Jinyan Wu, a sophomore university studies major, said she decided to rent her apartment on 12th Street near Jefferson in Yorktown because it is close to Main Campus.
But students like Wu who are renting homes in Yorktown without the owner living there are at risk of eviction because of a nearly 13-year-old ordinance banning owners from renting to students in the neighborhood.
In 2005, Philadelphia City Council passed a zoning ordinance in Yorktown that prohibits student housing, non-owner occupied housing and multi-family dwellings.
But students live in this area because some homeowners continue to rent to students against the ordinance. Some Yorktown residents are contacting city departments about it.
Robert McMichael, the president of the Yorktown Community Organization, said the group collected a list of nearly 80 homes that are allegedly non-owner occupied and rented to students.
This list was given to L&I’s Deputy Commissioner Ralph DiPietro and Operations Director Bernice Johnson in September. L&I employees are identifying the owners of the 79 homes, wrote L&I’S Communications Director Karen Guss.
“It’s a huge issue,” McMichael said. “It’s the most important issue in Yorktown right now.”
City Council found that North Central Philadelphia has become subject to developers looking to make multi-family dwellings from single-family homes to rent to students, according to the ordinance.
The ordinance aims to “preserve and protect” the existing “stable community” of single-family homes in Yorktown.
When there is an issue with a housing ordinance, people typically submit a complaint to Philly311, Philadelphia’s non-emergency contact center, by dialing 3-1-1. A representative from L&I will send a letter to the owner of the home that is allegedly violating this ordinance. L&I will then inspect the home and inform the owner that he or she needs to comply with the law, Guss wrote in an email.
If the owner does not comply, L&I will submit a “cease operations order.” In this case, students living in the home will have to find a new place to live.
Guss told The Temple News it is difficult to enforce a housing ordinance because there is no “reliable indication of who is in the property.”
Wu lives with two other students who found their home available online. She said she only speaks to her landlord once a month over the phone.
She said she was unaware she was violating an ordinance by living in the home. Her landlord never discussed this ordinance with them, she said.
Guss added that Temple should address this issue “proactively.”
The Temple News reported in May that the university only offers about 5,700 beds for students on Main Campus. It is estimated at least 7,000 students live off-campus in the surrounding North Philadelphia area.
During fall break, Temple will demolish Peabody Hall, said Dozie Ibeh, the vice president of Temple’s Project Delivery Group, in August. Peabody, the university’s oldest residence hall with 287 beds for freshman students, officially closed in Spring 2017.
“You know how many students you have and how much housing you have,” Guss said. “These things don’t match up.”
The office of University Housing and Residential Life houses the Office of Off-Campus Living, which provides students resources for living in a private residence.
Jessica Johnson, associate director of off-campus living, said the office advises students not to live in Yorktown.
She encourages students to utilize the office’s resources, like its partnerships with local apartment complexes.
Off-Campus Living lists the Yorktown housing restriction ordinance on its website.
“I would caution students to ask questions before they sign a lease,” Guss said. “It’s always a good idea to get as much information as you can.”
“We’re not trying to make these students’ lives difficult,” she added.
McMichael said students living in Yorktown are not maintaining their homes or the area. They’re not cutting the grass and not cleaning up after themselves, he said.
Guss said students need to be good neighbors to others who live in Yorktown.
“If you’re a good neighbor, you’re less likely to have problems with your neighbors and the ordinance,” she said. “That’s why this ordinance came about. It’s not that [residents] don’t think students are nice people.”
“I think I need to talk to my landlord because I really didn’t know about [the rule],” Wu said.