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punchwalk • Resident 2008 - 2010 Not Recommended
Reviewed 10/07/2010
Renters Beware; Decent Units and Amenities; Burglaries a Serious and Recurring Problem Here's my background so anyone reading can get a feel for my perspective on renting in Columbia, MD: I rented an apartment at Avalon Symphony Woods (ASW) for two years (10/2008 - 10/2010). This is the third apartment complex in which I've been a tenant in the last 5 years (Dominion King's Place, Avalon Fairway Hills) and I've visited friends in other Columbia apartment complexes (Renditions, Dominion Eden Brook, Autumn Crest, Island Club, Beech's Farm) on several occasions. I'm not an apartment expert but I have four years of renting under my belt and a pretty good feel for the Columbia rental scene, so I feel qualified to speak about it intelligently. Most importantly, I DID live in the community for which I m writing this review. And I'm not an aggrieved first-time renter who went into a lease with misguided expectations and wants to lash out at my landlord. I'll cut right to the most concerning item: **** CRIME/SAFETY **** I should start by disclosing that I was the victim of an apartment burglary while living at ASW. Does that compromise my viewpoint? Possibly. But you should still hear me out. Why? Because I know how horrific an experience a burglary can be firsthand and, thanks to the wonderful gift of hindsight, have some advice that might save you from becoming the next victim. Apart from my own experience, I've reached out to the Howard County police department and some of the other victims to bring you this information because I want to prevent others from going through such a terrible ordeal. According to the Howard County Police Dept, there have been ten (10) reported non-domestic burglary attempts in the last 18 months in the ASW community. Of those, six (6) resulted in unlawful entry and theft (I have building numbers, dates, and a few additional details for some and can provide this information upon request). In the same time frame, there have been fifteen (15) car break-ins, at least one including grand theft (premium wheels stolen). I'd also encourage you to navigate to the Howard County Police Department website and have a look at the crime statistics for 10200 block of Hickory Ridge Road (where ASW is situated) where you'll see that the corresponding sector has one the highest incidences of burglaries and theft in the entire county. Be advised that the police have made no arrests in connection with any of these incidents. Therefore, it should be presumed that the perpetrators are still at large and may strike again. Based on the above information, I think it is fair and accurate to say that there is a persistent threat of burglary and theft (from homes and vehicles) in the community. That s not my opinion. The police records tell the story. It is a fact. Unfortunately, Avalon has done NOTHING to increase security: No external doors on the individual buildings, no motion lamps, no cameras (real or otherwise), no offers to provide or assist with the provision of security systems or panic buttons in the homes, no extra police patrols, no contracted security guards. What s even more ethically questionable is the fact that Avalon has favored the practice of damage control over full disclosure when responding to incidents on their property. In the case of my incident, they posted a bulletin saying only that an incident had been brought to [their] attention. There were no details about the incident. I believe that the tenants should have the right to know what s happening in their community. Armed with that information, they could then make an informed decision as to how to protect themselves (and if they don t, at least they ll know that their failure to do comes with noteworthy risk). I had a lengthy conversation with the community manager in which I tried to get her to do the right thing and post a bulletin with complete disclosure but was ultimately stonewalled. If you're living on the ground floor, you should absolutely take the following three steps to protect yourself (#2 applies for renters on other floors as well): 1. Keep any valuables or high-priced electronics out of sight from windows and the sliding glass door (or just keep the blinds closed at all times). From the information I've gathered, the apartment burglaries targeted ground floor units with large TVs, video game systems, and/or computing equipment (namely laptops). This probably means that the perpetrators are canvassing the complex on any given day, looking for high-reward targets. 2. Take note of and report any suspicious activities/behavior, and be careful who you trust. In one incident, a member of the maintenance staff was seen leaving the premises of the victim around the time of the incident and was considered a person of interest in one of the burglary investigations. Personnel employed by the regular contractors used by ASW (for landscaping and construction) have also been reported for exhibiting suspicious behavior on multiple occasions and may be using their profession as cover while they scope out the best units to burglarize. 3. Get a security system. Or at least a decal that says you have one. But I'd recommend the real thing. While you should always lock your doors when you leave your home, DO NOT RELY ON A LOCKED/DEAD-BOLTED DOOR ALONE. In a few cases (including mine), the perpetrators had no trouble bypassing the locks with a crowbar. Also, God forbid the crowbar renders the door beyond repair as ASW doesn't keep spare doors on hand. Avalon does require its tenants to have renter's insurance, which, with most plans will cover your replacement costs. But while Allstate can help you replace your stuff, they can't restore your peace of mind after your home has been invaded and plundered. **** STAFF **** It should be known that, while there is onsite management, this community is owned and operated by a nationwide corporation and is concerned with revenue above all. The office employees and maintenance staff are generally nice and congenial but they're ultimately powerless to help in most situations as every meaningful decision has to be vetted through corporate (and corporate is very evasive and difficult to get a hold of directly (their phone number is not on the website and the local office staff generally won't give it to you). **** VALUE **** Notwithstanding the crime, this is a decent community in terms of property and amenities. That said, I'd say ASW is priced slightly on the expensive side, particularly considering the lack of personal concern with which it is run. When we arrived in 2008, it was priced well compared to Avalon's other communities in the area (Avalon at Fairway Hills was substantially more expensive and had substantially higher amenity fees). The rates have caught up though and you'll actually pay more to live in ASW now in some instances (it's usually a cat and mouse game with the different complexes in the area). If you're looking for a two bedroom unit, expect to pay no less than $1400/month. Note: Sometimes Avalon offers move-in specials, so if you're absolutely convinced you want to live at ASW then make sure you keep a vigilant eye out for any break you can get (call and ask if you don't see anything on the website). **** NOISE **** If you dislike the sound of barking dogs, make sure you rent in the pet-free areas. I lived in the pet-friendly zone and was very frustrated by the sound of incessant barking from time to time. The open stairwells amplify the sound and cause it to reverberate, making it even more annoying to deal with. Also, pray that you don't have habitually noisy neighbors as the walls are anything but soundproof. **** CONCLUSION **** The units at ASW are nice and generally well-tended, but that just doesn't balance out the security issues. If they tighten up security in the future, I might change my recommendation but for now I advise you to steer clear of this community. Quick Update on 7/6/2011: I just wanted to confirm that even after a "cool down" period following the burglary, I still stand behind everything I've said in this review. I've also occasionally scanned the Howard County police crime blotter and noticed that at least a couple more burglaries have taken place at ASW since I moved out. Last I heard, ASW management was looking to institute a Neighborhood Watch program, so at least they're implicitly acknowledging that there's a reason for concern. I sincerely wish them well in this effort.
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