Off-campus student housing websites offer students safer options
Dan Ryan, director of off-campus student services, has spent the past six years inspecting off-campus houses to make sure students are living in safe conditions. In September, he implemented a new website through UB that shows apartment listings around campus, only listing houses that have a certificate of occupancy from their corresponding municipality. Chad Cooper, The Spectrum
Dan Ryan has seen his share of problems in University Heights housing - electrical fires, bed bugs, black mold, lack of running water and electricity and even homes without locks.
"We have a lot of students who choose to live off campus and many of them are not well educated in real estate matters," said Ryan, the director of off-campus student services. "But they sign leases and we have found that a lot of our students are living in substandard housing and dangerous living conditions."
In September, he implemented UB's new off-campus housing website:
http://buffalooffcampus.newdigs.com. It gives students a safe option to find places to live near campus. A landlord or homeowner can only post a listing on the website if he or she has a certificate of occupancy, or safety inspection, from the area the house or apartment is in - either Buffalo or Amherst.
The inspection costs $75 and is valid for three years - which averages to just over $2 a month. Ryan said he is finding there are a lot of landlords in the Heights not willing to get inspections.
Ryan thinks this is because the cost to fix whatever the inspection would determine as inadequate would cost far more than the $75 fee.
He said there aren't any safeguards for students that determine the structural integrity of houses and if they are up to code on websites like Craigslist.
"Right now, students are finding out about apartments through websites that put the interest of the landlord ahead of the interest of the students," Ryan said. "Students are picking places where they are putting themselves and their roommates at risk."
Currently, a housing website run by Sub Board I (SBI) and chiefly used by students lists houses with and without certificates of occupancy. SBI, a student-owned and operated not-for-profit corporation funded by UB's various student governments, has a housing website, http://subboard.com/och/, which is separate from Ryan's.
SBI is a separate entity from UB and functions to "empower students and to provide student-run services here at UB," according to SBI President Chris Atkinson.
"SBI, with [the Undergraduate Student Association (SA)] and [the Graduate Student Association (GSA)], has met with UB concerning the best way to provide students with access to off-campus housing listings," Atkinson said in an email. "The interested parties have discussed ways in which we could pool our resources in the future. All of the parties seek to provide a platform for students to easily and safely locate off-campus housing. So far, we have been unable to work out the logistics of how a combined site would work."
SBI's website provides labels for houses that do not have certificates of occupancy. It also gives information like whether the apartment has working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. SBI provides checklists the landlords fill out.
Ryan said in his experience, landlords are not forthcoming with the problems in their properties and under that system, landlords can embellish.
Atkinson said that inspections for houses are not required in Buffalo - only for apartment complexes. So legally, the houses don't need to have an inspection done - though they still have to be up to code. He added, however, if landlords violate the law, then the property will not be listed on the website.
"We would like to see a day where inspections were required, but that is not the case now," he said. "We would like to see laws changed. For that, we need UB and the student body to demand change from city government. SBI cares about student safety and does not want to push all of the [University] Heights properties into the shady area of craigslist or other apartment finder websites. On our site we educate students so that they can make their own decisions. We also make sure that they are aware of their legal recourse should something bad happen."
Atkinson said SBI provides students with services to ease the process of renting houses or apartments. The organization provides free legal services, in which lawyers can review students' leases before students sign them. SBI's website also gives students "Quick Tips" to help first-time renters throughout the process.
Ryan commends the work Atkinson, SA President Sam McMahon and GSA President Mike Egnoto have done on the SBI website. Ryan said the three are "committed to doing what's best for the students."
Atkinson said making the renter's experience as easy as possible is important to him, and he feels the SBI website does that.
"We at SBI seek to provide valuable information to students so that they can make the best housing decision for them," Atkinson said. "The high volume that SBI's website experiences during renting season attests to the value that students place in our student-run listing service."
Ryan's website has 75 apartment listings, most of which are in the Amherst area near North Campus. He hopes the SBI website will soon only list inspected homes, too.
"But until that time, until that policy changes, we are going to be doing what we can to make sure there is at least one place where students and their parents can go to find properties that are safe," Ryan said.
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