When Carrie Crossley, a video game designer who creates educational programs for teens, relocated to New York City for work earlier this year, she sought to find a living situation that would be as simple and stress-free as possible.
A online search led the 23-year-old to Common, the co-living startup that offers community living and a more flexible financial arrangement. The concept, which touts shared common spaces and an all-inclusive payment structure, was ideal, so she placed a $2,000 deposit for a space at the company’s recently opened Baltic property in Boerum Hill, which featured space for 135-140 residents. She moved there in February.
But six months later, after she moved out, she found that the company hasn’t lived up to its promise to cater to a more flexible lifestyle. After leaving the Baltic space on August 26, Crossley has yet to receive her security deposit, despite months of emails and calls to Common staff. And she’s not alone: she claims at least nine other tenants at that property, which opened earlier this year, have faced delays getting their deposit returned. Crossley plans to file a suit in court in the next week to get back her $2,000 deposit.
“I think they have a lot of systemic issues,” Crossley says. “Being in a new building, it felt like we were ignored and left out in the dust.”
Earlier this afternoon, Curbed reached out to Common, which issued the following statement, attributed to founder Brad Hargreaves.
At Common, we are passionate about improving the roommate experience and the satisfaction of our members is our top priority. This is the result of a miscommunication between us and our real estate partner, and is an isolated issue affecting seven people at one of our 14 homes. Common will be paying each affected member the amount of their security deposit out of our own pocket this week to rectify this situation immediately.
Crossley says she experienced other disappointments during her six-month stay. There were issues with maintenance and keeping common supplies stocked, management was not as responsive as she would have liked, and the building had security issues during the first few months of operation.
Crossley also claims that for the first four months, anyone from the street could climb an exterior staircase to the roof and enter the building. She had packages frequently stolen and there were a few times when she encountered strangers sleeping in the hallways or in vacant units. Common advertised the building as having a 24/7 doorman when it did not, she says, through they did eventually install a gate and hire a security team.
Update: A Common spokesperson was “absolutely shocked” to hear those claims about security, and said that the company had received no complaints from tenants to that effect. There has always been a secure door between tenant rooms and living spaces and the exterior of the building, the spokesperson reiterated. When tenants voiced concerns about open access to the exterior staircase, a secure exterior door was quickly added to the staircase entrance.
Crossley says that Common told her that her security deposit was coming, but she hasn’t seen any of it since moving out two-and-a-half months ago. She shared a series of emails to Common staff including Prysm Altschul, head of member services, and Hargreaves, asking about her deposit. She was told that Common gave the security deposit to a third-party real estate company that actually owns the property at 585 Baltic Street, and that they were slow to return it, which was causing the delay.
She wasn’t told who that company was, but discovered through her own research that it was Adam America, a real estate development firm founded in 2009 that focuses on Brooklyn. Common acts as a management company for its property on Baltic Street, but doesn’t own it. Everyone who is a member pays their security deposit to Adam America, and Common technically has no legal way to force them to return the deposit. Curbed has reached out to Adam America for a comment on the story, and will update this post when they respond.
According to the New York City Rent Guidelines Board, “a ‘reasonable’ amount of time is in the neighborhood of 30-60 days; however, the definition of ‘reasonable’ is not up to you or us to decide.”
Other residents reported similar experiences. Angela Strohbeck, a 26-year old assistant to a theater producer, lived at the Baltic property from March to August 1, when she moved out after breaking up with her ex-girlfriend. She says she spent months trying to get her deposit back, and was told either the check was in the mail or the company was checking with the bank. She and her ex received checks two weeks ago for $1,250 each. But she says that’s still a little short of their $2,750 total security deposit (theirs was higher because they had moved to Baltic from another Common property called Havemeyer, where she says she had a great experience).
“They make things really difficult,” Strohbeck says of her experiences trying to get her security deposit back from Common. “I would warn anybody who considers wanting to live there. They over-promised and under-delivered.”
While many companies, such as shared-office giant WeWork, have entered the co-living space, few have been as successful as Common. The company currently operates 12 homes with 333 rooms across New York City, and has additional properties in Oakland, Washington, D.C. Chicago, San Francisco. We haven’t heard of any similar issues at any of their other properties. During a previous interview with Curbed, Hargreaves said the company aims to serve 25,000 members by 2021.
Co-living aims to fill an important gap in the rental market, affordable and flexible urban living for a cadre of increasingly mobile young professionals, or as founder Hargreaves says, “flexibility, convenience, and community.” Residents pay month-to-month rent, discounted based on the length of their contracts, as well as a monthly membership fee for shared supplies, cleaning, and community activities. Crossley was paying $2,700/month in rent, a $150 membership fee, and an additional $150 so her significant other could share the room with her.
Crossley, who now lives in Williamsburg, says many of the tenants at Baltic moved to other cities and even countries after a short stay at Common, and have struggled to reclaim their deposits from elsewhere or overseas. This seems to contradict one of the company’s core brand promises—that it specifically caters to and simplified life for those who frequently move or plan on short stays.