Know your rights as off-campus housing tenants

Photo by Michael Bratton

With the overflow of students on campus, some people are left with very little or no options to choose from in Kent. And overcrowded off-campus housing has resulted in unfair standards of living in the city of Kent.

Kent State has a population of about 32,000 students, although only about 6,500 of them currently live on campus,” said Patricia Dennison, assistant to the vice president of the Division of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs in a previous Kent Stater article from September. “The remaining student population commutes from home or lives in off-campus housing.”

Some students living off-campus have to reside in an overcrowded space or deal with unfavorable living conditions because there is not enough housing for the off-campus population.

In the city of Kent there are 320 licensed housing options according to Kyle Kelly, a public health sanitarian for the Kent City Department of Health.  Those 320 include College Towers, Eagles Landing, University Edge and University Oaks.

Kent State had trouble this year with student housing overflow that resulted in RAs having roommates. David Garcia, associate vice president for enrollment management, said there was an increase in students who applied to live on-campus for their freshmen year.

“We added 139 beds to our inventory, which made our 6225 to 6364 for our returning students, as well as incoming students,” said Garcia. “We did that by looking at what we had available: first we created 28 triples from doubles and we added roommates to our RAs across campus. So, we had to be really creative and innovative how we created more beds for our class coming in.”

Currently, university policy is that students have to live on campus for their first two years – freshman and sophomore year. If students wanted to live off-campus, they had to be 21 years of age and have a certain amount of credit hours.

Garcia said the policy changed from 21 years of age to 20 years of age, which makes some students eligible to live off-campus.

“We did see a lot of returning students in their sophomore year decide to live off-campus. So, because of that it puts a lot of pressure on the city of Kent. It poses the challenge that off-campus housing; apartments and complexes are at capacity as well,” said Garcia.

Fair housing

If a student calls for help they can give students knowledge of what they can do to advocate for them or refer them to timelines required for a landlord to fix something. You can visit the Fair Housing Contact Service for more resources.

Apartment Overload

More students are now choosing Kent State as their university of choice. The university has a higher retention rate leading to full capacity in off-campus apartments in Kent.

University Edge General Manager, Weslee Smith, said the apartment complex is at its full capacity. The complex has already started leasing for August 2015 and 2016. University Edge is pre-leased at eighty-five percent full.

University Edge has a good working relationship with the university and recommends students speak with the university about student off-campus housing requirements.

“We ask what year [the students are] and do they know what the housing requirements are?” Smith said.

Eagle’s Landing is also one hundred percent full until next summer. Property Manager Chris Miller believes the problem is not so much the student population growing as it is the retention rate increasing.

“Retention at Kent State University, there is more of a need in the housing market, so I think that’s where a lot of the current complexes are filling up quicker,” Miller said. “There is a need to build new ones but I do think that there is a need to make sure the [complexes] that are currently here as well as the ones in the local communities, you know Brimfield, Franklin Township, Ravenna, Stow, even Streetsboro, those are more towards the students as well.”

Students who are approved to move off-campus for next year should start looking for housing now before full capacity is reached.

Standards and Inspections

The Kent City Health Department’s Environmental Health and Housing Maintenance Code outlines the standards for multiple-use structures, including minimum standards and requirements, owner and occupant responsibilities as well as enforcement and penalties Chapter 1365 of the maintenance code includes subsections covering requirements for light, ventilation, heating and sanitary maintenance.

The minimum standard states that each facility has to meet the minimum equipment requirements for water lines, bathrooms, kitchens, solid waste collection and storage and carbon monoxide alarms.

The owner of the apartment complex must comply within the standards of sanitary conditions, solid waste storage and collection, extermination and plumbing fixtures, according to the Kent Health Department code.

Ohio Landlord and Tenant Law

The Fair Housing Contact Service the Ohio Landlord Tenant Law went into effect in 1975. A rental agreement, or lease, is known as a binding written or oral contract between parties to establish the terms, conditions or rules concerning one of the party’s use and occupancy of a residential place. Having a lease in place will most of the time result in any misunderstandings or problems that may arise between a landlord and a tenant. Ohio law prohibits a landlord from shifting responsibilities to a tenant at anytime.

Landlord duties: Section 5321.04 of the Ohio Revised Code

  • Follow all building, housing, health and safety codes that affect the health and safety of all tenants.

  • Keep the property in livable condition by making all necessary repairs.

  • Maintain all electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems, fixtures, and appliances in good working conditions in which the landlord has supplied or is supposed to supply to the tenant.

  • Provide running water and reasonable amounts of hot water to tenants as well as garbage cans and arrange for trash removal if the landlord owns four or more units in the same building.

  • Must provide 24-hour notice before entering the tenants’ apartment unit unless there is an emergency.

  • Landlords must not abuse their right of access to inspect the property.

Tenant duties: 5321.05 of the Ohio Revised Code

  • Tenants must keep the property safe and clean at all times.

  • Dispose of garbage in a clean safe manner.

  • Use electrical and plumbing fixtures correctly. Keep all plumbing fixtures as clean as possible and in their given condition.

  • Follow all housing, health and safety codes that apply to tenants.

  • Keep appliances in working order that were supplied by the landlord.

  • Allow the landlord to enter the rental property if the request is reasonable and a 24-hour notice is given.

  • Do NOT make changes to the rental unit (such as painting or removing carpet) without first getting permission from the landlord in writing.

  • Pay rent in full every month.

For questions or free counseling, anyone can call the Akron Fair Housing Contact Service at (330) 376-6191.

Also, in order for off-campus apartment complexes to hold housing licenses they must be inspected annually by the Kent City Health Department.

During the inspection process, if the health department finds anything in the apartment to be in violation, they are required to fix the problem in a timely manner.

According to Miller, students are reporting the problems before the health department goes through each unit to inspect.

“Whether it’s a mildew in the bathroom or a window problem or whatever the case is we usually try to get right on that,” Miller said. “Because we are underneath the umbrella of the Kent Health Department and their housing code restrictions.” 

The department goes through each unit in the complex separately. The issues are then documented and given back to the complex. They have 30 days to comply.

At University Edge, if the tenant gets fined because of wrongdoing to the unit then they will be expected to fix the problem and pick up the fee.

“We contact that resident and we give them a chance to tell [us] the issue and the fine will be charged to that resident,” Smith said.

Unfair Housing

By definition, the Fair Housing Act is a law enacted as part of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination of home sales, rentals and financing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or those with disabilities.

The Akron Fair Housing Contact Service wants to ensure students know their rights as tenants.

However, the Fair Housing Contact Service isn’t working with students as much as they would like when it comes to unfair housing situations in Kent.

Students wanting to move off campus know that finding housing is tough because of overcrowding.  When students do find a place to call home they sometimes encounter unfair living conditions.

Many don’t realize that when something goes wrong in their place of living the landlord is required to fix it under the Ohio Landlord Tenant Law in section 5321.04 and 5321.05 of the Ohio Revised Code.

“People need to understand that a landlord can’t tell me this or they are required to do this for me so that they are not being taken advantage of,” Enforcement Director of the Akron Fair Housing Contact Service Lauren Green Hall said.

The Akron Fair Housing Contact Service receives call from curious students living in larger apartment complexes.

Looking Ahead

Kent City Council has authorized staff to move forward in discussions with a developer who approached the city concerning the possible sale of the city’s administration buildings. The buildings located at the corner of Summit and Depeyster Streets could provide land for possible redevelopment of new student housing, but nothing has been submitted or formalized at the present time.

“The City of Kent Community Development Department has not received any formal requests for the review and approval of plans for any new student housing projects,” said Community Development Director Bridget Susel.

Garcia said that we’ll have to keep a watchful eye on the housing situation in the next two or three years. He added that the school would have to decrease the size of incoming freshmen that enrolls on the Kent campus. This would accommodate returning students along with the new students on campus.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t have any new housing, but we have to be strategic about it,” Garcia said.

Michael Bratton, Alyssa Flynn, Haley Phillippi and Rob Rompala contributed to the reporting of this story.