December 2, 2004

Good, Bad, and Slummy: Collegetown Landlords

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Collegetown is not Manhattan. It may not have doormen, rent control or even free garbage disposal, but it does come complete with landlords who add some local “charm” to off-campus living. Like apartments themselves, the quality of student-landlord relationships can vary significantly.

Every phase of Collegetown living comes with its own surprises, starting with the apartment hunt.

“One time, when I was showing an apartment, I walked into a tenant’s room and he was hanging by a harness from his ceiling. He had built a 10-foot climbing wall in his bedroom,” recalled Nick Lambrou, owner of Lambrou Real Estate.

Lambrou provides housing to over 300 students with his houses on Eddy Street, Highland Place, Mitchell Street, N. Quarry Street, Cook Street and the apartment building at 301 Eddy. After students have chosen a place to live, it’s time for their first lease-signing.

“Signing my lease was something different. We met in the basement of this house (not the one we live in). We went into an unfurnished room … sat down at a folding table, and signed the papers. The whole thing felt like a drug transaction,” said a resident in one of landlord Pam Johnston’s properties.

Writing leases for students is a different kind of situation from the landlord’s perspective as well.

Landlord Mary Gutenberger of College Ave. Realty Inc. draws up papers for 301 College Ave. “recognizing that the stated deadlines are going to have to be relaxed as, in many cases, the signature comes from the students but the rent money comes from the parents,” said one resident who wished to remain anonymous.

Lambrou designed a website with virtual apartment tours specifically with long-distance, rent-paying parents in mind.

“If your parents are in California, they don’t know where Eddy St. is,” Lambrou said. After all is said and signed, it’s time to move in.

According to Jeff Hull of Ithaca Rentals, “first-time renters have a lot to learn,” starting with their addresses. “Students show up to get keys and you ask them where they’re living and they say ‘I don’t know.'” Hull said.

Ithaca Renting Company represents Collegetown Center, Collegetown Plaza, Collegetown Court, Aces Apartments, Johnny’s Apartments, 210, 214, and 105 Dryden Road and 705 E. Buffalo Street.

Hull described other beginner faux pas he’s had to rectify.

“Students will fill their dishwashers with regular hand soap and then their whole apartment fill with soap suds because you need to use dishwasher detergent — not hand soap — in a dishwasher. So you tell them that and they nod their heads blankly and you have to come back an hour later when they do it again,” Hull said.

In Hull’s opinion, “most would say that Collegetown Plaza, Collegetown Center and Collegetown Court are nice places, but there is a feeling that Ithaca Renting Company is trying to rip off their security deposit.”

Students living in Collegetown Plaza expressed a slightly different sentiment. Though largely pleased with the quality of the housing, the complaints focused more on the maintenance.

“Although I love where I’m living, there’s a delightful pond forming in my hallway, and I’m not a skater,” said one Collegetown Plaza resident.

Chris Anangnost of Christopher George Real Estate, which represents 304 College Ave., among other properties, said that his operation “is like the front desk of a hotel — parents call up here when they haven’t seen their kids in a while.”

Johnston does not have as tight-knit an operation as does Anangnost — former residents complained that “although she was very nice, she kept losing my checks and I had to send her photocopies … it was kind of annoying.”

Residents of houses owned by Certified Properties, one of the major property owners in Collegetown, have said that their landlord “sort of keeps to himself; we don’t ask that much of them and they don’t ask that much of us.”

Another tenant in a house owned by Certified Properties told the Sun that “I live in a big house, and it’s not in the best condition, but I have a cat and that’s not allowed, so I like that they leave you alone.”

Some tenants have had some comic incidences with their landlords.

“One day I left my house and my landlord had set up this Feng Shui sort of thing in my front yard. I didn’t know it was coming, but all of a sudden there was a whole display, including this fountain which I expect will be used as a urinal late night on the weekends,” said an anonymous renter.

There seems to be a unanimous opinion among Collegetown residents that landlords were very responsible during the David Church scandal and Collegetown Creeper incidents. Several sources said that their landlords were very quick to install security lights and guards on windows after reports of the incidences.

In some basic ways, Collegetown living is a “watered down” version of living in a real city, but in many senses, it’s an experience all its own.

Archived article by Erica Fink
Sun Senior Writer