Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Olympus Properties

GANA Speaker Series
Brett Smith
Leasing Agent, Olympus Properties

February 28, 2007, 8-9 p.m.

TOPIC: How to enhance sustainability by increasing interconnections between stakeholders and residents in Green Acres neighborhood.

That’s a mouthful, and we may not even realize that this is what we were doing during the brainstorming discussion we held with Brett Smith, but as stated in the Foreward to the Green Acres Neighborhood Plan, one of the best ways to heal an ecosystem is to "connect it with more parts of itself." Stakeholders such as landlords and rental agencies and absentee owners are included in and have a great impact on the Green Acres ecosystem.

Family-owned Olympus Properties is a management company chosen by property owners that currently oversees around two hundred rental properties in the Bloomington area. Six of these properties are in Green Acres. They include 208 and 218 Hillsdale, and 2401, 217, 213, and 218 Clark Street, with a seventh property on Hillsdale rumored soon to be theirs to lease as well.

Brett began by saying that GANA and Olympus Properties have "common goals;" that they want to help us "choose our neighbors" by enlisting our input into this effort. He handed out his cards, asking us to give them to possible renters whom we would like to have as neighbors. However, he stressed, he has to follow the law in being very careful to not discriminate, for example, on the basis of age, and so can't directly ask a possible renter how old they are. Since many of the issues faced in Green Acres (as well as the rest of college town Bloomington) have directly to do with the preponderance of temporary undergraduate student renters and their tendency in some cases to litter, over-occupy houses, park cars on lawns, and hold loud, long parties, this legal stricture not to discriminate on the basis of age is a tricky one.

Not only is it in our neighborhood's interest, but Brett says it is also in the interest of the property management company to have long-term responsible renters who follow the laws on parking and occupancy, are considerate of their neighbor’s needs, clean up after themselves, and, of course, pay their rents on time.

According to Brett, their client-owners set rental parameters for the management company to work within, and that one way they screen potential renters is to list a rent higher than market value. For example, one of the properties on Hillsdale is offered for $2000 per month, which automatically discourages undergraduates from applying, since the management company also checks credit ratings. When they find a renter that they think will be responsible, they can negotiate a lower rent with them. After all, he says, if we offer it at $1200, we’ll easily be able to rent it, but we may not end up with the renters we want. So that is the reason, he says, why posted rents are often higher than the market rate. They're used as a filter to skirt the non-discrimination issue.

Olympus actively goes after the kinds of renters they want, posting notices in graduate school departments, for example. He said that one of their properties on Clark St. has long been occupied by music graduate students who keep each other informed of when it is available. Olympus courts responsible renters—taking them out to dinner, and/or offering bonuses for referrals.

We had many questions for him, some of which he answered to our satisfaction, and others left us wondering. For example, we asked about the "For Rent" signs that seem to be up all year long and, he agreed, lend a trashy, temporary feel to the neighborhood. "Olympus takes them down as soon as a property is newly occupied" in August, he said—and then added, "we have to put them up again, so that prospective renters will know they’re available."

"When do you put them up again?"

He hesitated, before answering, "October."

"So the signs are down for only two months of the year?"

At this deduction he looked embarrassed, but added again, "we have to let people know they're for rent!" But one wonders if this is really necessary, since, at least for the Clark Street houses, as he said, several times, "they rent themselves" (presumably through internal music department referrals).

After the meeting, Georgia and Ann decided investigate the laws around signage, and see if something can be done about signs that are up just about all year long. If you wish to help with this project, please let them know and otherwise, stay tuned!

At times, during this discussion, we segued to our ever-pressing concerns, especially over-occupancy. John Gaus wondered if we could get a list of properties that have been grandfathered for over-occupancy, so that we will know which ones we can’t call HAND about. And yet, we want to be cautious about calling HAND, because we realize that some renters are wonderful neighbors even when they’re over-occupied, and others, who stay within the legal limits, are inconsiderate. As Nathan Harman succinctly put it, "It's better to have more good neighbors than fewer bad ones."

According to Brett, there are hefty fines for such things as garbage left out and cars on lawns, and that they are levied against both the renters and the owners. However, he said, don't call owners to complain about their renters, or you could be open to a charge of harassment! Better to call the property management agency, he said. Olympus, for one, wants responsible renters, and, when warnings are not heeded, will not hesitate to evict.

It may take us awhile to digest what went on in this meeting and what we learned from it. We did agree that it would be good for us to post rental and for sale notices in places like SPEA that would be likely to catch the eye of people interested in sustainability.

Ann Kreilkamp GANA scribe

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