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Collegetown calamity | Over 50 students who signed Fontana Apartment leases starting Aug. 1 face anxiety and inconvenience as they await its opening.

September 8, 2016

Delayed Collegetown Apartment Opening Leaves Students Homeless

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The stress of starting a new school year has escalated for residents of Fontana Apartments, with delays causing over 50 students begin the semester without a home.

The apartment building, located at 327 Eddy St., has delayed opening its doors five times and plans to finally open on Sept. 9, according to a resident of the apartment who requested to remain anonymous.

However, the resident expressed doubts about the validity of landlord Steve Fontana’s promised opening date.

“Until I am actually holding the keys and standing in my apartment, I’ll just be unsure of it,” the resident said.

“[Fontana has] promised us so many dates and hasn’t delivered on any of them, so I don’t feel like I can trust anything he says.”

Problems during construction began with an elevator subcontractor and Ithaca Fire Department ruling, which caused the first delay, according to emails from Steve Fontana to residents, obtained by The Sun.

The situation soon worsened when the City of Ithaca Building Department Director did not give the building a Certificate of Occupancy in late August. Then there was a water main break and a pipe broke.

Michael Niechwiadowicz ’78, Director of Code Enforcement and the person authorized to give the building a Certificate of Occupancy, said that these sorts of delays are “not that unusual” and was hopeful that the building will open Friday.

“We have staff there every day trying to see if it can open,” he said. “I think [Fontana is] doing everything he can.”

As compensation, Fontana promised students $30 for every day they are unable to move in, or lodging at the Trip Hotel on Sheraton Ave, by Ithaca Mall. A shuttle transports the students to and from the hotel, according to residents.

Yet these accommodations are less than ideal, according to a second anonymous student whose plans for a family visit were ruined by the living situation.

“The hotel also has horrendous reviews on several online hotel websites, including cases of bed bugs or unlaundered towels,” a student source said. “Clearly Steve just found the cheapest place that he could.”

Fontana has told his residents in his emails that the situation has made him “sick,” and that he is “fighting every hour to get [the residents] in as soon as possible.” However, despite his apologies and monetary compensation, residents argue that his efforts do not sufficiently ease the situations’ inconveniences.

Although the lease was supposed to begin on Aug. 1, Fontana is only compensating residents from Aug. 21 onward, according to the source. The source added that “[Fontana] clearly took advantage of the fact that he was signing with a bunch of young college students in a stressful situation to cover his back.”

Fontana did not respond to The Sun’s repeated requests for comment.

Denise Thompson, Cornell’s off-campus living manager, hosted a meeting on Tuesday for students who were supposed to be living in the currently unfinished Fontana Apartments. The meeting was also attended by city officials, including Niechwiadowicz, who provided students with updates on the building’s progress.

“I think the students were given knowledge, and with knowledge is power,” Thompson said. “Now they know what to expect. They understand what are the minimum health and safety requirements that the building code has, and being armed with that, they can go back and make certain demands — if they so choose.”

Thompson said the building hopes to open Friday through a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy, allowing the residents to live in the building even if it is not complete, although first primary safety concerns must be assured.

“The health and well-being of our students is my division’s top priority,” she said. “Cornell knows what’s happening and understands how frustrating it is and wants the best for [these students].”

Thompson also added that Cornell has provided students with complimentary 15-ride bus passes and temporary use of Townhouse laundry facilities for their inconvenience.

“I really want to thank Denise Thompson and the Ithaca Building Department,” said a student who attended the meeting who also signed a lease with Fontana last year. “To be honest, [Fontana] really didn’t trick us into anything. He tried his best.”

Many students remain dissatisfied with the uncertainty of the situation, claiming it has affected their emotional and academic well being.

“There is no working fridge in the hotel, so I essentially have to eat out every single meal of every day, which has created an unnecessary financial burden,” said a third anonymous source, who had to drop a class because of the housing inconvenience.

A student added that the landlord’s uncertain updates on the housing situation have been frustrating.

“I’m constantly distracted in classes thinking about this nightmare situation and I lie wide awake at night frantically trying to think of ways to get out of it,” the student said. “These false hopes that Fontana has consistently given us have just constantly played with our emotions.”