September 6, 2002

C-Town Buildings Raise Safety Concerns

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Last week, approximately 15 residents were ordered to vacate their apartment building at 302-304 Stewart Ave. According to a letter from the Building Department of the City of Ithaca, dated Aug. 28, the building had not had an electrical survey since 1962.

These are not the only Collegetown residents suffering from poor housing conditions. David Schwartz ’05 moved into his house and had problems with his walls and a broken bed.

“It’s taken a lot of work, which is pretty much what I hear from everybody,” Schwartz said.

Natalie Neuman ’04 said that when she and her house-mates moved in, “the promises made in the lease were not fulfilled. The house wasn’t repainted and windows were broken, screens non-existent, holes in the walls, chipping paint, dirty rooms, broken locks and doors, etc.”

One of the main problems is that students do not have the basic knowledge of how to rent properly.

Tom Li Vigne, real estate manager for Cornell, said, “the average student is not prepared to negotiate a lease with a landlord. But they learn very quickly.”

“For the money that [Collegetown residents] pay … [properties] should be neat, clean, and up-to-date.” Li Vigne feels tenants should be able to “expect an operation that is run in a professional manner,” he added.

University assembly member Michael Matly ’03 noted that, unfortunately, students do not know what rights they have. He is in the beginning stages of establishing a “Collegetown Bill of Rights.”

“At this point,” he said, “tenants have no where to go.”

Students do, however, have a few resources available. Pam Zinder ’82, manager of housing alternatives, said Campus Life offers free services to help students.

They offer information sessions and will even have one-on-one meetings with students to go over leases.

According to Walter J. Wiggins law ’51, a lawyer in Ithaca, tenants have the right to expect a property to be in the same condition as when it was toured. He said tenants can, “expect that the property has been inspected and approved for renting.”

Mainly, this means that the landlord has a current Certificate of Compliance from the City of Ithaca.

Phyllis Radke, building commissioner for the City of Ithaca, said it is the City’s job to enforce state and city codes. These codes especially deal with safety issues.

Unfortunately, Radke said, even if the city officials wanted to, they, “can’t make [landlords] do stuff unless the code says to.”

Furthermore, the City lacks enough staff to cover the 7,000 units needing inspection every three years.

Li Vigne said, “the City does the best job they can with the personnel they have … it’s just a matter of the landlords complying with what’s there.”

The landlords must decide whether or not they are willing to make a commitment to their properties and tenants. Though there are obviously those who fail to meet standards, some landlords do put forth the necessary efforts.

Mary Gutenberger, apartment manager for Egan College Square, said she tries to make herself as accessible as possible.

“We decided early on that we wanted to have a property that we would not be ashamed to live in ourselves,” she said. “It’s upsetting when you see … landlords who don’t take care of their properties. They give everybody a black-eye.”

Archived article by Rachel Brenner