I just recently sold my home (without a realtor; did I mention that?) and have been searching downtown / midtown Harrisburg for a new place to live. Since nothing for sale in the sub-$125k range appeals to me right now, I’ve decided to rent. Yesterday I visited The Grayco and was majorly impressed at its transformation into a well-preserved vintage building. Today I want to share what happened over at Pennsylvania Place.
According to their entry on SkyscraperPage, Pennsylvania Place was built in 1973. At 25 stories, it is Harrisburg’s second-tallest skyscraper (333 Market is higher) and tallest residential hi-rise. Formerly known as “City Towers”, the building suffered a major blow in 1994 when a water main burst and forced 600 residents out. Oft-repeated local lore — whose accuracy I can not verify — adds that the building’s heat and power had failed, causing one or more stairwell(s) to ice over, trapping residents inside a freezing building. In 1995 the building was sold to new owners, who dumped $10 million into renovations in time for its 1999 opening as Pennsylvania Place. The building received more bad press in 2004 (explosion and electrical fire) and 2006 (drunken tenant dropped his girlfriend out the window).
Unfortunately, I have very little additional information on Pennsylvania Place. They would not discuss rent or even show an apartment. The leasing agent made it perfectly clear by way of body language and tone that she felt I was wasting her time.
This past summer, when I thought I would be selling my place quickly (realtors – ugh), I dropped by Pennsylvania Place for a tour after work. I told the leasing agent that I’m in the market for a two-bedroom or large one-bedroom apartment and will be signing a lease within a week.
She responded by telling me to leave, make an appointment, and come back.
I asked about rates. Her response was another first: “We change our rates every day. I could tell you the rates today but they’ll be different tomorrow. Unless you’re serious and ready to sign a lease there would be no point.”
I paraphrased her statement back to her — “I’m sorry, I must have misunderstood; are you saying I won’t find out the rent amount until after I sign the lease?”
Fortunately, she quickly clarified: “No, it’s printed on the lease; you’ll see it right there before you sign anything.”
Pennsylvania Place has a reputation for being a little on the arrogant, inattentive side, and after my first-hand experiences, I believe it’s well-earned. What kind of apartment management turns away prospective renters, then brags about their “flexible” pricing?
Is this even legal? I began reading through the Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Act, but stopped when I realized that they were not my landlord and I was not their tenant. I’d have to fire up the ol’ LexisNexis account and start digging through court cases. Frankly, since I won’t be renting from them, the satisfaction isn’t worth the hassle … for now.
At the very least, it’s certainly a questionable business practice. And it exposes Pennsylvania Place — and its employees — to considerable risk of litigation.
The funny thing is that for all the attitude, Pennsylvania Place is not a great place. It’s not bad, mind you; there’s nothing technically wrong with it (aside from a leasing staff that apparently feels “leasing” is not in their job description). But having been there on numerous occasions to visit friends over the last decade, I can confidently say that their apartments are best described as “satisfactory”. I clearly remember awkward room layouts, average construction quality, and noisy air conditioners inside the units.
I also remember that the building had absolutely no character. If you were to imagine what a “100% average in every conceivable way” hi-rise apartment looks like, then you’d have Pennsylvania Place. The carpet is adequate, but nothing special. The colors are sufficient, but not memorable. The cabinets hold things, but aren’t much to look at. The appliances serve their most utilitarian function, but do nothing else.
The building is not bad; it’s just not remarkable. “Adequate” is the word I would use. Some people will point out that “adequate” is all you need, and I can respect that opinion.
But I refuse to pay sky-high prices for an “adequate” apartment.
(The last time I was able to get a rent figure out of their leasing department was many years ago. At the time, I vaguely recall a one-bedroom being around $950 / month. I could be wrong on this figure; it’s been a long time. Unfortunately, since their leasing office has chosen not to disclose rent to prospective tenants, I’ll have to stick with this number — and imagine it’s gone up quite a bit since then.)
Tomorrow I’m checking out Towne House. Old City Hall and Executive House are on deck.
FOLLOWUP: Friday morning, I decided to give them another chance and do things their way. I called to set up an appointment, but was told that no one was available to help me. I left my name and number and was told that someone would call me back “within 15 minutes”. Nobody called me back. This leaves only one question unanswered: If this is how little they care about a prospective tenant, how will they act when I’m locked into a lease?
FOLLOWUP FOLLOWUP: Three days later, they finally called me back. This is a shame, because I’ve already signed my lease elsewhere.