Students criticize First Choice Housing practices

Photo of Hoover House apartment complex from across the street.
First Choice Housing has more than 70 housing units near University Park Campus, including on Hoover St., West Adams Blvd., Ellendale Pl. and Exposition Blvd. (Sasha Ryu | Daily Trojan)

After 21 hours on an airplane from India to the United States, all Aadhya Ishani wanted was to go to bed. However, once she arrived in Los Angeles, Ishani said she didn’t get a full night’s sleep for two weeks straight. 

According to Ishani, when she and her roommates moved into their off-campus apartment, the smoke detectors in their unit chirped non-stop because the owners of the building hadn’t replaced the batteries in the alarms and didn’t come in after she and her roommates sent in “multiple” work orders.

“It was totally an emotional roller coaster,” said Ishani, a graduate student studying business law. “We were still settling in, so you can understand the jetlag, and then [there was the] noise all night which was coming from the smoke detector because the batteries were low.” 

Ishani is one of four USC students who said they’ve had negative experiences renting from First Choice Housing — an apartment rental agency that owns 77 housing units near USC’s University Park Campus. On Yelp, First Choice has 228 user reviews and an average of 3.5 stars. On Google, the agency has 71 user reviews and an average of 1.7 stars. Most of the tenants who left critical comments online voiced their dissatisfaction with the maintenance of the units as well as the agency’s management style.  

Zaire Taylor, a senior majoring in communication who signed a lease with First Choice Housing in July 2020, said the first time First Choice let her see her apartment in person, it was “in a state of disrepair.” 

“The floors were so run down to the point of there being tiny little holes in the wood,” Taylor said. “The paint is chipping off the walls and caked everywhere … We realized immediately that the shower was broken.” 

Taylor also said the blinds in most of the rooms came undone, with “single panels thrown across the floor.” Additionally, Taylor said the front door couldn’t close because its bottom hinge was broken. 

According to Taylor and her roommate, Kwayera Burrows, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, their First Choice leasing agent said they couldn’t take an in-person tour of the building until they officially agreed to rent, but he eventually agreed to send them a video of a “comparable” apartment. Both students told the Daily Trojan that they felt that the agent used the video to trick them into thinking the place was nicer than it actually was. 

“The [apartment] in the video was fully renovated,” Taylor said. “The apartment we were in looked like it had not had updates … It honestly was pretty neglected, like nobody had been taking care of it for who knows how long.” 

Another USC student renting from First Choice spoke to the Daily Trojan on the condition of anonymity, out of fear they would face retaliation from the owners of their building. 

The student, who lives in a First Choice apartment complex on 1238 West Adams Blvd., said they found several items in their apartment that needed repairs and a “colony of ants” in their bathroom the day they moved in. 

The student also provided a video  to the Daily Trojan from earlier in the year, when a tenant in their building took a shower and the water started “pouring” through the floor into the apartment below. 

“This happened at night, so there really was a big problem there,” they said. “We managed to get an emergency person on call … and they came and shut the water off because that’s all they can do at night. So then, that was another day without water.”

Taylor and Burrows also said that, outside of the video, they felt the owners from First Choice were “taking advantage” of their “inexperience” with renting. 

“The whole leasing situation is still very new to me and my roommates,” Burrows said. “We know that we have rights, but we don’t necessarily know what they are. I just feel like it’s really easy for them to scam us.”

Both Taylor and Burrows said, when they first spoke to the leasing agent, the agent said they would give away the apartment they were interested in to another group if they didn’t sign the lease immediately.

Ishani also said she felt the representatives from First Choice “played on” the fact that she was “somebody who had never been to the States” to pressure her into signing her lease. 

“We were talking to First Choice Housing, and we told them, ‘We need some time,’ and they were like, ‘You have time until tonight or tomorrow, and if you guys do not put in a deposit, we will not give you the unit. It will be assigned to someone else,’” Ishani said. “They did not give us time to think, so this was a very desperate type of distressed decision.” 

The day after Burrows, Taylor and their third roommate saw what their apartment looked like, they canceled their lease with First Choice and moved into a different complex. 

Ishani also plan to leave her apartment at First Choice by December.  

First Choice Housing declined multiple interview requests with the Daily Trojan, including phone calls and in-person visits to the office.