Orono have plenty of reasons to be unhappy with the product that Ted Rollins' company turns out. From a Bangor Daily News report in late January:
Residents of The Grove, a new apartment complex that is home to hundreds of University of Maine students, experienced a series of problems last week as a result of the recent cold snap.
Among the inconveniences were power outages due to transformers too small to handle the amount of electricity being consumed, frozen water pipes and frozen sprinkler systems.
Residents pay an average monthly rent of $525 per person, and Campus Crest touts its facilities as featuring "fully loaded living," with amenities not normally found in college dorms. But some UMaine students say the amenities do not always include heat. Consider the experience of Chelsea MacDonald-Coffin, as reported by Maine Campus, the student newspaper:
One day after an interview and a tour of her apartment by Orono town officials, she sent The Maine Campus a photo of her bedroom window. There was a 2-inch-high chunk of ice on its inside, freezing it shut.
MacDonald-Coffin's problems do not end there--and Campus Crest's response to her concerns has been less than reassuring:
When Chelsea MacDonald-Coffin moved into her new apartment in September at The Grove in Orono, she didn’t expect mold in her bathroom.
She said complex officials hired a company to stop the mold by bringing in dehumidifiers. An employee of that company then told her the problem wouldn’t be resolved unless carpeting was redone.
“I brought the issues to a [visiting] corporate representative,” said MacDonald-Coffin, a second-year management student at the University of Maine. “She basically said that I didn’t know what I was talking about.”
William Murphy, Orono code enforcement director, said The Grove met building standards. But residents remain skeptical, especially since the entire complex was constructed in nine months:
The Grove has had problems with heating, electricity and mold that some tenants say is causing health problems. Last month, tenants were plunged in and out of darkness for a week because the heat pumps used in the complex overtaxed its electrical system.
The kinds of problems experienced — especially when winter hit — led tenants and others to believe that Campus Crest, which has about 40 properties nationwide, had built a facility designed for warmer climes. They questioned whether it met building standards for northeastern states such as Maine.
During an interview, Murphy described the permitting and inspection process leading to The Grove’s opening.
According to Murphy, The Grove was designed to the standards of the International Building Code for this climate district.
“It has to be updated for the area. I don’t know if they have something in Florida but let’s use Florida as an example,” he said. “You can’t build the same kind of housing development in Maine that you would in Florida.”
Some tenants say they are considering legal action. From a news report dated February 5:
As of this week, 15 to 20 tenants of the new Orono apartment complex who attend classes at the University of Maine have sought legal assistance on problems ranging from mold and higher than expected overage fees for electricity to substandard construction and staff entering apartments without providing the “reasonable notice” required by state law, according to Sean O’Mara, undergraduate student legal aid attorney.
“I would say most, if not all, do not want to continue their leases,” said O’Mara, who recently brought the Bangor law firm Pelletier & Faircloth into the effort to get the student tenants’ complaints resolved.
“I can say that the number of people trying to get out of their leases with the Grove [has been] much higher than what I’ve seen for Orchard Trails,” another Orono apartment complex largely populated by college students.
What form might legal action take?
“We’re looking at potential civil options for these students right now. I’m not precluding anything in particular,” O’Mara said. He said that he also is exploring potential violations of Maine’s Unfair Trade Practices Act, the state’s basic consumer protection law.
The Unfair Trade Practices Act prohibits businesses from using unfair or deceptive practices and can be enforced by the attorney general or by consumers who actually have lost money because of an unfair trade practice, according to the state attorney general’s website.