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Saturday, May 18, 2024
Construction on Dayton and Park St

Construction photographed on the corner of W Dayton St and N Park St. 

Construction, critters in Board of Regents-owned house frustrate student tenants

Students living in a Dayton Street house say they face challenges due to a steam utility project amid ongoing maintenance concerns.

Ashley Cheung received an email on April 25, 2023 from her building’s management company notifying her that construction was starting next to her house for a significant portion of the following year. 

According to Cheung, a University of Wisconsin-Madison student, the email from Smith Management Co. LLC said “a major utility project by the university” would take place at the corner of West Dayton and North Park streets. The email also informed her of plans to remove her three-story porch for safety reasons and that construction would start in July.

“It was very stressful because we weren't sure about how much all of the construction was going to be impacting us,” Cheung said, referring to herself and her housemates. “There was no clarity at all about the timeline.”

As per the City of Madison Assessor's Office website, the property is owned by the UW System Board of Regents. The Board of Regents contract management of the property to Smith Management Co. LLC.

Since 2011, Smith Management has provided rental management services for some Board of Regents-owned properties in Madison — including renting, leasing, maintenance and repair of property — according to Lori Wilson, FP&M strategic communications and marketing director. This contract has led to inefficiencies in communication, according to Cheung.

“It just wasn’t communicative at all, using Smith Management as a middleman to deal with us,” Cheung said. “Because Smith Management didn’t have all the information they needed, and the university gives the bare minimum.” 

UW-Madison Facilities Planning and Management (FP&M) said in an email that a State of Wisconsin utility project started May 30, involving the replacement and construction of steam and electrical communication utilities..

“This project supports campus by replacing failed piping with larger lines to provide adequate capacity and additional system improvements,” Wilson said in an email.

On the same block, planned construction for Levy Hall has already displaced two student groups, Zoe Bayliss Co-op and Mecha de UW-Madison, for at least one year.

According to Cheung, Smith Management informed her of the property owner’s willingness to let herself and her housemates out of their lease without penalty, provided the whole unit chose to vacate. No rent adjustments would be made if select residents chose to leave. Cheung added management informed the group of the owner’s offer of a month’s free rent for “the inconvenience [the construction] would cause.”

But the timing of the construction announcement did not give residents enough time to pivot, Cheung said. She and her roommates were notified about this disruption a month before it began and six months after they had already re-signed for the following year.

Units closest to the construction received a 25% monthly discount, and other units received a free month’s rent based on location and impact, Wilson said.

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“Every morning at 7 a.m. I wake up to this jackhammer outside my window, and sometimes you can feel the vibrations from the construction,” Cheung said. “We had to really negotiate and ask for a 25% rent reduction for the disruption the construction has been causing.”

Cheung added that after the 25% monthly discount was finalized, in-room air conditioners were installed at no cost, with a monthly $25 air conditioning credit to offset the additional energy costs. Preventing smoky air from the construction from being blown inside was a major reason behind the installation, according to Cheung.

Cheung also said issues related to construction include repeated incidents of basement flooding, squirrels in the walls and bats in the unit.

“Sure, college housing isn’t in a great position, but I don’t understand why that’s the standard,” Cheung said. “It’s problematic when there’s no response to things like pest control.” 

“Most of these problems are only dealt with at the bare minimum, and no one came when we called about mice,” Cheung added. “So we’re going to have to call pest control on our own and charge it to them.”

Ryan Sippel, Director of Operations at Smith Management, told The Daily Cardinal in an email that a “shortage in maintenance technicians” led to certain repair tasks being prioritized over others. 

Sippel also said the neighboring construction does not delay maintenance requests.

“The construction has no impact in any way on the time it takes to perform maintenance. The owner has been very good at providing us with every resource we need to take care of our residents in the best way possible,” Sippel said. 

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