Landlords aim to protect their investments -- and the neighborhood

January 6, 2016
Off-campus student

One Tommie landlord refuses to rent to students unless he knows the parents. Another makes up refrigerator magnets with her name and phone number -- and insists her student-renters deliver those to the neighbors.

Of the nearly 300 property owners in the University of St. Thomas' database of men and women who rent to UST's students, the majority are experienced business people who know how to write a lease, screen their tenants and collaborate with the university when problems arise.

But not everyone: One new landlord, who owns a single rental property in the City of St. Paul's Student Housing Overlay District -- put in place to limit student rentals around the university's main campus -- says he doesn't know "what authority I have when students are partying."

Another landlord, a Tommie parent who owns three properties in the neighborhood, didn't know about the city's Social Host Ordinance -- which holds renters responsible for underage drinking on their premises, even if the renters did not supply the alcohol or are stone-cold sober themselves.

Screen prospective tenants

Some landlords swear that young female renters are less prone to partying and disruptions than young men. Even a student affairs expert at St. Thomas says that "sophomore boys" tend to cause the most problems when they move off-campus.

Not all Tommie landlords agree. "After renting to students for 30 years, I don't look at gender. I look at GPA," says Mike Marinovich, a St. Thomas alumnus who owns two student rentals in the neighborhood. No one below a 3.0 gradepoint average may rent one of Marinovich's properties, and when he has multiple groups interested in his rental homes, he asks which group will be willing to volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities.

"This age group is ideally suited to be mentors, and while in college they've got time," he explains. "If they really want the house, they'll make a commitment to it."

Landlord Keith Collins -- also a St. Thomas alumnus who owns duplexes and larger properties throughout the neighborhood -- requires his tenants to have completed the two-part STEP (Student Tenants Education Program) classes offered by the Dean of Students office (scheduled for fall 2016).

Other leasing tips:

  • Don't allow any kegs on the premises (and include the garage when writing this lease provision; don't say merely "no kegs in the house").
  • Insist that parents be present when the lease is signed and on move-in day.
  • Forbid smoking on the premises.
  • Allow no more than 10 people on the property at a given time.
  • Fine your tenants for X number of neighbor complaints or police calls.

Alan Hupp and his wife, Karen, own five student-rental properties in St. Paul, three of which are in the St. Thomas-focused Student Housing Overlay District. They used to have their student renters sign "a standard Minnesota lease with an addendum," he explains. But the addenda got longer and longer. Now, the Hupps' leases for students are 25 pages long, "and they go into the details of all the facets of renting."

Hupp says his one "fail-safe" provision is the right to evict for behaviors disruptive to neighbors or other tenants. "That's real tricky," he concedes, "because the last thing you want as a businessman is an empty house in the middle of the school year."

Knowing such a consequence is possible helps tame behaviors. But so does Hupp's respectful insistence that his student renters be their best selves. "I go into these relationships assuming my tenants are responsible young adults," he says. "I set expectations at the very first meeting: respect your neighbors, take care of my house, pay your rent on time.

"In general, communication is key with all relationships -- so I strongly encourage the students to meet their neighbors and get to know one another."