DTN’s Near Monopoly on Student Housing

DTN’s Near Monopoly on Student Housing

Emma Kolakowski

May 4, 2020

Ask any Michigan State student where they live, and you’ll likely get a wide variety of answers, reminiscent of the names of gated neighborhoods. Berrytree. Woodmere. Brockport. Cedar Village. Despite the variety of picturesque names given to the many off-campus housing complexes that service East Lansing residents, there’s one less poetic name behind them all. DTN Management Company, the real name behind the idyllic-sounding apartments, boasts 65 apartment complexes, 9 houses and 72 duplexes in the East Lansing area alone. 

The staggering amount of properties owned by DTN helps explain why there are so many self-described “luxury” apartments in the MSU area. The HUB, as well as newer Grand River developments and the complexes in the Chandler Crossing area are also within the same category of “nicer” apartments (Apartments that are updated and spacious, rather than the college-apartment stereotype). The Chandler Crossing properties are the notable exception from DTN’s almost monopolistic grasp on East Lansing apartments. The group of three upscale student apartment complexes sit north of the MSU campus. While it’s true that the Chandler community is populated by Spartans, it almost falls outside of the East Lansing area — it’s a thirty minute bus ride to campus.

Chandler Crossing apartments, while not under DTN management, are in the same category of “upscale” apartments. These types of properties, just like those owned by DTN, are a far cry from the historical stereotype of college living — instead, glossy brochures show balconies and granite countertops that would seem more at home in the pages of Better Homes and Gardens

As the quality of an apartment goes up, so does the price. When the majority of student apartments in East Lansing aim for spaciousness and luxury, costs can be prohibitive. Many students now choose houses over apartments because renting an entire house is cheaper than an apartment. The charming, homey, slightly-run-down apartments that were once characteristic of college living may be on the outs.

While DTN may not have a true, textbook monopoly, there are so few other options within the immediate campus area that many students find themselves in DTN-owned housing. Because DTN owns so many of East Lansing’s collegiate-oriented housing, renters often sign less-than-ideal contracts for lack of other options. 

Take DTN subsidiary Glenwood Apartments, located on Hagadorn Road. A contract for a lease at one of Glenwood’s two-bed, one-bath apartments contains several potentially concerning items embedded in the seven pages of legalese. Section 13, for example: “The Landlord reserves the right to adjust the lease beginning and ending dates.” It’s not likely that DTN would change the lease dates, but if they chose to do so, they would be within their contractual rights to prevent potential tenants from occupying the space at the beginning of the fall semester, for example, which would obviously put the intended tenants in a hard place. If DTN decided, for whatever reason, that the premises were not ready to be occupied, they could put future tenants in a tenuous position, and wouldn’t have to offer them any compensation. These align with section 34, which say that, in the case that the property becomes uninhabitable, such as through a fire, DTN may choose to simply terminate the lease. If they feel that it would not be worth it to repair the damage, the landlord can simply end the contract, “with no liability to Tenant”. 

That’s not even the most egregious section of the lease. In section 22, tenants agree that they will accept responsibility for any damage to the doors or windows on the property, “unless damage occurs through the fault of the Landlord or its agents.” The problem with this section is that it lacks a clause dealing with forced entry, such as that that would occur in the case of a break-in. The way that this part of the contract is written, tenants could be held responsible for, and forced to financially compensate DTN for, damage that occured to locks, windows, etc. in the case of a robbery. It’s impossible to say whether this strange loophole is intentional, or merely a result of ill-considered wording. But there’s one more concerning part of DTN’s Glenwood contract that can’t be easily explained away.

The crown jewel of DTN’s contract, which takes the agreement from potentially troublesome to flat-out worrisome is the asbestos. Section 50 deals with ACMs, or asbestos-containing materials. DTN admits that “Floor tile, mastic and drywall compound material have been identified as ACM within this building.” Doesn’t that just scream “upscale, modern apartment living”? DTN goes on to “recommend that the building materials containing ACMs not be distrubed or damaged…” It makes one wonder just how many DTN properties include this jaw-dropping clause — and if not this one, which of these other worrying terms of lease are common across DTN properties. 

DTN isn’t just confined to the MSU area. The company also owns properties in Grand Rapids, Muskegon, DeWitt and Holland areas, with plans for expansions. But the East Lansing area is where DTN does best, with an estimated 146 properties or complexes within a four-mile radius of the MSU campus. Since DTN owns as much of the East Lansing housing market as it does, it’s no wonder that it can afford to have such strange and concerning provisions in its housing contracts. If a would-be tenant chooses not to sign one of DTN’s contracts, their other options are limited. DTN may not have a complete monopoly on off-campus housing, but it’s close enough that the company is able to get away with substandard terms of lease.

Emma Kolakowski is a sophomore double-major in Theater and Professional and Public Writing, whose love for literature is only eclipsed by her love of ramen. Emma’s writing and editing interests include literature, art, and most of all politics, which is why she compulsively sits and refreshes the CNN live updates page during class. She loves playing any atypical sport, including fencing and rugby. Visit @emma_koala_ on Instagram for more.