The Off-Campus Housing Excellence Program at Ohio State has kicked off its home visits, where a representative from Neighborhood Services and Collaboration and the Columbus Division of Fire visit students’ homes to make sure the properties are up to par.
This includes assessing the “safety, security and environmental sustainability of off-campus housing in the university area,” according to the program’s website. The program as a whole consists of three components: home visits, education and eventually, enhanced rental property information, which will be available online.
The Off-Campus Housing Excellence Program was established by the Office of Student Life as a response to “landlord requests for increased collaboration with the university, and parent and student requests for additional information about off-campus housing and off-campus living,” said Neighborhood Services and Collaboration program coordinator Alex Sanchez.
Sanchez said two home visits, one requested by the landlord and one requested by a student, have taken place as of Sunday.
A number of landlords have signed up to participate in the program, he said, and more than 1,000 individual properties are in line to be inspected in 2014.
“We’re not at max capacity but we’re getting close, which is a good thing,” he said. “And that’s just from landlords. We plan to fit in all student home visits in that time (2014) too. We should have plenty of resources and time available to do both student and landlord home visits.”
Sanchez said each home visit takes about 20 minutes, and he plans to fit in as many visits as possible. He said it is difficult to define an exact maximum capacity possible because he hopes to get more people from OSU Off-Campus involved in making the visits. Currently, all visits are conducted by Sanchez and a representative from Columbus Fire.
To complete the 1,000 visits scheduled to finish off 2014, roughly three visits would need to take place each day with no days off.
“The most important thing is that now that we’re up and going is to let the students know they can be proactive and request the home visits,” Sanchez said.
Property owner Mary Ann Bassitt talked to her tenants and made changes in her properties before Sanchez and his team made their first visit to inspect the north off-campus duplex she and her husband own. She said in order to be prepared for the visit, she was in communication with Sanchez prior to the home visit as to what it would take for the property to be up to standards.
“We went into the properties, looked over the properties and made changes based on what Alex and his staff recommended, as well as the fire department,” Bassitt said.
She said she and her husband, who co-own the property, added fire extinguishers on every floor, added carbon monoxide detectors, changed light bulbs and put escape ladders on the second and third stories.
Sanchez said beyond securing safe living environments for students, the program’s goal is to increase interaction between students and their landlords.
“Not only are we starting the conversation with these students but also the landlords being proactive and starting that conversation with their residents,” Sanchez said. “So it works from both sides. And that’s the whole point of the program, is to improve the quality of off-campus life. Whether it’s us doing the home visits or the landlords doing something they wouldn’t otherwise have done but for this program.”
Bassitt said she and her husband aim to have that kind of relationship with their tenants.
“We’re kind of a different landlord,” she said. “We work with our people pretty closely. And we don’t hover over them, but we’re not hands-off either.”
The Bassitts own one property in the off-campus area as well as several other properties throughout Columbus. The husband and wife team hope to purchase more properties in the university district, Bassitt said.
Some students said the program’s goal sounds reassuring in what can be a difficult search for housing.
Kevin Olszewski, a first-year in finance, is planning to move off campus next fall after living on campus for a year. He said finding a suitable house was difficult because many tenants re-sign their leases, which was information that often wasn’t available online.
“(The Neighborhood Services and Collaboration) website was pretty helpful, but it could be a little bit more updated,” Olszewski said. “If (a house is) being re-leased for the next year, that would be helpful, because we went around to like 10 different houses and they were all being re-leased, but were listed as open.”
He said knowing the results from the Off-Campus Housing Excellence Program would be a helpful additional resource.
“(Undergraduate Student Government) did a little survey that said ‘Here are our best realtors based on reviews,’ but when I went around and talked to different tenants, and it’s very case-by-case, even within the same company,” he said. “I think (the program) definitely would be helpful because it would give you another thing to look at.”
Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp, a fourth-year in public affairs, said all students should know what they’re getting into before they sign a lease, part of the goal driving USG initiatives and OSU’s excellence program.
“USG puts out a renter’s guide every year … and it details student perspectives on landlords, but we wanted some sort of stamp of approval by the university,” Stepp said in November. “Then we also kind of separately wanted to make sure that we weren’t having these slumlords off-campus that were taking advantage of students, having them live in houses that weren’t up to code, so then those two ideas kind of merged in together to the housing standards of excellence which we have right now.”
Sanchez said he hopes more involvement from landlords would be positive to the experience of living off campus
“That interaction definitely goes a long way to improving landlord-resident relations,” he said.
In addition to the home visits, Neighborhood Services and Collaboration provides free window and door alarms to students, as well as safety timers. Sanchez said in the fall, more than 2,600 window and door alarms and more than 1,200 safety timers were given away, totaling nearly $20,000 in safety devices provided to students.
Daniel Bendtsen contributed to this story.