Off-campus houses near OSU’s campus. The Off-Campus Housing Excellence Program was recently established by the Office of Student Life as a response to requests for increased collaboration between landlords and the university. Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editor

Off-campus houses near OSU’s campus. The Off-Campus Housing Excellence Program was recently established by the Office of Student Life as a response to requests for increased collaboration between landlords and the university.
Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editor

“If we’d known how bad our landlord was going to be, we would’ve never signed the lease, and if we’d known there was a bug problem, we never would have lived there.”

Matt Schmitz, a fourth-year in welding engineering at Ohio State, has had more than a little bad luck when it comes to renting in the off-campus area.

His dissatisfaction with his experience is shared among many students who choose to live off-campus, but OSU is working to implement a program that aims to help students avoid situations like Schmitz’s.

“Last year when we moved in, there were still couches left behind and a load of dirty dishes in the sink,” Schmitz said. “We didn’t have running water or (smoke detectors) for the first few weeks.”

After his landlord was unresponsive about fixing the problems, Schmitz and his roommates met with OSU Student Legal Services, a law office that provides legal advice to students, and decided to put their rent in escrow, meaning have a third-party service hold the money, rather than paying their landlord until the issues were addressed.

Schmitz and his roommates are still in the process of trying to collect all the court-ordered money their former landlord owes them, although they moved out of the residence in August when their one-year lease was up. In Schmitz’s current off-campus home, his roommates are dealing with another kind of pest — a cockroach infestation. Schmitz said, however, his new landlord has had an exterminator come to combat the problem.

“At least my landlord is doing something about it,” he said. “But how were we supposed to know about this when we signed the lease?”

The Off-Campus Housing Excellence Program was recently established by the Office of Student Life as a response to “landlord requests for increased collaboration with the university, and parent and student requests for additional information about off-campus housing and off-campus living,” said Neighborhood Services and Collaboration program coordinator Alex Sanchez.

Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp said all students should know what they’re getting into before they sign a lease, part of the goal driving OSU’s new program.

“My goal is, if you’re a student like me who wants to live in a cheap property off-campus, now you’re going to be able to do that still, but at least you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into,” Stepp said. “If you want to invest a great deal of money into a nice property, if you can afford that, you’re going to know what you’re getting in both capacities.”

Stepp, a fourth-year in public affairs, has had his own issues during his off-campus living experience.

“When I lived off-campus my sophomore year, my ceiling in my closet fell in,” Stepp said. “My landlord didn’t repair it for something like six months. I didn’t have the proper information about a recourse to take, I didn’t have the proper information on my landlord, and if I would have, then perhaps I wouldn’t have been in that situation.”

Stepp said hearing situations of students being taken advantage of by landlords led him to envision what OSU could do to help.

“USG puts out a renter’s guide every year …  and it details student perspectives on landlords, but we wanted some sort of stamp of approval by the university,” Stepp said. “Then we also kind of separately wanted to make sure that we weren’t having these slumlords off campus that were taking advantage of students, having them live in houses that weren’t up to code, so then those two ideas kind of merged in together to the housing standards of excellence which we have right now.”

The new OSU program consists of three components: home visits, education, and eventually, enhanced rental property information. Sanchez said the education component has already been implemented through outreach programs like the first-year success series and Second-year Transformational Experience Program safety workshop, and home visits should start within the next few weeks.

“It’s a Student Life initiative, but we’re partnering with the (Columbus Division of Fire) to do the home visits,” Sanchez said. “So we’re focusing on safety, security and environmental sustainability, because those are the — based on responses and requests from students — those are those issues that they are most interested (in).”

Landlords can elect to participate in the home visits, which entail Sanchez and a representative from Columbus Fire visiting all units of said landlord or company. During the visits, Sanchez plans to use a checklist “developed in collaboration with the Office of Student Life, parents, students and landlords and the Columbus Fire Department” to assess the properties. Information gathered during the home visits will eventually be posted on Student Life’s Neighborhood Services and Collaboration website to provide current and future students the information to “make informed decisions about future housing needs,” Sanchez said.

Registration forms for landlords to sign up to participate in the home visits were made available last week, Sanchez said in an email, and he expects owners and property managers to return those soon, allowing him to begin scheduling home visits. Residents will be alerted when the visits are set to happen, and can reschedule for times they will be home, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays, Sanchez said.

In a statement from Student Life Vice President Javaune Adams-Gaston emailed to The Lantern, Adams-Gaston said the Off-Campus Housing Excellence Program reflects the mission of the Office of Student Life.

“We are committed to advancing a thriving campus community, and this program will benefit both students and landlords through greater collaboration,” Adams-Gaston said. “It is important that our students live in a safe, secure environment that best contributes to their academic success at Ohio State.”

Some students’ concerns about off-campus living were elevated after a house of 15 people in OSU’s off-campus area discovered Aug. 30 there had been a man secretly living in their basement. The residents, who live on 13th Avenue and are OSU students, thought a locked door in the basement led to a utility closet. When one of the house’s residents opened the door, they found a bedroom complete with framed photographs and textbooks. Since then, the locks were changed by the leasing company, NorthSteppe Realty.

Derek Vickers, a fourth-year in chemical engineering, said he has had a generally positive experience renting in the off-campus area, as any maintenance requests he’s had to make for his “really old, over 100-year-old” house have been remedied by his landlord. He noted, however, that when he originally began his off-campus housing search, he did not think there was adequate rental information available to him, which he said would have been helpful to him considering how old his house is.

“I’m sure the fire code is probably all right, but I don’t think our electricity (is),” Vickers said. “We have four bedrooms, and three of them and the kitchen are on the same circuit. So I had a lamp that was in my room and something was wrong with it and it was tripping the circuit, so my whole upstairs (electricity) would go out.”

Not all students were keen on the idea of having university intervention on rental information though.

Cory Sharkey, a second-year in exploration who lives off-campus, said students should be responsible for gathering their own information when looking for a place to live.

“The school getting involved isn’t really necessary,” he said. “The students should look into it before (signing a lease).”

Stepp said education is the key to the Off-Campus Housing Excellence program’s success.

“It’s about education, this is about ensuring that … we’re allowing our students to have the highest level of education possible, and that we are allowing our students to know that these (properties) are up to code and meeting a variety of requirements,” he said. “It’s a great step in the right direction. I think that this is going to go really far in helping students ensure they have reliable, safe housing in the future.”

Sanchez agreed.

“(It’s) just like the Student Life mission: we want to create the extraordinary student experience,” he said. “We like to say that we are a central resource for students that have off-campus housing living questions so instead of being here at the (Ohio) Union we want to take that service right there into their home.”