By Logan Hullinger
INDIANA — In late January, Constance R. Brown, a junior journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, called her landlord to report what she described as mysterious scratching noises coming from inside her townhouse walls. A bad odor followed.
Two weeks later, on Feb. 10, the landlord, Copper Beech Townhome Communities, dispatched a maintenance crew to investigate, Brown said in a Feb. 23 phone interview. The maintenance men punched holes in a wall and in the ceiling.
That’s where they found the possum, Brown said. And it wasn’t playing possum. It was dead. And decomposing.
“We couldn’t figure out the smell for the life of us,” Brown said. “When we first told Copper Beech that we thought it was an animal, they brushed us off and didn’t do anything until our neighbors complained, too.”
Two days later, on Feb. 12, Brown called the landlord to report that the scratching sounds had returned. Workers responded that day, when they found another possum. A live one.
The workers trapped the animal and released it a block away from her residence, Brown said. On Feb. 29, she reported hearing animal sounds again.
Brown speculated that the marsupials entered her townhouse through a hole in the exterior of her foundation wall. But her landlord dismissed the concerns, she said.
“Copper Beech even tried to blame us,” Brown said. “They told me it’s safe to sleep in my room and that I’m being dramatic.”
On Feb. 17, a Copper Beech employee responded by email to a reporter’s query about Brown’s complaint.
“Each issue that is reported by residents is addressed on a 1:1 basis and has been resolved,” the unnamed representative wrote. “As far as the details of these incidents, Copper Beech will not be releasing information on its residents or their units for privacy reasons.”
Brown said the possum problem was not her first at the Beech.
“In the beginning of the semester, there were also a lot of robberies,” Brown said. “We weren’t informed by Copper at all. We found out when the state police told us to put wood in our windows.”
When Brown sought information from Copper Beech employees about the robberies , the employees disclosed nothing, Brown said.
The sprawling residential development also was the site of a shooting in August.
Copper Beech Townhomes and The Grove, an adjacent student-housing development a half mile from the IUP campus, are owned by Charlotte, N.C.-based Campus Crest Communities Inc., which describes itself as “a leading owner and manager of high-quality student housing properties located close to college campuses in targeted markets. It has ownership interests in 86 student housing properties with over 46,000 beds across North America.”
Campus Crest is the second largest real estate investment trust in the country, according to an online press release. Copper Beech and The Grove are the largest student-housing complexes in Indiana, with a total of 1,085 beds, according to a March 2 email from a Copper Beech employee in Indiana.
When it opened in 2013, The Grove sparked resident complaints about unruly parties. State police received so many complaints that they stopped responding, according to the property manager at the development.
Online consumer reviews of the company’s complexes echo Brown’s complaints.
ApartmentRatings.com, a website that hosts anonymous comments by past tenants, gives the Copper Beech development in Indiana a 1.8 rating on a five-point scale, based on 11 postings.
A June 2011 posting described living at Copper Beech as “hellish.”
One reviewer complained of frequent break-ins and robberies and advised would-be renters to “stay as far away as possible.”
Another review criticized communication with the company. “When you ask for a supervisor’s number all they say is that they’re not allowed to hand it out,” the reviewer wrote. “What kind of place doesn’t let you contact the corporate office?”
Another review complained of “an incorrectly wired smoke detector and non-functional fire extinguisher,” despite a recent fire at a nearby unit. In August, a blaze that began in a clothes dryer gutted a Copper Beech unit, forcing evacuation of neighboring townhomes.
Not all the anonymous reviews were negative.
A February 2011 commenter wrote, “I lived there for 3 years while attending IUP. Upon moving out in August 2008, I can honestly say that I didn’t want to move. I saw things were changing for the better in the complex.”
Logan Hullinger, a sophomore journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania from Clarion, is a staff reporter for The HawkEye. He can be contacted at L.R.Hullinger@iup.edu.