Tenants Protest, Duerksen Answers

A single tenant in the Corvallis area has struck a note within Reddit that just won’t stop pinging. When Brian Eckelman decided he was fed up with the company managing his apartment complex, he got to the designing table and made a t-shirt. The message was simple and clear: Duerksen Sucks. So, we’ve spoken with the company about claims from Eckelman and others.  

Duerksen and Associates has been a Linn-Benton staple since 1978. Steve and Dawn Duerksen own the company, and they express pride in maintaining a local office and employing local people at good wages.  

“Our experience was good at first,” Eckelman says of his time in a Duerksen property, in which he still lives. “All of the little red flags during and after the move in process were brushed aside.” 

The red flags included, according to Eckelman, dirty carpets and heating ducts that he had to have cleaned himself. But the issue that he says wouldn’t seem to go away was the smell. 

The Renting Process  

All rental agreements begin the same way. People need a place to live, so they find a company or apartment complex they hope to work with and fill out an application. However, several Reddit users found the Duerksens’s way of showing available properties to be somewhat unconventional.   

“Last time we were house hunting,” wrote one, “I called about a listing and they told me to show up for a tour. Showed up to 3 other folks at the door, and an angry tenant who had no idea we were coming. He called them [Duerksen] and they told him [the tenant] to lead the walkthrough.”  

Other users told similar stories from both prospective renter and outgoing tenant sides of the equation. 

When asked about this, the Duerksens said that after receiving notice, they give the current renter 24-hours notice before showing the property. “However experience has shown that coordinating multiple 24-hour notices does not serve existing or prospective tenants well. Therefore, historically, our practice was that once we had a 30-day notice from a tenant that they plan to move, we make it an option for the existing tenant to arrange for a prospective tenant to coordinate directly with them to see a property.”   

In fact, the “30 Day Notice” form renters fill out when they let the company know they’re leaving reads in bold and italicized letters: “We will give out your phone number to prospective tenants until your date of move-out or until we have re-rented the unit. If you don’t want us to give out your phone number, we will respect your privacy, but under the Oregon Landlord Tenant Law we are allowed to give a 24-hour notice to show the property.”  

Due to COVID, the request of departing tenants changed slightly. Now the tenant is asked to select from three options – to allow the company to give out their name and number as before, to allow a Duerksen employee to lead what amounts to a livestreamed tour of the house for prospective renters, or to have the tenant record a tour of the house for Duerksen’s use. The last option includes recording instructions.  

Maintenance Issues  

Property management is about keeping things working for tenants. The big complaint for most of the people who commented on Reddit revolved around how quickly things were fixed when broken.  

Renter Joshua Frizzell said that he had rented a home from Duerksen which came with a washer and dryer. When the dryer broke and he made a request for a repair, it was denied because the appliance had been left from the last tenant.   

The Duerksens said of Frizzell’s issue “many properties do have washer and dryer hookups and therefore they are rented as ‘hookups only.’ It is fairly common that a washer/dryer is left behind when a tenant vacates (in fact, washers/dryers are the most common items left behind when a tenant moves).  If they look nice and seem to be working, we leave them in the rental unit for the next tenant to use. Most tenants seem to appreciate this, especially if they do not own their own washer/dryer.  However, if a tenant moves in and wants the washer/dryer removed we will do so at no charge.  If the washer and/or dryer do not work or stop working, we will remove them promptly at the tenant’s request with no charge. Since the property was rented as ‘hookups only’ it would be the tenant’s responsibility to repair or replace the washer and/or dryer if they wanted to have that amenity available to them.”  

Frizzell also had his dishwasher break and it was replaced. 

Maintenance was the basis of the issue for Eckelman.  

We noticed a foul smell coming from the downstairs bathroom,” he said. “We had the ducts cleaned and the smell persisted.” 

Eckelman contacted the property management company to report the problem; He says he was told they were “pretty sure it’s not toxic” and was asked “what he wanted them to do about it.” Someone was sent out on Sept. 26, 2016, to clean the ducting and investigate the smell.  

But the smell persisted. It seemed to be coming from under his home, so Eckelman put garbage bags in the vents to keep air from flowing through them. His family and friends all support his claim that the vents smelled of sewage. 

The Duerksens agree that Eckelman has been making complaints about the smell in his apartment for a long time. They said, “Recently, we have not received any calls or complaints from any other tenants in Mr. Eckelman’s building asking us to address any sewer issues or sewer smells there.”  

When asked if they had received calls about sewer smells in the past, they recalled an authorization for the use of a jetter to clear the sewer line in the building in June of 2019. 

Water jetters are used to push water through, in this case, a sewer line to propel debris out of the line. The water pressure is a result of water hitting a restriction of some sort. Jetting a pipe is generally safe for the pipe, unless it is older, in which case it can create a leak.  

The Duerksens have kept a log of all services done on Eckelman’s home – as they do for all of the properties they manage. Duerksen shared their log for Eckelman’s property. From Aug. 2 of 2016 through Aug. 23 of 2021, there have been 45 service calls for Eckelman’s apartment – including eight instances where the issue of a drain or smell were concerned.  

The first work order concerning smell was on Sept. 26, 2016. There were a collection of other water-related repairs done such as fixing a leak under the building (Nov. 11, 2016), filling a hole behind the dishwasher (Dec. 18, 2017), snaking behind a p-trap (Mar. 16, 2020), and repairs to drywall behind a toilet (April 20, 2020). Otherwise, the list of work reads consistently like a well maintained property with the furnace being replaced (April 10, 2017), a tub spout being replaced (July 31, 2019), and regular overall maintenance to keep things in good shape. 

Eckelman said that a plumber was sent over and found the scent was coming from a broken sewer pipe beneath his home “spilling sewage.” He also said that the scent was still very noticeable, even though maintenance workers sent over said they could not smell anything. 

The Shirts 

A few years of living with the smell was what finally led Eckelman to his t-shirt protest.  

He ordered more than 100 of the shirts in a variety pack of sizes. In the Reddit thread, he arranged for payment and delivery, saying that any proceeds would go to Corvallis non-profit Community Outreach Inc.  

And if the cliché of money being well-spent on breakfast foods was still true, then these t-shirts were selling like hotcakes. 

Rent Issues  

Rent prices going up is one thing that virtually every landlord and tenant has had to deal with. And although many Reddit users expressed the opinion that the property managers are in control of the rental prices, that’s not the entire story.   

The Duerksens estimate that they manage less than 5% of the total rental market in Corvallis – 800 of the approximately 17,000 rental properties in Corvallis. They own 5% of the properties they manage.  

In an email, they say that the decision on how much to charge for rent lies in the hands of the “mom & pop” type owners they represent. “Some owners know what they want to charge and we follow their wishes,” they said. “There are many factors and expenses that an owner might consider in determining the rental price.  Those expenses include costs of: the mortgage, insurance, property taxes, utility costs, repair costs, maintenance costs, the need to consider reserves for major repairs, etc.”   

Rent increases on the properties managed by the Duerksens did raise some questions on Reddit as well, including this: “I rent from Duerksen and not only did they have no allowances for the pandemic, but they’ve raised the rent twice since the pandemic began.”   

The Duerksens said that up to 10% of the properties they manage fell behind on rent at some point over the last two years. They added, “We helped many of our tenants get rental assistance through various agencies that were offering rental assistance.  There were (are) a number of barriers to tenants accessing rental assistance. Some tenants generally feared the process. Some tenants do not have good access to computers or internet to apply on-line. Some tenants found programs confusing or intimidating.”  

While the Duerksens did not say how many of their renters pursued COVID-related rental assistance, they did say, “We are glad that we have been able to assist tenants in accessing these resources since they are beneficial to both tenants and property owners alike.”    

It’s estimated that 35% of all Oregon renters are behind in paying rent due to the pandemic.   

When asked if they had raised the rent on any properties since March 2020, the Duerksens said that in some cases, the rent increase had been set prior to the shutdown, and went through as planned. Increases for 2021 have also gone through on some of the properties they manage.  

One Reddit user wrote: “A lot of property management’s [sic] are raising rent, including mine which is not Duerksen. The explanation I got was cold: ‘Everyone is trying to make it through this and tenants are leaving left and right because the university shut down but we still have to pay mortgage.’”  

The state sets maximum rent increases every year. On Sept 17, 2020, the State of Oregon’s Office of Economic Analysis set the maximum rent increase at 9.2% for 2021 – it was set at 9.9% for 2020.  

Not Everyone Is Angry  

There were some renters who stood up for the Duerksens.   

When a Corvallis renter asked the Facebook group Corvallis Conversations for only good comments about Duerksen, there were many people who stepped up to say they had no issues with the company.  

One commenter on Facebook said, “Currently rent from them. Application process was a journey but once already in the place they’ve been very timely with repairs. I can put in an online request and expect a response in a day or so most of the time by the company that’s gonna be doing the repairs to schedule the repair.”  

Another said, “We rented from them for 2 years. Never a problem.”  

The Reviews  

So, we took a stroll through Yelp and Google reviews to see if sentiments would change. They did and didn’t.  

At this time, Duerksen and Associates have one-and-a-half out of a possible five stars on Yelp. The first positive review reads: “I rent from Duerksen and Associates and have been very pleased with the house I rent as well as how well they maintain their properties. I recommend Duerksen and Associates for all your rental needs. From start to beginning it was a very pleasurable experience.”  

However, a one-star review quickly follows concerning the difficulties encountered when they have submitted an application for a specific property only to have it rented out to someone who applied before them.   

The Duerksens said, “The rental market has been very tight in the area for several years due to forces completely beyond the control of our company (laws that make building housing difficult and/or expensive, general population increase, expansion of Oregon State University, etc.).” They added, “The number of available units is generally very low.”  

On Google, where the Duerksen company has just shy of three stars out of five, a review read: “We took our Mother out of assisted living in 2020 due to Covid and bought a manufactured home managed by Duerksen in Lebanon. There was no requirements to get into the mobile home park other than the application which was approved right away. We spent thousands fixing up the inside to make it as comfortable as possible. With great sadness, Mom passed away in 2020. When we tried to sell it, Duerksen stated that we need… their permission and that everything needed to be fixed on the 1970s mobile home before they would approve the sale. They wanted a new porch, new skirting, they wanted it painted and the entire outside landscaped plus more. I asked them why that wasn’t required less than a year ago when we bought it. They said it was managed by a different company then. Not true! Long story short we took a $20,000 loss in order to get out of this horrible, greedy mismanaged company.”  

We asked the Duerksens about this. It seems that while Duerksen Associates did have responsibility for the property, the on-site manager was the one who handled most of the interactions with this family as they were moving in. They also said that this manager was not following their prescribed rules for how the manufactured homes on the land were to be kept up.   

On Google Reviews, they added, “Since then, we have found discrepancies taking place and implemented properly to fix them. Our reason for now abiding by park policy was so this exact scenario could not happen to another occupant. Homes need to be in good shape and cannot be sold in a substandard condition that would burden the future owner.”   

The Duerksens declined to speak any further on this specific issue.   

The T-Shirts Delivered  

As the Reddit threads grew, Eckelman went to the Beavers game, and stood at the corner of 7th and Western to hand out shirts to purchasers. At one point, Dawn and Steve Duerksen came to where he was and watched for a while.  

The Duerksens are up front about this. They did go to the location specifically to see who was behind the shirts emblazoned with their name.   

About a half an hour after the Duerksens left, Eckelman received a text reading: “Yeah the internet is a powerful thing. It sucks when you [sic] known Mr. Ekleman [sic].” The person then texted, “How old are your daughters? Why live in Albany and harass Corvallis?”  

Eckelman responded on Reddit with a screen shot of the text and this: “I never told anyone my last name, that I have kids, or that they’re girls.” He was extremely concerned for the safety of his family.   

For those who might not understand how social media forums works, it takes a bit to find someone’s real identity from a simple username. Speculation abounded about whether or not someone from Duerksen had sent the texts, and about what they meant by asking about Eckelman’s daughters. Many called it out as a direct threat against children.    

When asked about this text, both Dawn and Steve Duerksen vehemently denied having anything to do with it. They added, “We guarantee no one from our office texted Mr. Eckelman.”  

The Other Side  

Stories are like a Rubik’s Cube; they have many sides and colors. So, we contacted two other property management firms in the area to ask about the issues raised about their competitors.  

Mary Morris of Paragon Realty Rentals declined to comment.  

Albany Property Management – a company with 3.9 stars on Google – manages 400 properties in the area. The company does not own any of the places they manage. According to Sandy Letson, office manager, it is against their policy to show a property while tenants are still there. It has happened, but only if the outgoing tenant has a friend interested in moving in. Much like other property managers in the area, they find that their time for response for services on a property tend to be under the control of the other businesses they contract to.  

Briget Austin of At Home Property Management was happy to talk. At Home has 1,300 units they manage at the moment. Austin said that their turn-around time for rental applications was 72 hours provided there are no issues. Maintenance is classified as emergent or non-emergent, but either way they aim to make repairs on an “as quick as possible” basis. They do not ask current tenants to show prospective tenants around properties.    

Austin mentioned that the pandemic limited their ability to enter rental units due to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but they are getting back on track. At Home has a two star rating on Yelp and just over three stars on Google. There are no Reddit threads concerning At Home at this time.  

And Now…   

Eckelman says the garbage bags he inserted into the vents to block the smell are still there for the moment.  

Since being contacted for comment by The Advocate, Eckelman says the Duerksens contacted their lawyer who is working with both parties to find a resolution to the issue.  

By Sally K Lehman and Millicent Durand