November 2, 2004

Mayor Leads Safety Forum

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In the wake of the “Collegetown Creeper,” a landlord who had hidden surveillance cameras in his apartments and a recent rape in the Collegetown area, there is good reason to be concerned with safety. The Campus-Community Coalition held a public discussion on safety yesterday at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson led the discussion on the topics of personal safety, awareness and building and rental safety.

First, Ithaca Police Chief Lauren Signer talked about the arrest of the Collegetown Creeper and the arrest of the perpetrator of a rape in Collegetown. “We’re good at the short term response and long term investigation,” Signer said. She answered questions about the Creeper’s arrest, stating that right now he is under arrest for criminal trespassing, but that the police are taking a very careful approach.

Alderperson Mike Taylor ’05 (D-4th Ward) said that there has been a lot of criticism of the police department by students and victims wanting an immediate reaction.

“Students should realize that while the police department is talking about proactive measures, they are also taking reactive measures,” Taylor said. “Our goal is to help students make educated off campus housing decisions,” said Pamela Zinder ’82, manager of Housing Alternatives. She said that students could go to her office to review leases, go over danger clauses and look over lists of area landlords. They can also find out if there have been complaints filed against specific landlords.

Kyle Couchman of Po Family Realty said that better communication between tenants, landlords and roommates could prevent a lot of safety problems. He added that sometimes during parties right before breaks, there are people present looking for ways to gain easy access to the building during the break. To prevent this problem, improved communication between residents is necessary.

“Housing in Ithaca is 75 percent rental,” said Larry Beck, Landlords Association of Tompkins County.

“We are planning on starting an Off-Campus Housing Task Force to explore students’ needs and provide resources for students to make the best decision they can,” said LeNorman J. Strong, assistant vice president, Student and Academic Services. He also said that he hopes to have the task force created by Thanksgiving break and to have a preliminary report or draft of recommendations for the public by late February. The task force is to be composed of students living on and off campus, faculty, staff, landlords and community members appointed by the mayor.

“We are trying to see how we can give students the information they need about housing,” said Sharron Thrasher, director of Student Affairs and Diversity.

Phyllis Radke, Ithaca Building Commissioner, said that performing housing inspections for the 10,000 units in the city is very time-consuming. Most buildings are inspected every five years and buildings containing 10 or more residents are inspected every two years.

“Fires occur in student housing nationwide on a regular basis,” said Ithaca Fire Chief Brian Wilbur. He added that all residents should protect themselves by being sure that their building has been inspected, making sure the smoke detectors are working and closing their room doors.

Alderperson Mary Tomlan,’71, (D-3rd Ward), said that permanent residents could help keep the neighborhood safe by keeping an eye on properties while students are away on vacations. Lieutenant Dave Nazer, Cornell Police, said that students should be aware of their surroundings at all times.

In response to a question from Alderperson Gayraud Townsend ’05 (D-4th Ward) on how to deal with uncooperative landlords, Radke replied that the first action should be to call the building department and file a complaint. An inspector will then meet with the property owner and tenant. Zinder suggested filing a complaint to the landlord in writing so that there is a record of the complaint.

One common issue between tenants and landlords is security deposits. Beck said they may not be returned in full because of problems like tape holding up posters, iron burns, and lantern, candle, incense or tobacco scents in the apartment. Landlords must either return the deposit or provide the tenants with a written reason as to why the deposit cannot be returned within 30 days after the termination of the lease. Beck advised that tenants should speak with their landlords about outdoor lighting and other safety issues. He went on to say that landlords will not know all of their tenants’ concerns if they do not communicate with them.

Archived article by Vanessa Hoffman
Sun Staff Writer