Spike in utility bills at Aspen Heights leaves residents concerned
COLUMBIA - Teniah Gary has lived at Aspen Heights for years, feels she's been a loyal resident and says things were fine at the beginning.
"The first two years of living here, I was pretty much happy with Aspen Heights, for the most part," Gary said. "It wasn't until last year where things started getting very difficult and Aspen Heights management became difficult to reach."
Gary said the complex removed the $75 utility cap that was keeping utility costs low. In exchange, the rental rates were lowered. But Gary said costs shot up substantially.
"For the month of December, when I was not even here, there was no electricity on. The only thing that was on was my heat, I kept it on 68," Gary said. "I was asking Aspen Heights why my bill was over $200, and they responded by giving me the run around and when I asked for a meter reading, they didn't send anyone out."
In referencing the rental property usage records on the City of Columbia's website, KOMU found that the average usage for Gary's unit is $141.79 for electricity. That average rate is usually split between multiple tenants in a unit. Gary lives alone in a 2-bedroom town home. Her electric bill alone is $238.76, and she has no one to split the bill with. Her unit's average water usage is $14.82, but this month Gary's water portion totaled at $64.48.
A former Aspen Heights resident, Tyra Woods, said the high utility bills last year was enough to make a group of residents, including herself, look into a lawsuit against Aspen Heights. Woods said she refused to sign another lease with the complex.
"The most that they did to compensate my household was offer us $15 per person to help with the bills," said Woods. "So for me, and a lot of others at Aspen, we decided its best if we don't even give them our money. We could go somewhere else and pay cheaper utilities because that doesn't that's ridiculous.
KOMU reached out to Aspen Heights to see what's being done in terms of customer satisfaction, and if there was any advice it had for the residents to keep costs low. The corporate office contacted us and said they'd send a statement, but as of Tuesday evening none had been sent.
If you're in the market for a rental property, the City of Columbia encourages renters to review the property's usage history on its website at www.como.gov
Aspen Height's corporate office sent its statement at 7:04 p.m. It reads:
"While we certainly understand our residents’ frustration with higher utility bills this month, it is important note that the elevated costs are not specific to Aspen Heights, but rather are impacting the entire city. After speaking with the City of Columbia directly, we learned that the entire city experienced an average increase on their utility bill of 10-20% for this most recent billing cycle, due to below-freezing high temperatures on 20 of the 34 days. This is in line with the increase we saw with our residents’ bills. One of the aspects of our community that our residents find particularly appealing is that our homes are large and spacious, as opposed to most of the apartment-style communities in Columbia. Naturally, with larger homes come higher utility bills, so Aspen Heights offers lower rental rates to help ease the burden of some months with peak utility costs. As a resource to our residents, our on-site maintenance team is happy to perform an audit of any of our homes to offer suggestions to help lower utility usage. We have a four hour or less average response time to maintenance requests, and we encourage our residents to submit a work order for any area of potential concern. Additionally, during our quarterly inspections, our maintenance team visits every house to identify potential opportunities for utility savings, such as weather stripping, thermostat programming, open windows, and HVAC filter replacements. We suggest that residents also take some steps to keep costs down, such as turning off lights when exiting a room, setting the thermostat a few degrees warmer or colder depending on the season, making sure to close windows and blinds when appropriate, leaving interior doors open to promote good airflow, taking shorter showers, and washing clothes in cold water whenever possible. Aspen Heights cares greatly for our residents, and we welcome any opportunities to work with them to control utility usage and costs."