Students in Yorktown face eviction

When Kourtney Bailey signed a lease in June 2008 to rent a house on the 1500 block of Guilford Place in Yorktown, she expected to fulfill the duration of a year-long tenancy. Instead, the senior communications major received an eviction notice last Tuesday when she arrived home from class.

Bailey signed the contract, unaware that her occupancy would violate an ordinance known as the North Central Philadelphia Community Special District Controls.

Enacted in 2005, the ordinance prohibits the construction of multiple-family dwellings, apartment and tenement houses and absentee landlords who rent properties to students.

“I don’t know what to do. I didn’t know that [the ordinance] was really that serious,” Bailey said. “[The eviction notice] notified us of the ordinance and that we were in violation of it and that we could potentially be kicked out.”

Yorktown neighborhood residents are at odds with students over illegal housing. Letters warning of eviction have been sent out (Julia Wilkinson/TTN).

On Oct. 8, Maura Kennedy, deputy press secretary for Mayor Michael Nutter, confirmed that the Department of Licenses and Inspections would notify property owners who were in violation of the ordinance.

Bailey’s landlord has not contacted her regarding the legality of tenancy.

“I just don’t know how serious it is, so I told my mom about it, and I’m going to send her the letter that they sent to my house,” Bailey said. “She said that she’s going to look over it and talk to my landlord about it.”

Temple students are living in about 35 houses that are in violation of the ordinance. Of those, 18 houses have been issued citations by L&I.

Longtime resident Chester Smith said the property value of his home, located on the 1200 block of Master Street, has increased due to the number of students living in Yorktown.

“I know what I paid for my house, and I know what I can get now,” Smith said.

Smith said the expansion of Temple in surrounding neighborhoods promotes economic vitality in North Philadelphia.

“I know that years ago when Temple first started building those big buildings, a lot of people didn’t like that, but I don’t see nobody doing anything. You can’t have blight,” Smith said.

Junior elementary education major Erica Scopino resides in a house on the 1200 block of 12th Street. Though she has not received an eviction notice from L&I, her landlord is in violation of the regulation, which prohibits property owners from constructing multi-family student housing.

“There are four bedrooms and [my landlord] said originally a lot of [houses] were only three. She said she got special permission from the city to [add a room],” Scopino said.

Scopino’s landlord has yet to contact her regarding a pending eviction notice.

“I found it funny that our landlord had no idea that this was going on. I’m sure she has to have some idea about this,” Scopino said.

Scopino said student tenants in Yorktown should not be held accountable for landlords’ negligence.
“If anything, I think [the city] should be fining the landlords and letting us at least live out the rest of the lease and then taking these houses away from the landlords,” she said.

William Carter, the director of legislative affairs for City Councilman Darrell Clarke, issued a statement informing students that they would not have to move until the end of the Fall 2008 semester.

“I was freaking out because if we do have to get evicted, I’m going to have to drop out of school,” Scopino said. “If we have to get kicked out now, how are we going to finish the semester? It’s crazy. If there is an ordinance, why hadn’t [the city] done something before it got into the middle of our leases?”

Director of University Communications Ray Betzner said the most serious concern is students’ academic pursuits that are going to be interrupted by the evictions.

“We’re right here in the middle of the semester, and to have that interrupted by having to relocate [puts] a pretty big stress on students,” Betzner said.

Student tenants in Yorktown are encouraged to schedule an appointment with Capt. Eileen Bradley of Campus Safety Services.. She can be contacted at

“The responsibility of a lot of this relies on the landlord, but students need to be very aware of what potential restrictions may be on where they’re living,” Betzner said.

Smith is concerned that the evictions will force houses into abandonment in the coming years.
“This part of town is not bad,” Smith said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to stay this way, but I always said when I saw a boarded up house, that’s when I’m leaving.”

Brittany Diggs can be reached at


  1. Those absentee landlords in Yorktown knew about this ordinance after it was signed in February 2005. There were public hearings and media coverage at that time. They were soon approached by members of the Yorktown Stakeholders’ Committee with copies of the ordinance given to them each time we noticed construction activity in the different properties. It seems they gambled that the city would not enforce the legislation since the Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Robert Solvibile (under Mayor John Street) was inefficient in enforcing that law. In the meantime, the city lost three years worth of revenue from uncollected penalties for illegally housing students that have come and gone. This was like the children’s game of musical chairs, and this current crop of student renters are caught in the mix of a situation that is causing them a hardship.

    The Temple University students and their parents should pursue legal action against their respective absentee landlords. There are definitely money damages that can be documented, e.g. moving expenses, security deposit, and rent collected in an illegal tenancy. These absentee landlords used fraud and deceit in offering and countersigning these leases. They made the students part and parcel to an illegal activity, thus creating a criminal as well as a civil wrong. The fraud aspect should entitle student plaintiffs to recover treble damages from the absentee landlords as punishment for willful misconduct.

  2. There is simply no precedent for an ordinance that restricts where “students” can live. The U.S. Supreme Court has approved ordinances which restrict the number of unrelated persons who can live together. That is clear. However, there has never been a federal case which tested the constitutionality of treating students differently from other persons.
    Students should be aware that the ordinance is currently the subject of a court challenge. Moreover, all the landlords I know have fully disclosed the ordinance to their tenants. The letters from L & I, from what I understand, were very general in their wording: they said the students “may” be evicted, not that they “will” be evicted.

  3. the city of philadelphia needs to either enforce the laws that are on the books or not. there is nothing “special” about york town. when Philadelphia is ready to hold ALL absent landlords to the same standards, then the student should be evicted along with the whole city.

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