Tenants endure renting troubles

Students in a bind

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a three-part series on the problems associated with off-campus student housing. This story discusses why college students often tolerate poor housing situations.

by Michelle Landrum

and Mark McGowan

Students often find themselves in a bind when they have a complaint about rental property.

Problems with substandard student housing have come to light with recent legal action taken against the DeKalb Center high-rise apartment complex, 1100 W. Lincoln Hwy., by the city of DeKalb.

The center “is an extreme example” of code violations found in a housing complex, said Students’ Legal Assistance attorney Lynn Richards. The center has a history of housing code violations, said 6th Ward Alderman Jamie Pennington.

DeKalb apartment complexes might have an inordinate number of housing code violations “being a college town and (with) students wanting cheap housing,” Pennington said.

Students might feel they have to accept substandard living conditions simply because they do not have money for better housing or fear retaliation by the landlord, he said.

“Sometimes students are hesitant to call (DeKalb City) Code Enforcement because they feel they can’t afford better housing,” Pennington said.

Because students do not know where to seek help, they often tend to accept poor living conditions, said Jennifer Novak, acting Student Association community affairs chairman. “They really don’t know where they can go, especially if they go to the landlord and get the ‘run around,'” she said.

Novak said students also might have difficulty convincing their landlords to complete repairs. “Students are only in DeKalb for four years. They are not quite as valued as a customer,” Novak said.

The situation is “just a typical problem in DeKalb in all aspects,” she said. “Students are discriminated against.”

Because students might live in an apartment for only a semester or a year, they often “move on to an apartment as bad, if not worse,” expecting that after graduation they will find better housing, Pennington said.

“There is very much a demand for student housing. In order to meet that demand, at times housing is not built up to standard,” Pennington said. “Students tend to accept these substandard conditions,” he said.

Richards said almost all housing is built to meet requirements, but owners might “put as little in as possible and it (the building) slips out of code.”

Tenants are protected from unscrupulous landlords. Students should be aware that after they sign a rental contract, their landlord cannot raise their rent until the contract expires, Pennington said.

It is illegal for landlords to retaliate against tenants if they make a complaint, Richards said.

If renters have questions about what constitutes a code violation, they are advised to call the NIU Students’ Legal Assistance office or the DeKalb Code Enforcement office. “I would advise people very much not to be hesitant to call Code Enforcement,” Pennington said.

Tuesday: Who students can go to for help with off-campus housing and what type of help to expect.