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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Hundreds of WSU students could be forced to move midsemester over issues with rental company

By Anne Murphy For The Spokesman-Review

Inspection issues that have delayed move-in for months at a new housing development are forcing hundreds of Washington State University students to find a new place to live midsemester.

Aspen Heights, a national company formed in 2006, provides housing for college students across the country, but its rollout in Pullman has been rocky, according to hundreds of pages of city documents provided under the state’s Public Records Act.

The company was supposed to start moving residents into its local property in August but residents received notice their units were not ready, with the company stating the city had not approved the units.

Aspen Heights, 3125 NW Cottonwood Lane, is building about 100 duplexes. Each unit has two to five bedrooms, and the development is expected to house about 500 when completed.

When they informed prospective residents their units would not be ready, Aspen Heights offered, rent-free alternative housing for the students at two other complexes in town, the Ruckus or the Hills on Grand, owned by other companies. Students could also opt to receive a $1,500 credit and find their own place to live.

But residents at the Ruckus got a letter last month saying Aspen Heights will no longer pay for housing there, forcing them to decide by last Wednesday whether to sign separate leases with the Ruckus or move.

The university was on spring break last week.

“It’s been pretty annoying, I’m not going to lie,” said Shana Huang, a junior at WSU.

There have been over 400 inspections of Aspen Heights by the city of Pullman, many of which found issues with the construction of the units and found that they were not ready to be occupied. City officials repeatedly noted problems during building inspections and required the company to make “essential” corrections, such as with trusses, shear walls and windows.

The city began charging Aspen Heights $100 per reinspection in September because of the number of inspections required. That same month, Aspen Heights failed a code inspection for units 100-111, and the problems were not fixed by October.

Matt Young, the communications coordinator for the city of Pullman, said the city has approved 14 units on the property for move-in, but no request has been filed for approval on the other 84 units. Aspen Heights began allowing residents to move into those 14 units earlier this year.

Aspen Heights did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Young said some communications from the company indicated new “construction standards or city code” were affecting the development.

“I can say that that’s categorically not accurate,” Young said. “There have been no changes to any of the requirements or the standards for these units since the original building permits were issued in 2021.”

Alison Deckard, one of the renters, struggled to find housing in Pullman and decided to move to Ritzville to stay with family instead of taking Aspen Heights’ alternative housing. Deckard is not a WSU student but commutes to Pullman for work.

“This has very significantly affected my life,” Deckard said. “For the first two to three months, my gas bill was $700 each month.”

To receive paid housing or the $1,500 credit last summer, tenants said they had to sign an addendum to their lease. This addendum stated, “each tenant releases and discharges Aspen Heights from any and all claims demands, liabilities, losses or causes of action, known or unknown, fixed or contingent such tenant may have directly against landlord in connection with landlords’ inability to deliver the dwelling to the tenant on the move -in date stated in the lease.”

In January, residents housed at the Ruckus received an email stating that they would be able to move in to Aspen Heights on Feb. 28. On Feb. 20, Aspen Heights sent those residents a letter releasing them from their current lease if they signed a document.

“By signing the attached Release, you will be financially and physically released from your obligations,” the letter stated. “You will need to vacate your current assigned space at the Ruckus on or before March 15th, 2023.”

Four students reached for this article who received the letter declined to sign it.

Residents being housed at the Hills on Grand are not required to move out until May 15. The addendum to the lease that leaseholders signed in August did not specify a date that their temporary housing accommodations would end.

WSU officials are directing students displaced by Aspen Heights delays to contact the Dean of Students office to assist them in finding housing.

“The university has adequate residence hall space available on campus that will enable students to remain in Pullman to complete the spring semester, and has asked faculty and staff who might be approached by students facing a housing issue to direct them to the Dean of Students Office’s Student Care Network,” Dave Wasson, WSU spokesman, said in a prepared statement.

Deckard and Alexandra Sauceda were supposed to live at Aspen Heights this year but are among those who did not sign this document.

“I would just say it’s a very disappointing situation,” Sauceda said, “and where they could have been a lot more ethical with their decisions, they haven’t been.”

Sauceda said parents of students who were supposed to live at Aspen Heights have been discussing, in a WSU Facebook group, the possibility of a class-action lawsuit against Aspen Heights.

Young said the city was referring student complaints to WSU’s student legal services or the state attorney general.

“Hopefully, if enough people file similar complaints, that might raise some red flags, and they can try to address those in a quicker fashion,” Young said.