Off-campus renting issues left unclear
Neither the University, student tenants nor landlords can provide a clear picture of the quality of students’ experiences with renting off-campus properties.
According to a University off-campus task force report issued this summer, 54 percent of all undergraduate students and 89 percent of all graduate students comprise the off-campus and commuter population.
Rutgers estimates approximately 10,000 students live locally and do not commute from home, according to the report. Yet this number cannot be accurately determined, as students are not required to provide a local address on their term bill.
Fifteen students asked to talk about their experiences with landlords declined to comment due to the nature of the topic. Pooja Kolluri, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said often students fear speaking up will affect their housing arrangements.
“Students just appreciate having a place to live here,” she said.
Since July, Kolluri said the bathtub in her apartment on 85 Easton Ave. would not drain. When she repeatedly called her landlord about the problem, the landlord would cut her off and avoid paying for the repair.
The landlord was only driven to act when Kolluri and her housemates stopped paying rent, she said.
Juwon Cha, a School of Arts and Sciences senior who sublets a room in a house at 71 Louis St. last year, said his landlord, Jack Braha, knowingly gave him and his housemates a damaged space and refused to pay for repairs.
“[There were] lots of problems and he never got around to fixing them,” he said. “All sorts of classic ones like pests, rats, roaches, bedbugs and … broken doorknobs.”
Dan Ticchio, a School of Arts and Sciences senior who lived with Cha in the house, said every repair took weeks to complete, and Braha was rarely present for them.
“We asked him more than once before we moved in and in the first couple months that we were moved in to fix up the condition of the floors [and] walls,” he said.
They knew the quality of the property was poor before they moved in, Ticchio said. But the run-down, garbage-filled basement and crumbling walls led to more problems with rats and other pests.
Despite the fact their lease required Braha to pay for all repairs, Cha said Braha demanded money every time an issue appeared.
Braha could not be reached at press time.
Of course, tenant and students relations are not exclusively sour. For Tony Chedid, who leases property to students in New Brunswick, much of the reward of being a landlord comes in the form of “thank you” letters from parents and repeat business.
Because he said he treats his tenants well, they reciprocate his generosity and respect their homes.
Michael Sisler, a Rutgers alumnus who has leased property in New Brunswick’s sixth ward to Rutgers students since 1992, also said he has experienced very few problems with his tenants since starting his business.
All of his houses have been upgraded since their purchase, he said. Every year, each property is professionally painted, cleaned and has its locks changed before students officially take possession on June 1.
“Our model is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Deliver good properties and you get good tenants,” he said. “And then we have a good relationship over the course of … however long a client lives with us.”
David Adams, owner of George St., LLC, said only a very small number of tenants out of the few hundred he rents to every year give him trouble.
“[Most problems occur] … in the beginning when they first lease, until they get to know us and know that we don’t like that kind of stuff,” he said.
The Office of Legal Services offers legal advice and assistance for landlord or tenant issues and reviews students’ leases, and the University’s Off-Campus Housing Service provides guidance and helps tenants understand rental responsibilities.
Yet the report acknowledged that the University provides inadequate staffing and resources for off-campus students, and the programs provided are decentralized.
“Rutgers University should not assume that students know what is expected of them as they move off-campus,” the report said. “Providing educational programs and services will help students become more aware of the responsibilities of living independently.”
The report suggests the University should create a New Brunswick Campus and Community Coalition, bringing together city officials, staff members in Health Outreach Programming and Education, bar and liquor store owners, landlords and other key stakeholders.
New Brunswick’s rent control ordinance regulates licensed rooming houses, fraternities and sororities registered with Rutgers and the University’s dormitories, according to the New Brunswick Rent Control Office’s website.
Each year, the office determines the maximum rent increase landlords are allowed to levy. In 2012 and 2013, rent hikes were capped at 2.5 percent. Every registered unit in New Brunswick must register with the Rent Control Office by April 1 and pay a registration fee.
Maria Cody, the city’s rent control coordinator, said the office makes an annual effort to inform landlords and tenants about its policies.
“We … have an annual mailing that is sent as a courtesy to all the landlords every February as well as a plain language summary sent to every city resident informing them about rent control,” Cody said in an email.
The Rent Control Office also serves as an outlet for disputes by landlords and tenants, and its decisions on all complaints it hears are final, according to its website.
Alex Meier contributed to this article.