Sweetwater Apartments Delay Move-in, Leave Students Homeless
Sarina Phipps lives with a quarter of her belongings in a Holiday Inn. When game day weekends arrive and the hotel becomes packed, you quickly pack a small suitcase containing everything you own and stay at a friend’s house.
During the day, she moves from classes to activities, finding time whenever possible to study for upcoming midterms. All the while, thoughts of where she could sleep at night weighed heavily on her mind.
“I literally feel homeless sometimes because I walk around with a little trash bag full of clothes,” said Phipps, 20, an industrial and systems engineering student at the University of Florida.
This has been the reality for Vipp and many students since Sweetwater Gainesville Apartments told them, days before their move-in day on August 10, that the apartment would not be ready.
Sweetwater, which marketed itself as a “dreamy” student living near UF, has delayed its move to future residents for a third time.
The residential complex announced that moving in will be postponed on August 10, and residents will be able to move in at the latest by September 7.
Another announcement was made in an email to residents on August 30, stating that the expected move-in days would be September 14 and September 15.
Sweetwater then posted another update on its website on September 12.
“At this stage, and based on the progress we have made with inspections, we regret to inform you that the move will be at the latest on September 29, 2023,” the update said.
Sweetwater provided two payment options to concerned residents in an email.
The first will provide $200 in a gift card or rent credit per day offered until the unit is move-in ready and reduced rent and reimbursement in the form of a rent credit of up to $500 for any travel, moving or storage costs incurred due to a delayed move-in.
The second option is to offer designated hotel accommodations until the unit is ready, discounted rent and payment in the form of a rental credit of up to $500 for any travel, moving or storage costs incurred due to a delayed move-in.
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Phipps said she decided she would take the money and, in a worst-case scenario, she could use the money to pay for a hotel room.
As an out-of-state student, she was unable to return home. At first, she stayed with friends, moving to a new place every two or three days. Then her friend, who was also displaced by Sweetwater’s situation, reached out to her and asked her to stay at the Holiday Inn with her.
“We thought maybe two weeks max, and we could do this for two weeks,” she said.
When Phipps heard about the extension to September 29, she went to the front desk at the Holiday Inn and, as she had done after previous delays, asked for an extension of her stay. The staff informed her that the hotel would be fully booked until the last week of September.
Phipps was told of the delay via email on September 12 at 9:49 p.m., and said she was kicked out of the Holiday Inn on September 14.
Holiday Inn is not disclosing any information or providing official comments about Sweetwater’s situation at this time.
“I feel so overwhelmed that I say ‘whatever’ because it’s out of my control,” Phipps said. “It’s not like I can do anything about it.”
Ella Cimino, a 19-year-old UF animal sciences sophomore, was supposed to transfer to Sweetwater on the original move date.
She said she feels like Sweetwater cheated on her, and that the stress has affected her mental health and grades.
Cimino said she has not received her $200 credit as Sweetwater promised since Aug. 25 and has been charged August and September rent.
“I set up an automatic payment that would clear my balance on the first of every month,” Cimino wrote. “I didn’t remove it when all this started because I thought they wouldn’t charge me anything as they mentioned in the email. But now I have paid two months’ rent for an apartment that is not finished yet.”
“I’m tired of Sweetwater and just want to live somewhere stable,” Cimino wrote.
Last school year, when UF English major Mariana Mejia visited the Sweetwater office for a tour, she fell in love with the amenities, location and free coffee daily.
The 21-year-old said it was very easy to sign the lease.
She received an email about the delay on Aug. 4, but the email said her unit was not affected. She was sent a link to register at the time of her move and coordinated with U-Haul to prepare the car.
“It said only two apartments were affected, and then in bold, my email said ‘your unit will not be affected by this delay,'” she said.
She found out through a Facebook group, Sweetwater Apartments Gainesville Parent Group, that her moving day had been delayed. When I called Sweetwater to ask if this was true, they confirmed that the appointment had been postponed to September 7th.
She quickly had to find a hotel and a storage unit for her belongings.
Moving day into her old apartment in Century Town Center was Aug. 25, but her parents helped her move the furniture on Aug. 22. With no place to stay, she planned to sleep on the floor of the apartment.
“Luckily, my friends who were helping me move my stuff out of the house were like, ‘No, you’re not sleeping on the floor,’” Mejia said.
She stayed with her friends for two nights and booked a room at the Elio Hotel.
Mijia condensed all of her belongings into one suitcase and duffel bag. She created a system for keeping her shirts in her car and the things she really needs in her purse.
The hotel’s location and valet parking meant she had to hail an Uber or ask a friend for a ride to get in and out of campus. She was only supposed to stay until September 8th, but had to book an extra weekend after postponing to September 29th.
She said she felt like she was in a distorted version of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.
Mejia decided to move out of Elio and find a more sustainable situation after learning that the room rate could rise to $800 a night on weekends. She now lives in StadiumHouse with family friends.
At first, Mejia found the situation amusing and funny, but the recent postponement announcement was extremely painful, she said.
She was in the office two days before the announcement and noticed that employees were coordinating relocation packages.
“I assumed the people who worked here were getting ready to move; she said, ‘It will happen.'” “And then two days later, when I saw the email, I said to myself, ‘Are you serious?’
While her teachers were understanding, the situation made her schoolwork and extracurricular activities more difficult.
“I think it’s been hard because the classes are really starting to pick up. I have exams now and essays due. I’m just trying to get to campus on time,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a place that felt like home because I didn’t even feel like I was “At my house in the hotel.”
Mejia also misses her puppy, Lorenzo, who she got for her birthday. Lorenzo has been with her parents in Boca Raton, Florida, since the summer. She thought that when she moved from Century City to Sweetwater, they would be reunited.
“My dog has been with my family for about months, and he’s a puppy, so I miss his puppy years,” she said. “That made me really sad.”
Students across Gainesville are dealing with the added stress of knowing their living situation while attending classes and studying for exams. Now that move-in day has been set for September 29, some are hopeful and others are worried that another delay may be in their future.
“I think if I’m late again with my email, I’ll feel devastated because I can’t do it anymore,” Mejia said.
Contact Vivienne Serret and Melanie Peña at firstname.lastname@example.org And email@example.com. Follow them on Twitter @vivienneserret and @MelanieBombino_.
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Melanie Peña is a second-year business and journalism major. When she’s not designing a graphic or writing an article, she’s probably making jewelry or exploring cafes in Gainesville.
Vivian Syrett, a senior journalist and criminologist at UF, serves as a student government correspondent for The Alligator and managing editor of The Florida Policy Review. She loves debating, lifting in the gym, and singing.