Students Should Do Research Before Choosing to Live Off Campus
Published: Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Updated: Thursday, December 25, 2008 12:12
Like thousands of students who migrate to Washington, D.C., Lisa Fraser came to the area to begin her collegiate career. Moving to the District in 1993 as a sophomore transfer student to Howard University, Fraser was also among thousands of students faced with the frustrations of becoming a first time renter.
Having already experienced dorm life at her previous university Fraser opted to rent a shared house in the Ledroit Park area with other students to perhaps save housing on costs. Housing code violations with a private landlord was an issue Fraser dealt with, causing an abrupt end to her first rental endeavor.
"My roommates and I had problems which included radiator leaks that caused an odor in the house and non-working lights, but we needed housing," said Fraser.
Fraser said she did not know the extent of her rights, but ended up in tenant's court for eventually refusing to pay rent. "We ended up in court, but the judge ruled in our favor initially because the landlord had these violations, by the time we went back to court we decided to move," said Fraser.
What was believed to be a fatality caused by rental housing code violations occurred in October 2004 when Georgetown University student Daniel Rigby died after the Georgetown rowhouse he was renting caught fire. Initially, the cause of the fire was believed to be related to electrical wiring in the house. The fire prompted the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to start inspecting rental spaces in the Georgetown area. Although the initial cause of fire was dispelled the house Rigby lived in after being inspected was found to have housing code violations.
This fall, the DCRA has launched an aggressive initiative to help educate student renters about their rights and make off campus housing safer in the district. Through their Web site, thisshouldbeillegal.com, the DCRA has started a watchdog network for the thousands of students residing off campus in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
According to DCRA spokesperson Michael Rupert there are about 8,000 rental properties being leased to about 12,000 college students in the District. With the District's high concentration of student renters, the DCRA decided to redirect their marketing to reach the college demographic using the Web and viral media as well as social networking sites. "Our director Linda Argo wanted to reach students where they were we wanted to have their attention," Rupert said.
The agency has also started a campus tour to promote their web site ad initiative that began at Howard University. With 35 percent to 40 percent of the student body renting off campus, according to the agency, Howard University has one of the highest off-campus student-renter rates in the area. Rupert said the agency encourages landlords to visit the site and to get involved with the initiative as well. "We are here for landlords who want to rent [legally] and have their houses up to code. The point of this is to get a conversation going; we want this to be long term. The goal is to make student housing safe," Rupert said.
According to the DCRA students are more likely to rent from unlicensed landlords, putting them at risk for leasing rental spaces with poor plumbing and fire hazardous conditions among other housing violations. Through their Web site, the DCRA intends to inform students of their renter's rights and to curb the amount of unlicensed landlords in the District.