March 12, 2013

Council Meeting Discusses Student Housing

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A panel at the Collegetown Neighborhood Council meeting Tuesday addressed local landlord-tenant concerns. The panelists included Ithaca landlords, student leaders and members of the Rental Housing Advisory Commission and the Off-Campus Housing Office.

In the discussion, panel members said that it was important for students to be acquainted with off-campus housing procedures and laws of Ithaca and New York state regarding tenant’s rights. They also encouraged landlords to educate students on housing procedures.

“[Cornell] students aren’t necessarily as educated in the process of renting, of signing contracts and of even getting utilities,” said Denise Thompson, administrative assistant for the Office of Fraternities, Sororities and Independent Living.  “On the other hand, our landlords don’t know that they are educators to the students.”

Monica Moll, a Collegetown landlord and board member of the Landlords Association of Tompkins County — a non-profit organization that promotes professional skills in local landlords — encouraged landlords to join the organization, saying, “We try to educate our landlords in ethics and deny membership to those who don’t follow our eight-point code of ethics.

This code includes statements such as “We will act fairly … in our dealings with tenants” and “We will respond promptly to tenant request … for assistance,” according to a handout Moll provided.

Thompson and other members of the panel encouraged students to take advantage of resources at the Off-Campus Housing Office in Willard Straight Hall.

Thompson said the office can help improve student knowledge about the process of moving off campus, how to manage expenses and renting.

Eric Silverberg ’14, chair of the Cornell Collegetown Student Council, said he believes his organization can also help disseminate information on off-campus housing resources to students.

“It’s not a lack of resources on campus, but the ignorance of knowledge that exists,” he said. “Freshmen, sophomores and even upperclassmen don’t know the Off-Campus Housing Office exists. [The CSC] is actively trying to be that resource to reach more broadly across campus.”

Speakers on the panel also emphasized the importance of improving relations between tenants and landlords.

“[Renting] should not be an adversarial system, and there’s a false perception that all landlords are bad, and that students are bad tenants,” Silverberg said. “Being good requires communication and compromises on both parties.”

Tessa Rudan ’89, a member of the Planning and Development Board, talked about the Community Dispute Resolution Center, a mediation group that assists Collegetown tenants and landlords on disputes.

“As a Cornell alumna and landlord, I’m aware of how students behave, [and] I understand the lifestyle. When my tenants have ‘lifestyle clashes,’ I refer them to this group instead of going to court,” Rudan said.

According to Thompson, the Community Dispute Resolution Center is a non-profit organization that runs on donations and grants, where volunteer mediators are professionally trained to mediate situations.  Thompson said that the Community Dispute Resolution Center has been “utilized a lot recently, but they’ll respond to requests when available.”

Thompson said that often, resolving landlord-tenant issues is as easy as improving communication between parties.

“The best way to get around the issues of noises and parties for both parties is to knock on the door and introduce yourself. It’s good to place a face to a neighbor,” Silverberg said.

Panelists also commented upon the rush for housing and renewing leases, which they said occurs every fall semester. Mitch Paine grad, who represented the Rental Housing Advisory Commission, proposed one possible solution to the annual problem.

“We are looking at other communities like Ann Arbor to see how they handle this problem. They put a moratorium for renewing the lease, 70 days after the signing of the previous one,” he said. “We’re hoping this ‘cooling off’ period will offer students to see other places, and figure out if they want to commit to roommates and landlords for another year.”

Original Author: Kevin Milian