Mar 9th, 2016, 11:28 AM

Not So Comfortable After All

By Stuart Edwards
Image Credit: Stuart Edwards
Students weigh in on their Comforts of Home experience.
Lena Altaffer was in love with her new apartment when she moved to Paris. “I was very satisfied when I moved in," she said, "it's just what I thought a French apartment should be.” Altaffer was housed through Comforts of Home (CoH), a company that has partnered with AUP to house students. First-year students at AUP are obliged to use this service, and Altaffer was ecstatic about her living situation, especially since the move-in process was so easy for her.
In September 2014, the first year of AUP's partnership with CoH, Peacock Post (the Plume’s prior incarnation) published an article detailing many students’ dissatisfaction with Comforts of Home during the first month, focusing primarily on a rather rocky move-in process. The article references “students having to wait for hours just to get keys and then arriving to apartments that were not yet ready to move into,” as well as apartments that were simply not clean when students arrived. 
This year, luckily, most students had positive experiences with their move-ins and were relatively satisfied with the state and location of their apartments. They were also pleased with their housing roommates, according to CoH representative Jamie Chatfield. "One of the things students consistently respond is that they make lasting bonds with a roommate or two," Chatfield said, "which is very special to us."

Image Credit: Comforts of Home
Comforts of Home appears to successfully move students in quickly and then group them together. However, the praise for the small housing company that manages over 200 apartments for universities such as Parsons Paris, AUP, Sciences Po, and others stops there.
Students interviewed almost unanimously report an enormous lack of consistency with customer service — particularly pertaining to the maintenance request system. "We’ve had a terrible mold problem since we moved in — even my books get moldy," Altaffer said of her apartment, "We told CoH and they sent someone to clean for around 20 minutes who then left, which didn’t fix anything. We constantly scrub [the mold] off ourselves, and it always returns.”
One of CoH's main selling points is the very maintenance service that students are finding issue with. To justify their higher price, they offer an all-inclusive package of accounting, student services and, most importantly, maintenance. “If students have a maintenance issue we can send someone from our team, typically in 24 hours, 48 at most," Chatfield said, "It is much easier than making a student, especially one that does not speak French, deal with issues such as plumbing and WiFi setup.”
Many students reported, however, a much longer wait than 48 hours. Some even reported filing maintenance requests that were never fulfilled. “We filed several maintenance requests that we would receive a response to in three or four days claiming that the issue had been resolved, but it hadn’t. What we needed fixed simply wasn’t fixed,” said Brannen Haderle, a visiting student from USC. 
In contrast, AUP freshman Francesca Coyne, who originally lived in the same building as Altalffer, had her service request managed surprisingly quickly. That meant, however, that she was made to abruptly move by CoH after the students, according to them, “ignored [the presence of the mold] for three weeks."

A water stain that has "only gotten larger" since Altaffer moved in.
While having a service request and a new apartment laid out in a timely manner might seem like a good response, this was only the start of Coyne’s problems. She was moved to an apartment in Vincennes, which she reports was a 50-minute commute, which is well above the 30-minute commutes advertised as standard by the company. 
Coyne encountered a different issue with her Vincennes apartment: abrupt relocation. During a visit to CoH’s offices to pick up documentation for her Titre de Séjour, she claims to have been suddenly informed that her and her roommates were to move to a different apartment before leaving for winter break, which happened to be the next day. “We had to pull an all-nighter to get all of our things packed up before we had to leave," Coyne recalls, "It was awful."
Coyne’s issues, unfortunately, persisted. In her third apartment, something was causing Coyne and her roommates to develop hives. She emailed CoH, but ended up never receiving a response. "My mother confronted them and the next morning they sent us an email saying they planned on fumigating our apartment that day," Coyne explained. When that didn't solve the issue, Comforts told Coyne and her roommates that they would fumigate again. This time, it would include a 300€ per person charge to go along with it. When they tried to contest it, a woman from CoH told them that they had checked for bedbugs before anyone had moved in and students who had lived in the apartment didn't have a problem. When Francesca spoke to another woman, however, she was told that CoH wasn't sure who or if anyone had even lived in that same apartment last semester.
Freshman Rachael Creger reported a similar issue with fumigation. This time it came with no notification at all. “My apartment was apparently being fumigated, which Comforts neglected to tell me," she explained,  "I found this out when my smoke alarm was going of for seemingly no reason, irritating my neighbors and causing my gardienne to come into my apartment to figure out what was wrong—but not before calling the firemen.” Clearly, CoH’s inconsistencies have deeper consequences than just an annoyed student.
And while half-hearted cleaning and inconsistent student communication is one end of the spectrum, some students report downright nonsensical situations in dealing with CoH. “We basically didn’t have WiFi for a semester," Lena Altaffer said, "The strangest thing happened when I filed maintenance requests for this. Someone would come to our apartment, completely remove one of our four locks (this happened twice), leave it in front of the door, and leave." The WiFi was never changed, fixed, or altered in any way. Altaffer emphasized that these locks never did and have not since been discussed by Comforts.
One of the locks left behind at Altaffer's apartment.
Additionally, Freshman Meredith Brannan-Williams recounts being completely dismissed by CoH, saying “We’ve had a mice problem since we moved in. We told CoH, and they essentially told us that it wasn’t their problem.” Brannan-Williams still has these uninvited flat mates.
This large amount of discontentment ultimately culminated in a petition inviting students to state their dissatisfaction with CoH, citing inconstancies similar to those described by Brannan-Williams, Creger, Coyne, and Altaffer. This petition gained 82 signatures but seemingly culminated in absolutely nothing. When asked about the petition, Chatfield stated that CoH had no idea such a petition existed. 
Freshman Rebecca Simor, however, was surprised by her peers’ numerous issues with Comforts of Home. She's had an overall pleasant experience with the service. "For the most part, they have been fairly quick to help us out when we have a maintenance request," she said, "They were very helpful for move in and ultimately made the transition into moving to a foreign country quite smooth.” 
CoH plans to continue their services, hoping to provide students with more positive experiences. They frequently conduct student surveys to determine attitude toward things such as apartment amenities and roommate relations. “We are planning on revamping our survey system in order to further understand how we’re working and not working for the students,” Chatfield said. It is something that she hopes will result in improvements to the inconsistencies many students have faced. 
Photography by Stuart Edwards