When students return to school each fall, they are focused on navigating their classes, buying textbooks and moving in with all their belongings. But in August, Katherine Dennett had bigger problems, because she wasn’t able to move into her home at all.
At least two groups of tenants, one set of 21 and another of four, came to move into their new off-campus residence between Aug. 16 and Aug. 17, only to find that their apartments were not ready and they would be displaced to the Holiday Inn in Downtown Binghamton until Sept. 23.
Dennett, a senior majoring in English, is one member of the group of 21 students that was supposed to reside in an apartment complex in Downtown Binghamton, located at 39-41 Chenango St. According to Dennett, her group signed their lease in October 2018, put down a deposit and last month’s rent at $675 each, and was told the apartment would be ready by March 2019.
It is still not ready.
Dennett stayed in Binghamton over the summer in her previous residence and said she tried to keep track of the construction projects going on in the building to ensure it was ready for move-in by the time classes began.
“Everything just kept being put off and put off,” Dennett said. “Actually, there were a couple of days that I went in there with lists of what they needed to do and hung them up and literally dragged the workers inside because they would all just be outside smoking cigarettes and ordering pizzas every single day. When the time came for everyone to move in, it wasn’t ready.”
According to August inspection reports, the building was not up to code because of leaking pipes, floors that were under construction, unfinished electrical work and inadequate plumbing. The inspection report declared that the property was unfit for human habitation.
According to Dennett, when the group signed their lease in October, the scrapping of the interior was complete and the contractors had until March to put in all the work for electric, plumbing and heating.
“When I was here in July, it looked exactly the same as it had the past fall — so they hadn’t done a single lick of work in almost a whole year,” Dennett said. “Meanwhile, [the landlord] was texting us the entire time like, ‘Oh yeah, the apartment’s looking great.’”
The construction work was headed by Tommasos, Inc., a construction company based in Binghamton, who declined to comment on the matter.
When students came to Binghamton and found their housing was not ready, they were put up in the Holiday Inn by their landlord until Sept. 23. According an anonymous tenant, the experience was stressful, and students had trouble focusing on schoolwork. They also did not have a kitchen to use, which meant they needed to pay for prepared food out of their own pockets — an exorbitant expense. Multiple tenants said they would were forced to spend more than $10 a meal two to three times a day, amounting to over $30 a day. For their time in the hotel, that amounted to more than $1,000 per person.
“I’m studying for my test right now and I genuinely don’t know what happened the entire month of September in these classes, because I would just sit there and think about [the landlord] and not having a home and what we were gonna do,” the tenant said. “It was like ‘What am I gonna cook for dinner?’ because I can’t cook and I have to spend all my money going out to eat two to three times a day. It adds up. It’s so expensive.”
The landlord paid for at least 25 people’s hotel rooms for approximately 36 days. Most shared rooms with two beds while others were placed in singles. According to the Holiday Inn website, a room for two can range from $100 to $150, depending on time and date. At $100 for 12 rooms for 36 days, the landlord would have shelled out more than $43,200.
According to Dennett and Jessica Tenenzapf, a member of the group of four tenants and a first-year graduate student studying business administration, the hotel was accommodating and made the best of the situation.
“The hotel was fine because the housekeepers were really sweet with us,” Dennett said. ”They were like our stand-in moms. The people at the front desk helped us as much as they could, but it was really frustrating. Every single day our keys would be deactivated and we would just be sitting in our rooms alone.”
All tenants of the two groups that were displaced from 39-41 Chenango St. terminated their lease and moved out of the hotel on Sept. 23, moving to other off-campus residences in smaller groups.
Their former landlord was supposed to return their security deposit and last month’s rent by Oct. 1, according to the lease termination agreement. The anonymous tenant said they and some others saw the money returned. However, Dennett and Tenenzapf said they are still waiting for their refunds.
“He paid back half to some people people and some people haven’t gotten anything at all,” Dennett said. “He’s been ignoring my calls as usual.”