The party was on the porch.
With less than 24 hours until the celebration of Groundhog Day, students and friends from abroad were gathered on a balcony in front of a Tower Village apartment to toast the weekend. It was a Friday night like many others, and no one was prepared for the security guards.
Mary Holman, a senior at the University of Dallas who lives in the apartment, first believed the men were police officers.
“Later they identified themselves as Tower Village security,” Holman said. ‘They were threatening to arrest the students there.”
She was shocked Tower Village had interrupted a party of less than 20 people, an average number for a gathering in the apartments. The men in uniform told Holman she was not allowed to have parties on her balcony, calling it “public intoxication.”
Holman’s experience is one that many UD students at Tower Village are getting used to — new ownership installing a far stricter management that doesn’t appear tolerant of the student culture that dominated the complex for decades.
The increased security presence — with a heavy focus on student gatherings — has sharply reduced what were once permissible parties and relaxing evenings at the complex everyone still calls Old Mill.
The question now is what impact that will have on student life at UD — and whether moving into an Old Mill apartment as an upperclassman will be something future students avoid.
“I was completely surprised they interfered since there were not many people there,” Holman said of her February party. “I continued to ask this guard for more information about what constitutes public intoxication or what constitutes a party. He said that having people on my porch counts as public intoxication.”
The guard pushed further, she said, telling her she was not permitted to have parties whatsoever, and stopped her from asking further questions by stating that if she wanted to drink with friends, she should go to a park.
Holman thought that was the end of it. But a few weeks later, she and her roommates found an eviction warning on their door. The strongly worded document admonished them for causing disturbances and having “multiple visitors coming in/out of your apartment.” The notice also informed them that the Irving Police had been notified, and would be called in the event of a future party.
On Wednesday, April 25, Holman went into the lease office to discuss her ending contract due to her graduation this May. Seated across a desk, Holman says Centra Partner’s employee Maria Munoz produced a mountain of paperwork, all of which she explained were notices, warnings and police reports for the apartment under Holman’s name.
Moments later, Munoz pushed a stapled piece of paper across the desk, stating Holman’s repeated breach of her contract and eviction of that same day, April 25, at 11:59 p.m.
Munoz called Holman’s apartment notorious in the complex, Holman said. Three violations she had never been made aware of were listed on her eviction notice, including one for Friday night of April 20, when none of the roommates were home.
Baffled, Holman asked why she hadn’t been informed prior to the date of eviction. Munoz explained though Holman’s apartment ought to be evicted, they would be allowing the occupants to stay due to graduation and goodwill toward Holman and her roommates’ future apartment leases.
Munoz stated this was her final verbal warning and no more would be given, said Holman.
It’s a good thing she’s moving out in two weeks, Holman added. General frustration and confusion with the management is nearly over for her, but continues for many others.
The change in management of Tower Village Apartments came after UD sold the complex in August under outgoing President Thomas Keefe. SB Pacific became the new owners, for whom Centra Partners, a property management company based in Fort Worth, is now overseeing affairs.
That has brought new new policies and a new security team to the complex.
The security force is Special Response Group (SRG), a privately owned safety company in the Dallas area. Their officers have been in Tower Village since September 2017, according to Jana Mobarak, property management Regional Supervisor to Tower Village. SRG constantly surveys the site for unusual or criminal activity, while Irving Police only respond to calls through their own dispatch, Mobarak said.
“The Irving Police already have a job to the entire city of Irving, we prefer to have more personal service,” Mobarak said.
Mobarak also mentioned the new police department at UD, with whom Tower Village communicates and works with for student situations. When asked if it is necessary to have three security forces present at the small apartment complex, Centra Partners said that the Irving PD are “not consistent enough” alone to provide a secure presence to the apartment complex. In addition, the university’s police department is still in its infancy, only becoming an official presence on campus at the beginning of the 2018 spring semester.
Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Sheryl Dellinger said the school is unaware of any concerns with Tower Village.
“The university has no connection with the new owners,” Dellinger said.
In an article The University News published in August 2017 over the transfer of ownership in Tower Village, Executive Vice President Dr. John Plotts shared that a thorough search was conducted before settling on a buyer.
“We made a conscious effort to find a student-friendly buyer that would improve student living,” Plotts said last August.
When it comes to dealing with college student tenants, SRG Chief and President Art Chavez said no crime has come from UD students in his experience.
“We do in house rules; we report everything to the office,” Chavez explained, describing his officers’ role on the Tower Village campus, at which four of his officers are regularly stationed.
He and his total of 20 officers at SRG have worked with Centra Partners on a number of properties.
“Once we are hired for one apartment complex, we are hired for all of them,” Chavez said.
Chavez gave details on his firm’s employees abilities as officers.
“Anything that’s a felony we’re allowed to arrest and detain,” he said. “But the felony must be in progress.”
This includes things like theft, burglary and public intoxication. Specifically concerning is Old Mill’s noise and party level, Chavez said.
“We’ve seen a huge difference since we started working the property,” he said of the safety and security of Old Mill.
Irving Police, he said, can only do so much with their police officers, but SRG patrols inside the property constantly.
When it comes to hiring officers for positions at SRG, their websites states they only seek “seasoned industry professionals with years of experience, combat veterans of the U.S. military, and former law enforcement.”
Chavez said they do prefer applicants with a background in security or law, but they also offer training options. Those seeking to carry a firearm undergo a training program and licensing. Unarmed officers, however, need only take an eight hour course before they may be hired and put to work in the field.
Interactions with SRG officers at Tower Village could chill interest among students who choose the complex for a little more freedom from campus life.
“Students should be aware there are a lot of changes that have been made by the management,” Holman said.
The conflict began when students who don’t live in Tower Village gathered on the volleyball courts. Security arrived to scatter the group and told them to clean up. The officers then turned to a student’s apartment, according to a person who was there but asked to remain anonymous in light of other residents being approached by management for commenting in The University News.
The SRG officers told the students this was “the last straw and [they] were certainly going to be evicted.”
The source recalled the security team demanded identification from the tenants, who refused, and the security, in turn, called the Irving Police.
“The IPD officers were very courteous but gave us a warning as a formality,” the guest said.
They and the roommates emailed the management at Old Mill immediately after speaking with the police.
Living in Old Mill is a UD tradition. But the way the place has changed could mean the tradition is coming to a close, some fear.
“I want the underclassmen to understand why juniors and seniors haven’t been hosting [in Tower Village],” Holman said.
Leanne Rodriguez, a 2017 graduate, spent her senior year living in an Old Mill apartment. When she first signed her lease in August 2016, she was told that Tower Village had made a contract with Irving Police to send officers to patrol the complex. Prior to this, Rodriguez said, police only came to Old Mill to respond to a call or disturbance.
Rodriguez’s experience with police at the complex was limited — mostly because there were few there.
Visiting Tower Village after graduating, the place felt different, she said.
Losing the parties, the atmosphere of camaraderie and the freedom that defined Old Mill will be hard, she said.
The feeling of being policed constantly will be too much, she suggested.
“If you’re paying rent, that’s ridiculous.”