The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Vodicka rents University Gardens units out to students

 Vodicka rents University Gardens units out to students
Photo by John Schreiber, The Daily Campus
Vodicka rents University Gardens units out to students

Vodicka rents University Gardens units out to students (Photo by John Schreiber, The Daily Campus)

Everyday SMU senior Orin Atkins walks into the gated parking lot of University Gardens, past the rows of empty apartments and up to his door. Unlike most SMU students, Atkins lives in an apartment complex with only four other residents.

Atkins is leasing the apartment from Gary Vodicka, who owns four of the 343 units in University Gardens, one of which he occupies. The complex sits on a little more than 12 acres on the far east side of campus.

On Dec. 15, 2005 SMU laid claim to the same rights and the legal battle began.

Atkins has been living at University Gardens since January. Upon move in, Atkins said Vodicka informed him about the legal situation. Atkins had just returned from a semester abroad in Spain and was looking for a place for the spring semester. He said University Gardens worked out.

“It’s cheap rent right on campus. I’m happy,” he said.

Atkins said he enjoys being one of the residents. He’s had the opportunity to get to know all his neighbors and with a security guard on duty 24 hours, he said he feels safe.

“I love this place. I’m a loud guy [and] I upset neighbors with my volume. I’ve never upset anyone here,” he said.

Atkin’s takes advantage of his neighborless environment. His living room has only a couple chairs to leave room for the linoleum floor he uses to break dance with his friends. A music lover, Atkins has a record player set up in the corner of his apartment with tightly packed records sitting on his bookshelf. Musical instruments are set up in another corner of the room for late night jam sessions with his band members.

Contrary to SMU reports, Atkins said his apartment is livable. The only problems he has faced have been minor maintenance issues that, with time, were serviced.

Even though Atkins is satisfied with his stay at University Gardens, he feels affected by the legal situation.

“There’s definitely pressure applied. And being a resident, I feel that pressure,” he said.

According to Vodicka, SMU is taking legal action as a means to force his tenants and himself off the property.

“They won’t hesitate to sue their students. They’re trying to intimidate him,” he said.

SMU filed for a summary judgment on April 17. This means SMU has taken legal action to bring evidence to court and end the case without a full trial.

“They don’t want us to be able to get a discovery. They’re trying to bury us,” Vodicka said.

At the last court hearing, Vodicka was granted a 90 day period to produce an engineering report. A previous report, called for by SMU, labeled the apartments obsolete. According to the report, the complex requires $12.4 million in corrective work to restore the building to standards.

According to Vodicka, the more time he has the more information he can provide the court. Vodicka said the summary judgment shouldn’t have been granted.

“If we had an impartial judge they wouldn’t have gotten a summary judgment,” he said.

Vodicka said SMU has attempted to claim the rights of the property illegally.

Robert Tafel, who owns one a apartment in the complex, is also involved in the case. He said SMU’s attempt to seize the property has nothing to do with building standards, rather the desire to expand.

“They were landlocked,” he said.

Tafel said while all the other owners were offered compensation for their units, SMU never offered him anything. Vodicka and Tafel said over the years the value of their units has increased along with the value of the property surrounding SMU.

Vodicka brought in an MAI, or a member of the American Institute of Appraisers of the National Association of Realtors. MAI’s are designated, based on experience, to estimate property value. Vodicka said the amount SMU offered him and previous owners was significantly lower than the MAI’s estimate.

However, Leon Bennett, vice president of Legal Affairs at SMU, gave a different story. He said residents who were notified were given the chance to attend an apartment fair to help them relocate.

“We could not let people continue to live in those conditions,” he said.

Bennett also said the tenants were given a generous amount of time to vacate and some residents stayed until the end of their lease.

SMU send out eviction notices the first week of June 2005, asking residents to be out by July 31, 2005.

According to Bennett, SMU continued purchasing property at University Gardens because they were trying to prevent the land from becoming commercially owned. Bennett said SMU didn’t want a commercial high rise to be constructed near the campus.

As for legally purchasing the property, Bennett said SMU was very careful to follow all procedures. He said SMU offered all the unit owners an adequate purchase price.

“We had a pretty fair idea of what the market value was. We’ve been buying [this property] for four years,” he said.

Although Vodicka considers the units he overlooks as his property, Bennett said Vodicka is “absolutely not an owner.”

According to Bennett, the ownership interest of a condominium is not the same as that of a home. When a person buys a home, the property is their own. However, when a person buys a condominium, he or she is subject to the rules of the association.

“Everyone who buys knows the rules. They never did own it totally, as someone would a house,” he said.

When 75 percent of unit owners labeled the property as obsolete, the sale took place and the property was transferred to SMU, according to Bennett.

“[SMU’s realty group Peruna Properties] bought the whole deal legally,” he said.

According to Bennett, once the transfer took place SMU owned 100 percent of the University Gardens property.

Dana Gibson, vice president of business and finance at SMU, agrees with Bennett. In a previous interview Gibson denied that there were any residents still living at University Gardens. In a follow up interview she corrected her statement.

“We [SMU] do not have units rented out. We have no information on who occupies them because we did not lease to them,” she said.

Although Gibson was unaware of the SMU student at University Gardens, Atkins is still present and trying to hang on.

“My stay is unstable. I’m rolling the dice that I’m going to make it through the end of the semester,” he said.

Atkins said he feels somewhat protected knowing this is more Vodicka’s lawsuit than it is his.

While he may be living happily in his apartment, the outcome of the lawsuit will have an impact on him.

“I think it’s nuts. It’s a crazy situation [and] at times it’s kind of scary,” he said.

Atkins said he has no alternative incase he has to vacate the premise but said he will worry about it when the time comes.

In June, the summary judgment will go to court for approval or rejection.

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