When Clint Cowan signed a one-year lease for a two-bedroom apartment last winter at Sycamore Square, he believed he had found a perfect family friendly home that would allow him to enroll his 7-year-old son at nearby John W. Rex Elementary.
Now, just weeks before the start of school, Cowan is hunting for a new home even though his lease has yet to expire. Dozens of other residents have either chosen to leave or been told to leave as well by new owners who are converting the complex’s two-bedroom units to smaller one-bedroom residences.
Cowan, a downtown attorney, signed his lease shortly before an Los Angeles investment group led by Rohan Gupta purchased the complex from the family of the late Ed Fretwell for $6.4 million.
“I had planned to be at Sycamore Square for at least a few years,” Cowan said. “At Sycamore Square, my son can run around the pool, there is a lot of green space, and it’s gated so it’s safe.”
Other downtown properties, Cowan said, are running pretty full.
“I can go to Park Harvey,” Cowan said. “They are close to John Rex Elementary, but it’s not as nice for kids.”
Cowan complained he was given no notice about plans to have all the two-bedroom apartment tenants leave by Sept. 30 to allow for conversion to the smaller residences, and instead learned about the plan while reading an article in The Oklahoman.
A changing market
Gupta said he is making the changes in response to a changing market. He said most tenants are being given a 60-day notice their leases won’t be renewed — twice the legal requirement.
“Since our acquisition of Sycamore Square, we have made a significant investment to upgrade the complex consistent with the revitalization of the surrounding area,” Gupta said. “Our plan is to continue to upgrade the common areas and individual units to meet the demands of downtown renters.”
Gupta added he is trying to accommodate Cowan and his son, and may be able to move them into a three-bedroom unit that is not scheduled for conversion. Other tenants, however, say they’ve lost faith in Gupta, even as he is seeking to expand his holdings with construction of a new building at Sycamore Square and a pitch to the Urban Renewal Authority to build micro-apartments at NW 4 and Shartel Avenue.
Dianna Jones, who moved out last week after living at the complex with her sister for nine years, was one of several tenants who praised the Fretwells’ operation. Fretwell bought the complex in 1990 and his family not only ran the property, but also lived in the apartments.
Tenants complain maintenance and landscaping at Sycamore Square apartments is well below what they saw during Fretwell’s ownership.
Jones, who moved out of Sycamore Square last week, is one of several residents who say Gupta’s team has cut maintenance and landscaping, torn up the pool and hot tub at the start of summer and then abandoned work, and has cut overall amenities including valet trash pick-up.
“When the Fretwell family owned the complex it was pristine and a lovely place to live — we tenants referred to it as our little community oasis,” Jones said. “Since the new owners took over in late December, eviction notices have been commonplace and the beautiful complex has gone downhill drastically. New management has let trees die and planted no flowers, and frankly, it now resembles Section 8 (low-income) housing.”
Jones added that rents, meanwhile, were “raised excessively” despite such cutbacks.
“Our rent increased over $425 per month,” Jones said. “No long-term leases — they want three-month leases so they can raise rent every three months. Frankly, we are glad to be out of the place. I really have nothing positive to say about the new owners.”
Gupta responds residents who saw very little change at the complex over nine years are struggling with a transition that “isn’t complete yet.”
He said the valet trash service was not terminated, is still twice a week, but his maintenance man was sick one day last week (tenants told The Oklahoman they were given a notice saying it was reduced to one day a week until further notice). Gupta said the landscaping company was replaced, but service was not cut back.
“In fact, we are investing in courtyard redesign and overall landscape upgrade,” Gupta said. “We are investing a lot of money to make the courtyard a lot more active and usable.”
Gupta said the hot tub floor was “shot” and is being resurfaced. The pool fence, meanwhile, is being redesigned to allow for a larger pool deck.
“I think we’ve been pretty transparent in what we’ve been doing,” Gupta said. “We are not at liberty yet to go full force with our plan. We’re still trying to secure some financing. We would love to keep the two-bedroom unit community, but the market we believe is looking for a smaller size unit and we can’t afford to keep these two-bedroom units. We have really great plans for Sycamore Square and adding more life to it.”