In light of months of construction delays and given the substandard state of existing facilities at the Element housing complex near USC, a group of students have taken legal action against Stuho, the Element’s parent leasing company.
Element, located at the corner of Adams Boulevard and Hoover Street, was scheduled for completion in August 2016 and boasted new construction, furnished rooms and accessibility and proximity to campus. The complex targeted USC student tenants, with the catchphrase on their website: “If you are a USC student or someone who is just seeking a great place to live near USC, you have come to the right place!”
Due to ongoing construction, students were relocated to the Da Vinci Apartments 4.5 miles from campus, and moved into the unfinished complex late November 2016. Once moved in, students faced ongoing construction on the pool, gym and main ground shops.
Alec Phillips, a senior majoring in environmental studies, one of his roommates, Connor McGlynn, a senior majoring in broadcast journalism,and Kieran Stolorz, a senior majoring in computer engineering and computer science are the main plaintiffs who have spearheaded legal action by officially serving Stuho a judicial summons in late November. There are five students currently involved in the lawsuit, with more planning to sign as the process proceeds.
McGlynn says that he and his roommates initially tried reconciling the situation with Stuho to no avail.
“We had tried talking to Stuho and tried figuring out different solutions with them and had gone back and forth with their management team,” McGlynn said. “We found them unresponsive or not helpful with the solution. We felt like we were taken being taken advantage of. We felt [a lawsuit] was the best way to proceed.”
According to Phillips, tenants were given 20 percent discounts in the first few months of the lease 10 percent discounts once more of the facilities were completed. They are expected to pay full rent in the remaining months. But students believe they deserve greater compensation.
Eventually, the five students hope to be reimbursed for their rent.
“We paid for something in a legally bound contract, and we weren’t given it,” McGlynn said. “So we don’t think it’s right and that [the leasing company] should profit from it.”
Case attorney Sean Chandra, who provides counsel to an organization that defends housing tenants, hopes to see Stuho compensate all residents, not just the students named in the suit, for the rent they have paid.
“Not only did they continue to collect rent, but well before students were going to move in, when they were signing leases, [Stuho] promised students they could move in by the fall term last year even though they knew that the project would not be ready,” Chandra said.
According to Chandra, Stuho benefitted from their false advertising.
“We don’t think that Stuho should be able to benefit from their lies,” Chandra said. “They lied that [Element] would be ready and if they hadn’t lied, they wouldn’t have as many tenants right now; if they had told people [Element] would be ready by November or December, nobody would have signed a year lease.”
Currently, Chandra and his team are in the process of exchanging documents with representatives from Stuho to determine the facts of the case and compile evidence. A jury trial date has been set for September 26 in the event that the case is not settled.
“We have a very compelling argument,” Chandra said. “If I were Stuho, I would be very eager to settle this case.”
This lawsuit follows issues such as leaking, flooding, cockroach infestations and experiencing loud noises from ongoing construction after move-in.
“When we first moved in, there was still not a gym, pool or the restaurant they had promised,” Phillips said. “The apartment itself was extremely small and unfit for six people — there was not even a dining room table.”
McGlynn added that although the pool and gym are now finished, they do not live up to Element’s advertisements.
“We’re still pretty let down,” McGlynn said. “The pool is a 3 foot deep ‘wading area’ and the gym has about three treadmills in it. They sold it as a full-sized pool and full-sized gym.”
Element Property Management declined to comment on the lawsuit, as they stated that it is their policy not to discuss pending litigation.
“We feel it is important to respect the integrity of the legal process,” a spokeperson for Element Property Management wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan. “Our goal is for our residents to enjoy staying at Element and we will continue to focus on providing quality customer service.”