Off-campus housing is usually the first real step into the responsibilities of adulthood a college student can take. Some of us leave the shelter of our homes or dormitories for a chance at independence. Others simply do it to save money.
Whatever the reason, renting a first apartment leaves most college students vulnerable in their options and their ignorance. This allows many property owners to get away with cutting corners at the expense of often powerless student tenants.
Greg Keating, a senior advertising major, moved into his apartment on 15th Street in August 2013. He’s lived there for the past two years and has had more than his share of complaints about the condition of the property and its managers, Temple Villas.
During his first year there, pipes burst in the building and caused flooding in every apartment. Rather than making any effort in diagnosing the problem, Temple Villas sent a worker that afternoon with a bucket of sealant and began patching up the areas of flooding. Residents were then asked to keep their heat running so the water-damaged walls can dry. Unsurprisingly, they developed mold instead and some of the drywall needed to be replaced altogether.
It turned out that the flooding was caused by the apartment below Keating’s.
“I think they came up with a diagnosis so that we would feel comfortable” Keating said. “But it was a misdiagnosis.”
He said it’s characteristic of Temple Villas to offer Band-Aid solutions to immediate problems or often no solution at all.
Rachael Barr, a senior Spanish major, has had such frequent problems with Villas that she said she and her roommates had made a drinking game out of it. She’s also complained about unexpected charges for maintenance work done this year, despite her lease never mentioning them.
“We are known for our quick response to maintenance requests and have received letters from tenants and parents praising the effectiveness and professionalism of our team,” Mike Rifenbury, an administrative assistant for Villas, said in an email.
Alex Graziano, a lawyer who works with Keating’s mother looked at his lease before he moved in about two years ago. Graziano pointed out several issues with the language of Keating’s lease over email, including an automatic lease renewal that requires no prior confirmation or warning and a lack of consequence if the landlord fails to return the tenant’s security deposit.
Temple has some resources available for student referral, specifically the Off-Campus Services section of the University Housing and Residential Life website. The pages’ content ranges from advice before renting to where students can rent. Their information goes over the basics: what to look for in a lease before signing, rights and responsibilities as a tenant and how to start an off-campus housing search.
While the Off-Campus Service site is a step in the right direction, with so much of Temple’s student body living off campus and renting from landlords and large housing companies, it is obvious that the site, and programs like it, need fixing up.
Currently, the site is lacking. Only four of the 12 links actually work. There’s mention of an advocacy group for tenants, but little is said about why student tenants would need group advocating for them.
Conor McGrath, a junior media studies and production major, has been living with Temple Area Rentals for almost two years and has little affection for his drafty house. His landlord initially promised him and his seven roommates last year that if they signed on for another year at the house, he would lower their rent. When the new lease came, the rent had remained the same. Finding another eight-person house late into renting season was fairly out of the question, so they were forced to stay despite the bait-and-switch.
“We were kind of strong-armed into paying the same [price],” McGrath said.
McGrath spoke with his aunt, who works in Philadelphia’s Landlord-Tenant dispute court, and she told him there was almost nothing he could do about it, according to the lease.
It’s little abuses like these that are hardest to fight, which is why they are so common among student housing companies and landlords. Most students won’t do much past complain because the next steps would be facing their landlords in court. The result is a community that has no choice but to tolerate their mistreatment. While it may not be devastating, it is certainly unfair.
More needs to be done to warn students of common pitfalls of renting off campus. While technically not a responsibility of the university, promoting knowledge about reliable rental companies and landlords and warning students about the bad ones is something it should take on to protect a huge group of students who chose to live in the areas surrounding Temple.
In the meantime, the trick to avoiding poor housing conditions may be as simple as proper precautions – being educated on signing a lease and what that entails, staying away from companies with bad reviews and reading leases thoroughly before signing them. And perhaps most importantly, keeping a record of everything of importance your landlord says. You never know when they might go back on their word.
Ian Fletcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.