Courtesy of Will Tallent / The Paisano
On the night of Sep. 10, 2011, a long line of cars waited for the gates of Aspen Heights to open. Resident and senior marketing major Justeen Smith was just leaving the property, but she did not get far. Less than a minute after locking her back door, Smith received a disturbing phone call from her roommate.
“She was crying. She could hardly speak,” Smith recalled. “All she said was, ‘He had a gun! He had a gun pointed at my head! He had a gun pointed at my head!'”
At 11:30 p.m., the suspects used a crowbar to break the lock of the back door and entered Smith’s home at Aspen Heights.
“I was looking dead center at the gun,” senior kinesiology major Manvi Arora, Smith’s roommate, said. “He kept asking, ‘Where’s the money?'”
“They made so much noise breaking my back door open; they were yelling, ‘We just got a free TV!'” Arora said. “My neighbors saw it. Why didn’t security see it?”
Police arrived at the complex located on Hausman Rd. approximately 10 minutes later, according to Smith.
“We thought that Aspen Heights was such a safe place to be,” Smith commented. “It was the place to be.”
Six months later, on March 24, 2012, police responded to a reported incident at 2 a.m. The crime scene was no more than 100 yards away from Smith and Arora’s back door. Leandre “Dre” Hill was later arrested by San Antonio police for the alleged murder of 20-year-old Randal Perkins. UTSA student Paul Benavidez was also shot and treated at the hospital after Hill allegedly fired into the crowd, according to KENS 5 News.
SAPD stated that Hill will also be charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
According to News 4 WOAI, the Perkins’ family lawyer, Fidel Rodriguez Jr., stated on behalf of his client that “there was no security at all being provided by the apartment complex, despite the fact they had many security breaches and problems of violent nature in the past.”
“[Aspen Heights] said that they were going to increase their security,” Smith commented on the Perkins incident. “What happened to that?”
According to Arora and Smith, they both asked management for the surveillance tapes, but, to their knowledge, the tapes were never turned over to SAPD and the case was never resolved.
“[Aspen Heights] kept telling me ‘We’ll get it done, we’ll give it to the police,’ but they never did,” Arora stated.
On the morning of Sep. 4, 2012 senior construction science management major Jacob Silva walked across the Outpost Apartments parking lot to discover the doors of his 2001 Ford Explorer ajar and his stereo stolen. At 10 a.m., he called the police and filed a report. The document detailed every missing piece of his stolen equipment: an Alpine head unit, a Mono 1000 D watt Alpine amp and 12 inch Alpine subwoofers. Even the lock had been ripped out. “At least they were nice enough to leave the umbrella,” Silva joked. Before Silva signed his lease with the Outpost Apartments on UTSA Blvd., he made a point to ask, “Is there crime on the complex? Do you have security from sun down to sun up?” According to Silva, management reassured him that security patrols the property every night.
While every situation and apartment complex is different, residents in the area sign a similar contractual agreement, which explains the security measures and liabilities of the complex.
Specifically, the Outpost leasing agreement states, “None of our safety measures are an express or implied warranty of security…you do not hold the Manager or us to a higher degree of care. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY AND SECURITY.” The last sentence is boldly stressed both in print and in practice.
Many renters sign the document without paying much attention to the security clause.
In fact, applicants commonly overlook the terms of agreement and sign the document without understanding or even reading the regulations.
“I didn’t read my lease before I signed it,” senior information systems major and Outpost resident Taylor Konigsmark said. “Honestly, who does that?” This incident is just one of the many reports in the area, with the nature of the incidents ranging from homicide, to theft to traffic stops, according to UTSA Police Crime Reports.
More recently, on Oct. 16, a 20-year-old man was critically wounded in the breezeway outside of his apartment at the Outpost, according to SAPD. At 2 a.m., resident Charles Duoto was robbed and then shot in the chest. KENS 5 reported that Duoto was taken to University Hospital in critical condition.
This summer, students were shocked to receive a UTSA Emergency Notification warning: “a hostage situation is in progress at the Outpost Apartments across from the Main Campus. SAPD is responding to address the situation. Avoid UTSA Blvd.”
UTSA football walk-ons Adefemi O. Adekeye and Toyin Dada were arrested and charged with aggravated robbery by the San Antonio Police Department in relation to the incident that occurred just outside the Outpost Apartments on July 21.
The two suspects allegedly held the victim, a 20-year-old male, at gunpoint after a drug deal turned into a violent standoff. Before the season even began, both Adekeye and Dada were dismissed from the UTSA football program, said Head Coach Larry Coker.
Complexes in the area surrounding UTSA have developed a reputation for being unsafe.
In 2010, police responded to 378 incidents at the Reserve, including 19 fights, 29 burglaries and 37 vehicle burglaries.
That same year, police responded to over 250 calls from the Outpost.
In 2012, San Antonio Police Department reported that they have been called to the Outpost apartments 320 times for various reasons, according to KENS 5 News.
Some visitors are reluctant to visit the properties, for fear of what may happen to their car or well-being. Junior finance major Stephen Johnson remarked, “I’m afraid to go to the Outpost. I don’t want to get shot.” Appreh
ensive residents, often the victims of these crimes, feel that what is most alarming may be management’s response.
Silva said that he asked to speak with Outpost Property Manager Kati Buchanan about his stolen property.
“They wouldn’t even let me go talk to the manager,” he explained. “They just had somebody from the front desk running back and forth.” When Silva confronted the patrol officer at the Outpost, the guard explained to him that they are paid to patrol the property until 3 a.m.
The Outpost did not respond to the Paisano’s repeated requests for comment.
“If the grounds had the basic security measures, if it had something as simple as well-lit sidewalks, maybe I would feel safer,” Silva said.
Real estate Attorney Robert N. Ray offered some insight into the legal system and the best course of action to address these concerns.
“If [the crime] is coming from on-site, evictions can work faster than criminal convictions,” he stated. “Somebody needs to suggest that, instead of [security] driving through the complex, they walk through.”
Ray also urged residents to notify management of any areas on these properties that are inadequately lit.
However, these complaints and concerns do not reflect the opinion of every resident living in the area.
“Avalon (a property adjacent to the Outpost) is safe,” senior biology major Osita Anusi Jr. said. “Management has been helpful. I had problems when I first moved in, but they always seem to resolve it quickly.”
Many residents at Aspen Heights are pleased with the property and, more specifically, the complex’s management.
Two-year resident and senior education major Brooke Todor commented on her experience living at the former Aspen Heights, now known as The Estates at San Antonio. “I was there when the robbery and the shooting happened,” she said. “It could have happened at any complex.”
Todor said that the staff “always goes the extra mile when something is wrong, or even good.” For example, Aspen Heights management sent her a congratulatory note for an award she received from the university, she said.
“I believe the management cares about our safety and well-being because they hire a security guard,” Todor stated. “I have had only good experiences with Aspen Heights.”
Regardless of how safe an individual resident feels, the Outpost rental agreement releases the complex from any obligation of safety: “we are not obligated to furnish security measures of any description or form including personnel, lighting, alarms, gates, fences, or notices of criminal activity of suspicious events. You acknowledge that we can discontinue any of such items provided at any time without notice.”
“A locked door doesn’t mean anything,” Arora stated. “They didn’t learn from what happened to me.”
Attorney Ray also explained the possible recourse available to tenants who are dissatisfied with their living situation. “It is vitally important that people be willing to give their written report, not only of what they’ve seen or heard, but also to identify themselves and be willing to testify in court,” Ray stated. “It’s one of those things that takes a concerted effort by everybody.”
For the displeased students living in these apartments, the solution is clear.
“I’m getting out of here,” Silva said. “I’m not going to deal with this anymore.”
Terminating a rental agreement may have consequences. In many instances, the tenant is obligated to pay the rent for the entire term of the lease, regardless of whether the tenant is “unable to continue occupying the Leased Premises for any other reason,” the Aspen Heights lease states.
However, some rental agreements stipulate alternative options such as subletting, which allows a tenant’s lease to be signed over to a new, substitute tenant.
After the break in, Smith and Arora demanded to break their lease with Aspen Heights, on the grounds that the inadequate security measures threatened their safety, which, they felt, was the responsibility of management. Their lease, however, required the tenants to sublet the residence instead.
“We wished they could have said, ‘Okay, we understand you’re distressed. Somebody broke into your house and held a gun to your roommate’s head. We understand if you want to leave,'” Smith said. “But, they didn’t give us that option.”
“[Management] should show us that they care,” Arora said, “not just because they’re a business, but because we are their residents. We live on their property. We expect you to care.”
Aspen Heights did not respond to the Paisano’s repeated requests for comment.
The Office of the Attorney General of Texas stresses on its website that “the most important source of information about your relationship with your landlord is your rental agreement.”
For more information about Tenant Rights, refer to Chapter 92 of the Texas Property code or visit https://www.oag.state.tx.us/consumer/tenants.shtml.