Wednesday, November 12, 2008

No students allowed - full article

It became one of her “tool-bar favorites”. Searching Craigslist for off-campus housing became a morning ritual. For months she looked at tons of houses, and in each search found the perfect home for her—unfortunately, it came with a minor snag:

No students allowed.

“I understand why [homeowners] have prejudices against college students,” says Katie Heuston, 21, a senior at Roger Williams University. “But there are good people in college, too, and if you’re going to live in a college town you have to assume you’re going to be renting to college students.”

Although she moved into the house in August, Katie has been paying for the house since May to ensure that she had a place to live come the beginning of the semester.

“I basically used it as really expensive storage over the summer,” says Katie.

Unlike the stereotypical college party house, Katie lives with two other girls in the suburbs of Bristol, RI. The white house comes equipped with a canopy of grape vines to the left of the driveway. With the exception of the clucking of chickens from the coup in the backyard, the house is quiet.

“We like having an apartment where we can come back and work, but you go out to parties,” says Katie. “We have friends over, but we’re quiet here.”

According to Mary Tavares, Century21 employee of 18 years, about 90 percent of rentals say no to students, and usually only take one if they’re a law student. Legally homeowners can say they don’t want students and it’s not discriminatory.

Homeowner Nicole Sowning, of Bristol, has her reasons not to rent to RWU undergraduate students.

“I did have some RWU students and the ones I had problems with were the underclassmen,” says Sowning. “Graduates have more direction and are a little more respectful. I’m a graduate from RWU so I know what college life is like.”

“[College students] are stereotyped,” says Tavares. “But unfortunately, you read the police reports in the paper every week and they’re stereotyped for good reasons.”

On a weekly basis, one to two RWU students are sited to appear in court due to house parties and noise levels such as loud music, revving engines, and unamplified human voices, according to Lieutenant Steven Contente, who has worked for the Bristol Police for 13 ½ years.

“Normally students go out at night Wednesday through Saturday, and when they come back they make a lot of noise,” says Contente. “It’s not for a long duration…but in a quiet neighborhood it’s disruptive.”

However, noise isn’t what students are normally sited for. According to Contente, when the police arrive at the scene the noise quiets down, so other violations, such as underage drinking, procurement of alcohol and disorderly conduct are the charges that are sited. These charges are than bought to the attention of RWU’s judiciary system as a violation of the Student Code of Conduct.

Students living off-campus abide by the “good neighbor policy”, in which students living off-campus have the same punishments and expectations (respecting neighbors, the law, etc.) applied to them as students living on-campus. With the exception of being kicked off housing, students are still fined, given warnings, and put on probation. According to Heidi Hartzell, Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards, if a student off campus violates probation they can be removed from school for a semester.

“Most students who live off campus really work with us and understand the good neighbor policy,” says Hartzell. “Students…are representing themselves and the university while they’re in our communities, as well as the value of their diploma.”

Although RWU has no official office for off-campus housing, they do have their own ways to help students find homes. According to Jen Stanley, Director of Residence Life, there are about 1,000 undergraduate commuters at RWU, which in turn means that each of them lives off-campus. Online students, graduates, and faculty can find local listings put up by different realtors and landlords, along with lease-signing information.

Another way the school tries to help students find housing is with an off-campus housing fair. Four or five realtors come to campus to answer students’ questions about finding housing, prices, etc. Last year there were about 85 students who showed, according to Carol Sacchetti, Assistant Director of Housing.

When going to a real estate agency, students can walk in and ask if anything is available. If the landlord allows students, an agent will show them the property. When it comes time to fill out the credit application, the agency normally asks for the parent’s signature and does a credit check on the parent rather than the student.

“They come in hordes looking for apartments or houses,” says Tavares. “Every parent says their child is a very studious child, that there will be no partying. And than we get complaints from the landlords, and we have to turn that over to the parents because they can be held liable for a whole year’s rent if [the student] gets kicked out.”

In the last year to year-in-a-half, three sets of students that Tavares knows of have been kicked out; one only living in the house for two months this semester.

“When I see boys coming at me I almost want to run the other way,” says Tavares. “Landlords tend to think girls will be better. But what happens with the girls is that they attract the boys, and you end up having the boys over anyway.”

Joe Delamura, 20, a junior at RWU, had a difficult time trying to rent a house. With two real estate agents, it still took over five months before anyone would rent to the group of four boys. In one instance, a group of four girls looked at the same house, and the landlord gave it to the girls “hands down, no questions asked.”

“If I owned a house, I wouldn’t want to rent to college kids either,” says Joe. “Things get broken and things happen in your house that you prefer not to happen. If I was a landlord and drove by my house to see people getting charged five dollars a cup at the door, I’d be a little upset. …But a lot of people just won’t rent to guys.”

Joe and his roommates lucked out when finding the waterfront property in Bristol during Law School spring break. The vacation home is an academic rental (meaning from September through the end of May), and though Joe and his roommates were not the Law School students the landlord was looking for, they were the first to offer her the price she wanted, so she took it.

“I absolutely hated living in the resident halls; the rules are ridiculous, it’s like living in some type of communist society,” says Joe. “For the same amount of money I’m able to afford a much nicer place and not have to deal with people knocking on your at 11pm saying to quiet down.”

Of course, Joe admits that he and his roommates are not exactly the “cleanest or most orderly and civil people.” Having already broken their glass stove with a fist, throwing a can of Monster through a wall, and trying to make Moonshine in the back of a toilet, things have been broken and repaired.

“[Our landlord’s] brother-in-law lives four or five houses down the road, so we told her about the stove,” says Joe. “She’s very cool with us because she knows if we were to leave or she was to evict us, she’d lose out on a lot of money.”

Katie also decided to live off campus for the freedom. In addition she says it’s cheaper to live off campus with roommates: while she was paying about 800 dollars a month to live at RWU, she pays about 300 dollars a month in the house.

“[Living off campus] makes me feel like a grownup now—I have to worry about bills,” says Katie. “And I can have my dog here—that was big.”

Whatever the reason for wanting to live off campus, students will continue to find it difficult to find off-campus housing with college stereotypes, whether true or not.

“Off-campus housing is disruptive in many neighborhoods,” says Contente. “But there are a lot of good college students that are good neighbors, too.”

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