Off-campus students warn renters about realities

December 7, 2015 / By: Amy Gage

One off-campus student has a "hippie" landlord who didn't fix the rental unit's dishwasher for months. Another says his landlord is a friendly but "disorganized" guy who loses track of security deposits.

Landlords: Here's what students say about you behind closed doors, when they're talking to their peers about the pros and cons of renting a house or duplex in the neighborhood:

  • "Walk through the house with your landlord before you move in."
  • "Don't sign the lease until agreements are written down."
  • "Maybe have a parent walk through the house with you."

More than 100 St. Thomas students filled the JRC Auditorium on the St. Paul campus Dec. 2 for Renter 101, an informal and informative lesson about the realities of living off campus, from three students who are doing it.

Adult privileges, adult problems

"Summer kind of sucks," said Molly, a senior who lives in a century-old house with no air-conditioning and "awful" water pressure. "You can't flush the toilet and do laundry at the same time," she explained. She also told the assembly of students who are considering moving out of residence halls to add the words "subleasing" and "fire marshall inspection" to their vocabulary.

"Evaluate the people you're going to live with," said James, a sophomore who moved off campus because it's cheaper and he wanted the freedom to have guests past 2 a.m. "If a person is messy, that won't change."

Alex, who lives five blocks east of campus, joked about attending his neighborhood block party in September but said it did help break the ice. "The dads came up to us and said, 'We get it. We were 20 once, too.' The moms were terrified: 'He's my neighbor!'"

Josh Hengemuhle, program director of Off-Campus Student Services (OCSS) at St. Thomas, offers door-prize drawings during Renter 101 and encourages participants to share their comments on Twitter. He keeps the atmosphere light, joking about the BuzzFeed list of "21 Lessons You Learn Living Off Campus" (something parents and landlords may want to review).

"Check if repairs are in your lease if you move off campus," Tweeted one participant who used the hashtag #brokentoilet.

"Mom, you were right. Apparently chore charts are cool!" said another.

And this: "They are making renting sound like hell."

Incentivize responsibility

Based on the feedback and questions at Renter 101, UST landlords would help prospective renters by assuming little knowledge about leases, security deposits, utility bills, collecting rent checks and other financial basics.

The OCSS website lists seven student rental properties near the St. Thomas campus whose landlords reward student renters for completing the two-part STEP program every spring. Scheduled for April 16 and 23, 2015, STEP stands for Student Tenant Education Program.

The two sessions will cover tenant rights and responsibilities, off-campus safety, learning to live in an urban, family-oriented neighborhood and more.

Permanent residents tend to voice the same complaints about student rental properties. The following topics weren't covered in Rental 101, but reminding your tenants about these duties would go a long way toward ensuring good neighborhood relationships:

  • Rake leaves during the autumn
  • Keep sidewalks free of snow and ice
  • Learn about parking during City of St. Paul snow emergencies
  • Alert your neighbors and the landlord when you'll be gone.

"It took me some time to figure out how to be a good landlord," said Sean Fisher, a St. Thomas alumnus who owns one rental property in the neighborhood. "There were ups and downs. I learned how to screen kids" -- and how to prepare them to be not just renters but real neighbors.