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Wi-Fi Woes: students in off-campus housing hire lawyer to fight dispute over promised internet, cable

Published: Mar. 9, 2021 at 9:17 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Internet access is a must for college students these days, with many local schools still relying on online classes to educate during the pandemic.

But some students living at an off-campus apartment near FAMU say management has forced them off the grid, cutting promised Wi-Fi and cable. One student says his grades have suffered for it, too. Several of the residents have brought in a lawyer and stopped paying rent.

The Pointe at Adams Place Apartments is a popular choice for students, just a few blocks from Florida A&M. The apartments technically reside in a Condominium complex, making for a tangled management system adding to the issues here.

Kamron Pitts is a first-year student at Tallahassee Community College with plans to transfer to FAMU.

“I just want to be able to study and do good in school,” he said.

According to Pitts, his internet has been spotty at best for months, forcing him to get creative.

“Couch-hopping to get internet at a friend’s house, or going to a library or a McDonald’s... Something like that, anywhere that has internet,” he said. “I missed a lot of stuff at first, I went from doing good to barely passing.”

Pitts is one of apparently dozens of current or recent students who signed a lease obtained by WCTV that shows a list of possible utilities provided by the management company. In this copy, both “internet service” and “Cable TV” are checked.

Attorney Robert Churchill is now representing Pitts and several others who live at Adams Place.

“It’s a major inconvenience, and it’s covered by the lease,” he said. “[This is] not something the students should have to deal with along with everything else.”

So why did this happen? Churchill passed along a letter sent to residents in early February from the Condo’s Board of Directors, connected with Executive Management Services, which oversees the homeowners association there.

The letter blames past management for running up a bulk bill with CenturyLink. The board offers an apology, along with an option to pay $50 a month for internet in the meantime.

WCTV reached out to Executive Management Services for comment Tuesday. The person who answered declined to talk.

Apartment tenants like Pitts pay their rent to Benchmark Realty, a third party property manager separate from the HOA or Executive Management Services.

When asked for a statement, Benchmark’s Director of Operations, Amy Wright, wrote that they were surprised when the HOA cut off internet access and that they were working to find an interim solution for residents.

Wright indicated a “rental concession” was offered, but one resident said that only amounted to a $25 one-time credit.

Wright wrote that “Benchmark, as well as the owners we represent, remains appalled by the lack of regard the Condominium Association has shown to our residents having to go without internet while attending college and we find it completely unacceptable.”

That answer isn’t enough for Tabitha Jewell, a resident and recent FAMU grad now trying to work from home.

“I don’t care about the blame game,” she said. “It’s just so frustrating.”

Jewell said management passed along a password for a spotty Wi-Fi network that wasn’t reliable enough to use for video chats.

Both Jewell and Pitts have brought in Churchill, who advised them to withhold March rent, using an avenue provided for in state law for tenants when they believe a landlord isn’t honoring a lease agreement.

In return, Churchill says they’ve received an eviction warning. He said he will defend his clients should an eviction lawsuit appear in the near future.

When asked about the eviction notices, Wright commented that it’s needed to protect the owners, who need rent payments to pay monthly mortgages.

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