Georgetown may be attempting to move more students on campus, but a substantial number of Hoyas still reside beyond the front gates. For many of them them, the biggest problem with their living situation isn’t SNAPs or neighbors, but the people who own their properties.
The Voice reached out to several students living in rented apartments, but all declined to be interviewed for fear of reprisals from their landlords.
Emma Forster (COL ‘13) subleased an apartment in the summer of 2011 [Full disclosure: Forster is a former Voice staffer]. “Thank God I was just subletting,” she said. “I was so glad to get out of there by the end of the summer… [the landlord] had us go around and make sure everything was okay, and it was a shitty place but it didn’t matter because it was just the summer.”
When a shower started leaking and damaged a ceiling, “she tried to blame it all on us,” Forster said.
Forster fears others had the same problem with her landlord. “In relaying my story to people, I found out that this lady had other houses in Burleith,” she said. “It seems like sometimes the really bad people have a monopoly on houses.”
After she had to fight to get her deposit back, Forster decided to do some research. She found a University website with property listings in the area and found the one she rented. “It was an option Georgetown promoted,” Forster said.
The Off-Campus Housing Resource Service website, which lists properties and other resources for students says, “we cannot guarantee housing or the quality of housing and the University is also not liable for any misrepresentation between the landlord and the student.”
Off-Campus Student Life is meant to be a resource for students looking to rent property in the Georgetown neighborhood.
“Students are strongly encouraged to take proactive steps in making sure their rental property is safe and well-maintained,” wrote Anne Koester, director of the Office of Off-Campus Student Life, in an email. “Students should feel free to contact Off-Campus Student Life staff, especially their Community Advisor, to discuss any questions or concerns they have about their rental property.”
“The safety and well-being of our students is always of paramount concern for us,” Koester wrote. “We want students to live in safe, well-maintained properties, and to take proactive measures in ensuring their personal safety and the safety of their home.”
In 2008, the District government enacted reforms requiring any business in D.C. to acquire a Basic Business License through the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. This included anyone renting property and required that property be inspected before a BBL could be issued. For the BBL to be renewed, a new inspection is not required.
“DCRA needs you, the tenant, to report your suspected housing violations,” says its website, on the “Housing Code Inspections” page.
“Off-Campus Student Life staff regularly and strongly encourages students to contact DCRA and schedule inspections,” Koester wrote.
The DCRA website reports that if tenants feel their building doesn’t comply with the housing code, they should write out a list of violations, collect evidence such as photographs, contact a landlord, and document when all of the violations and communications take place.
One student hoping to bring a change to the situation is ANC candidate Peter Prindiville (SFS ‘14). “ANC commissioners have a unique relationship with the District government.” Prindiville said. “My goal is to use that lobbying power and that agenda setting power to call the community’s attention to this issue but also call the District government’s attention to this issue.”
“3318 Prospect Street is the quintessential example of the problem,” Prindiville said. Daniel Rigby, then a senior in the MSB, died during a house fire in 2004 at that address. “Partially due to its infamous past, but also now the fact the very regulations that were spurred by that event aren’t enforced at that very location and that concerns me.“ The property’s BBL expired in 2011.
“I think the possibility for another event like the unfortunate loss of Rigby is quite possible. Without continued vigilance from the community, the University, students, and the District government, it is quite possible we will have another disaster like that.”