FEARLESS- Ashtree dustup: No whippersnappers need apply

The root of this week's contretemps is one I've come to know well: bad communication. And because a lease is involved, its price for this week's consumer, Tim Mulholland, may be especially high.

Mulholland lives with two roommates at Ashtree Townhomes on Madison Avenue, which is managed by Management Services Corporation (MSC).

"I've been a big fan of MSC," Mulholland says in his emailed account. "This would have been my sixth year with them." Repairs have consistently been done in a "timely fashion," he notes, and MSC has "always taken care of" him as a resident.

Mulholland isn't happy, however, with the turn the relationship has taken. When one roommate announced his intention to move in with his girlfriend in June, the other two looked for a replacement and found one– they thought– in Thomas Duffy, a mutual friend from UVA.

Mulholland and his roommate signed a form to renew their lease for another year, on which they removed the departing roommate's name and added Duffy's. MSC called them all in to sign the new lease on either April 12 or 13, at which time Duffy filled out an application.
On April 14, MSC contacted Duffy to say that they needed "more information on his status at the university." That's because undergraduates aren't allowed at Ashtree Townhomes (unlike Ashtree Apartments).

Mulholland hadn't thought that would be a problem, he says, because Duffy will be a fifth-year student who lacks only a few classes to graduate in January and is working 20-plus hours a week.

Mulholland claims that Duffy responded promptly by email, "but apparently MSC never got it." MSC left a voice mail for Duffy on April 19, and he responded by forwarding a copy of the first email– which MSC claims they also didn't get. Finally, on April 25, MSC contacted all three to say that because Duffy is an undergraduate, he would not be allowed to move in.

"But then it got worse," Mulholland says: Since he and his current roommate had already signed the new lease, they would be responsible for the full rent. "I don't make nearly enough to cover the empty room," he states. "Finding a replacement (given that it has to be a graduate or professional) is going to be quite difficult."

I spoke with Lauren Maloche at MSC about the no-undergraduates policy and said that I had been a 32-year-old UVA undergraduate. Would I have been barred from Ashtree?

No, she replied. "We have a contingency plan for that." Those 25 or older are "untraditional" undergraduates, and they are allowed.
Andrea Heide, regional marketing manager for MSC, stated that the policy is explained to applicants verbally, after which they're asked if they want a written copy of the criteria. But Mulholland claims this didn't happen when the three met with MSC and Duffy filled out his application. If the policy had been explained, he says, they never would have signed the new lease.

Mulholland also claims that when he asked MSC management why the policy hadn't been brought up earlier, he was told that because he was a resident, he should have remembered that undergraduates (under 25, that is) aren't allowed. I asked Heide why the policy isn't included in the lease, since that would remove the potential for miscommunications.

"We'll take that into consideration," she replied.

For their part, Mulholland et al. could have done more than just email management when they questioned Duffy's status; they could have called or gone to the office, given the potential for problems that clearly existed.

Heide says that she'd be glad to discuss the situation with Mulholland and his roommate, who hope that MSC will allow them to move to a two-bedroom apartment– which would make for at least a semi-happy ending to this sad tale of miscommunication.


Arin Bennett, whose rental woes I wrote about last week ["Keyed up," May 4], says he now knows that a key to his apartment was not checked out the day he was robbed. Bennett claims that a University Place employee, Nicholas Holden, told him it had been, but manager Susan Rooke has since shown that it wasn't.

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