Dozens of college students lined the Pendleton Street sidewalk Thursday waiting to sign apartment leases at the new Empire Columbia complex — or at least to get some answers.
Some had been there since 6 a.m., and some were still waiting in line by noon to sign a lease at the newly constructed, 688-bed private student apartment complex. Many missed classes. One even brought a tailgate chair.
But right before Empire’s lease office opened at 10 a.m., applicants received an email at 9:55 a.m. saying rent and parking costs have increased. What’s more, the later in the day you signed your lease, the more it would cost, according to the email, which was obtained by The State.
“I understand it’s a business move, but they’re taking advantage of college kids. It’s screwed up,” said University of South Carolina student Remy Wendell.
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Like many apartments, Empire uses a “tiered” leasing structure, which means those who commit early are charged less than those who sign up late, said Beejan Savabi, a partner at Park7 Group, the company that owns that property. The high demand for rooms in Empire — and given the application deadline was Wednesday night — is why the apartment complex’s prices have gone up so much, so close to the signing deadline, Savabi said.
“We had a large number of renewals,” Savabi said. “We’re trying to manage this as best as we can.”
But as a result, those waiting outside, even by noon, were still not sure how much their rent would cost.
Davis Latham, a member of USC’s Student Government, was one of those who were trying to get a room at Empire. He originally expected to pay $775 per person for a three-bedroom apartment. But after a person who signed their lease walked by the crowd and said the rent for a three-bedroom is $950, Latham knew he was going to be paying more than he expected.
“We don’t know the rates,” Latham said. “We will have to find out when we get inside.”
Off-campus student apartments are at a premium in Columbia as USC doesn’t have enough dorm space for its roughly 35,000 students.
Comparable student apartments also newly built in downtown Columbia appear to be renting three-bedroom apartments for between $750 and $850 per bedroom per month, according to several apartments’ websites.
Another student, Alex Mazzuca, who signed her Empire apartment lease at around 11:45 a.m., said she and her friends locked down a three-bedroom apartment for $885 each a month.
“We didn’t really care; we just wanted to live here,” Mazzuca said.
For students who are unhappy with the price increases and no longer want to live in Empire, Savabi said the apartment will refund all of their administrative and application fees.
Latham, like several other students who talked to The State, said they would have looked elsewhere if they knew the prices were going to be this high.
Bhavi Desai said she didn’t have a plan B in case Empire fell through.
“I don’t know why I even missed my class this morning,” Desai said.