FEARLESS- Keyed up: Thefts continue as probe stalls

"To this day," Arin Bennett says, "University Place has never even dropped by to acknowledge that the event took place."

"The event" was a break-in at Bennett's apartment at University Place Apartments almost two weeks before he contacted me. Bennett claims that about $1,800 worth of electronics equipment– his laptop and digital camera– was stolen on March 30 from his bedroom at the complex on Ridge Street Extended.

According to Chris Miles, one of Bennett's three roommates, the burglary must have happened between 9am– when Miles left for class at UVA and Bennett for work– and 2pm, when Miles returned. It looked like the front door had been "busted open," Miles says, although when he arrived, it had been pulled shut. He says he immediately went to the office and notified property manager Susan Rooke and then called Bennett, who called the police.

Miles claims that two maintenance men arrived and began fixing the damaged door frame, even though he asked them not to, saying that the police would want to examine it. When they kept working, he claims, he returned to the office and asked Rooke to tell them to stop– but when he got back after picking Bennett up at work, the door had been repaired.

University Place won the Blue Ridge Apartment Council's 2005 Award of Excellence for Student Community of the Year, and its website invites potential renters to "Feel the Love, Live the Life." Miles and Bennett, however, say they didn't feel much love from management in the wake of the break-in.

In a letter that Bennett's lawyer, Lisa Davis-Lee, wrote to Rooke on April 4, she claims that the Albemarle County Police report "states that the deadbolt on the front door was not tampered with." Miles agrees that the deadbolt– which he says he always locks– showed no signs of having been tampered with.

Instead, he says, it looked like the damage had been done from the inside, as if the door hadn't been pried open but had simply been tampered with to make it appear the burglar had used force to enter. In her letter to Rooke, Davis-Lee states, "According to Nicholas Holden, assistant property manger, maintenance workers had in fact checked out the key" for Bennett's apartment the day of the robbery.

The reason given for this, she continues, was for a work order regarding a poor cable connection in one of the bedrooms– but the work order had been completed on March 28. "There was no reason," she concludes, "for the key to have been in the hands of the maintenance staff on March 30, the day of the burglary."

When I called Rooke for comment, she referred me to College Park Communities, which owns University Place and 62 other complexes. But when I spoke with their vice president of marketing, Kathy Grim, she declined to comment because the matter was under investigation.

The alleged investigation, however, seems to have stalled when the detective assigned to it took off for a week in mid-April while his wife had a baby. On April 19 I called Lieutenant Greg Jenkins, who's in charge of the detective division, and asked whether the case was, in fact, under investigation; Jenkins said he hadn't realized it was stalled, and assigned a new detective the next day.

On April 23, and again with no evidence of forced entry, Bennett claims that the remaining accessories for his camera disappeared. He met with Rooke the next day and announced his intention to move out of University Place on April 30; Rooke, he says, promised to contact her superiors and recommend that he be allowed to cancel his lease.
Three days later, when he was still waiting to hear from her, he emailed Rooke to complain about the delay.

"I will not wait around to have my room broken into a third time," he wrote, and added, "I want nothing more than to put this whole experience behind me."

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at 100 Second Street NW, Charlottesville 22902.