“A living hell”: Temple students endure off-campus landlord violations

Many students living near Temple’s Main Campus have dealt with unsuitable living conditions, unhelpful landlords and Department of Licenses and Inspections violations.


Updated 02/05/2024, 9:31 p.m.

For her sophomore year, Mathilda Hallstrom decided to rent a studio apartment with Off Campus Philly. By October 2021, she had noticed a leak in her ceiling that gradually worsened. 

Hallstrom immediately reached out to her leasing office; she first filed a complaint through Off Campus Philly’s tenant portal and then emailed her landlord but did not receive a response. She attempted to call the leasing office but did not hear back, and she wasn’t sure where the office was located to speak to someone in person. 

Hallstrom was eventually able to get in touch with her leasing company after multiple attempts, who said they would send a roofer to repair the ceiling. However, the ceiling had already begun to collapse.

“There was one day I kind of just assumed either they’re gonna come and fix it or something really bad is gonna happen to the property that they own,” said Hallstrom, a senior English major. “And then I just came home one day and the ceiling had completely fallen in, there was debris everywhere all over my bed, all over the furniture I bought with my own money.”

At 19, all of Hallstrom’s books, records and sentimental belongings from home were completely destroyed. She tried to plug the leak herself by going to Rite Aid and buying everything she thought would help remediate the leak. 

“I just sat in my apartment trying to plug this leak, and every single time that I plugged it the ceiling would burst open in another spot,” Hallstrom said. “I called a roofer and they told me that they couldn’t do anything because I didn’t own the property.”

Hallstrom isn’t alone. There are more than 650 residential properties within a mile of Temple’s Main Campus with registered landlord violations on the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections. 

The Temple News identified these properties after obtaining the public record of city landlord violations from 2019 to present day. The Temple News then compiled and analyzed the data by filtering it to include only violations within the 19121 and 19122 zip codes — which are closest to Main Campus  — and creating a one-mile radius using the university’s address to determine which violations occurred closest. 

The L&I department can issue fines for violations when a structure is unsafe or dangerous, there is an immediate danger to life or property or there are unsafe or unsanitary conditions that present an immediate danger to the health of the occupants, including the presence of raw sewage, garbage, rubbish or an infestation, according to the department’s website.

These issues relate to habitability, which doesn’t apply to cosmetics of a property, said James Lammendola, a legal studies professor.

“[Habitability] applies to the basic requirements you need to live, which are heat in the winter, water, vermin free and safe electricity and plumbing,” Lammendola said. “Those are called habitability and this is what [landlords] need to jump off on.”

Philadelphia tenants have the right to privacy and a safe environment, and they can contact 311 to begin the landlord complaint process, wrote a Department of Licenses and Inspections spokesperson in an email to The Temple News.

The apartment Hallstrom resided in has failed its three most recent inspections from March, April and August 2023, according to L&I. The failed inspections were due to the landlord lacking the necessary permit required for the installation of a new door or window. 

The Temple News’ attempts to reach Off-Campus Philly were successful, but after repeated requests for comment, the property group did not provide a statement on how they address tenant complaints.


Alyssa Threadgill, a senior journalism major, planned to move into University Village for the 2022-23 school year. She toured a model unit with her roommates in December 2021 and arrived for her scheduled move-in in August just before the Fall 2022 semester.

As soon as Threadgill and her roommates entered the unit, they realized it looked nothing like the model they toured. The rooms were much smaller and the lights were dim. Threadgill was still comfortable living in the unit until she opened a kitchen drawer and saw a cockroach. 

“We started opening things up and putting our stuff away and we saw that there was a huge cockroach infestation,” Threadgill said. “That obviously was not communicated to us before we had moved in. None of the managers or anybody there seemed to have any knowledge that it was a problem in our specific room. It was really, really bad.”

Threadgill kept searching the unit and discovered cockroaches in the dishwasher, refrigerator and freezer. Because she had already signed the lease, University Village told Threadgill she was responsible for finding a way to pay each month’s rent — roughly $530 a month.

Threadgill couldn’t find someone to sublease the unit and was forced to pay the monthly rent out of her own pocket while she commuted to Main Campus from Downingtown, Pennsylvania each day — a train ride that took more than an hour each way, she said.

“I live so far away from Temple that the train only came every two hours,” Threadgill said. “I had night classes that semester so I would have to wait a really long time on campus at night. I would just be in a building waiting or I would have to arrange for someone to come and get me.”

Inspections are usually generated by complaints from the occupants or neighbors, an L&I spokesperson wrote. However, not all occupants — including Threadgill — report the violations to the city.  

University Village passed its most recent inspection in January 2022, according to L&I. There haven’t been any violations recorded since 2021. 

University Village did not respond to The Temple News’ repeated request for comment on Threadgill’s situation.

While infestation is a broad term, if a place is completely overrun by something like vermin, it could be unlivable, said Nathan Carr-Whealy, a lawyer and adjunct real estate fundamentals professor. 

“Tell your landlord immediately if there’s an issue, send them pictures and any sort of documentation,” Carr-Whealy said. “It may even come to that you have to tell the landlord ‘If you don’t fix it, I’m going to hire someone to come in and I’m just going to deduct it from the rent.’ The landlord’s probably not going to be happy about that, but you have to solve the problem.”


Hundreds of cases on L&I’s website remain unresolved, with many dating back to as late as 2019. Some apartments have accumulated as many as 34 violations and 16 inspections throughout the years.

“A case is in violation until all violations are complied,” an L&I spokesperson wrote. “A property in violation is generally reinspected in 35 days. After two additional failed inspections, it is forwarded to court.”

Hallstrom ultimately reported the incident to the city’s L&I department. She received a reference number for her complaint and was given an estimate of when they’d get back to her, but two years have passed and she has yet to hear back.

Unhelpful landlords are also a common experience for Temple students. Leyla Algokce, a senior nursing major, lives on North 16th Street and regularly reaches out to her landlord about heating issues, with many rooms in the unit noticeably colder than others.

Algokce’s landlord assures her she will send in a “professional” to resolve the issue, which usually ends up being an all-purpose handyman and the problem remains unfixed.

“I’ve talked to our landlord about this multiple times,” Algokce said. “I’ve brought it up, my roommate has brought it up. The windows in my room are very drafty, there’s air from outside coming in and now that it’s been really cold this winter it’s been a bigger issue. I have to really crank up the heat in order to feel something in my room but then my roommate’s gets really hot.” 

When the handyman came to the unit, he discovered there was a 10-degree difference between Algokce’s room and her roommate’s. Algokce told her landlord the temperature difference, and her landlord said the temperature difference wasn’t possible, Algokce said.

“She’s just claiming that she doesn’t believe us and really isn’t doing anything,” Algokce said. “Because as long as my room is the same temperature as the thermostat there’s not an issue, but if my roommate’s room is 10 degrees hotter then it’s an issue. Either way, there’s an issue and they aren’t doing anything about it.”

GSP City Realty, who owns Algokce’s unit, said they were aware of the complaint and did multiple inspections at the apartment to resolve the issue, GSP wrote in an email to The Temple News.

“The heating works perfectly fine,” a GSP landlord wrote. “Just the tempature in each bedroom is a little bit different. We did multiple inspections and seal[ed] the windows and adjusted vent openings several times timely.”


Algokce, like Threadgill, has not made a formal complaint to L&I, pointing to the fact that she and her roommate only have a couple more months until they graduate and move out of the unit.

The decision to bring a possible violation to the city depends on what the violation is and whether it’s a safety concern, Carr-Whealy said.

“So if it’s a safety concern, obviously you can’t wait,” Carr-Whealy said. “You have to complain. If it’s an issue of you being unable to live in the place, that’s what they call an issue of [habitability.] You can’t live if there’s no heat, there’s no electric, there’s no water.”

Temple has various resources for students looking to live off-campus, like the Temple’s Best Nest Program, a self-certification designed for properties in Temple’s patrol zone, and a safety and security checklist. 

There are also multiple steps students can take during the apartment search process, like looking at the exterior lighting or searching for cracks in walls, checking the baseboards for evidence of rodent infestations and checking for signs of water leaks at the tops of windows and ceilings, Lammendola said. 

“If it’s really, really old, and grimy, again, it doesn’t mean that places aren’t inhabitable,” Lammendola said. “But when you couple that with a few other bad signs, that’s an overall bad sign that you’re looking at a landlord that either doesn’t care to upgrade the property or can’t afford it.”

Living off-campus provides students with individual freedoms that on-campus dorms can’t. It allows students to live with friends of their choosing, find rent that’s cheaper than Temple housing rates and invite as many guests over as they want, whenever they want.

With the stress of classes and other extracurricular activities, students expect to come home to a stable living situation where they can feel safe and secure, which hasn’t been the case for many, Hallstrom said.

“It was really, really hard for me to feel powerless in that specific way,” Hallstrom said. “I was still getting used to it. I started college in the middle of COVID and all I wanted was a nice home to come home to and they all say they took that from me. They made my life a living hell for a really long time.”

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