Many Ohio State students have come to expect some amount of decay when they move into an off-campus house, so when Jared Malvic and his friends moved into a house on 12th Avenue last year, they weren’t surprised to find it needed some maintenance.
But when the initial mold in the air conditioning units and dirt on the floor turned into service requests that needed to be placed multiple times to be filled, Malvic said he started to get annoyed.
“My window’s broken,” said Malvic, a fourth-year in materials science and engineering. “It’s been like that a while, and it hasn’t been fixed.”
Then the housemates found a stranger living in a room in their basement, unbeknownst to them, in September. Especially after that, they didn’t have many good things to say about their rental company, NorthSteppe Realty, said MJ Dorony, a fourth-year in journalism who lives in the house.
“We’re not their biggest fans, no,” Dorony said.
NorthSteppe, which owns about 100 different dwellings in the OSU campus area, has accrued more than 220 housing violations since 2008, including more than 40 since January 2013 and at least five in 2014, according to a City of Columbus Code Enforcement log. Among those violations are cockroach infestations and excessive trash buildup.
“Persons living here are dealing with rats,” reads one entry. “Persons have had to kill rats here and the landlord is not doing anything about it.”
Other entries show no working smoke detectors in units, structural disrepair and graffiti on the outsides of occupied buildings.
One resident in 2012 reported that a fire escape was unattached from the building, an owl was destroying the roof, there was a bug infestation and mold was growing on the ceiling — all in one house.
Residents of the houses, passers-by who notice a problem or Community Crime Patrol have reported violations, according to the log.
Any open orders made against a NorthSteppe property are investigated by Columbus Code Enforcement, but there have not been investigations into the company itself, said Dana Rose, Columbus Code Enforcement administrator.
“We’re going to be looking at all landlords with multiple properties in the next few months,” Rose said Feb. 24. “But we haven’t gotten to making a specific list yet.”
The City of Columbus Code Enforcement Division aims to improve quality of life in Columbus areas by implementing and enforcing various city codes, including housing, health and safety codes, according to its website.
NorthSteppe has made some changes to ensure the quality of its houses since a stranger was found to be living at the house on 12th Avenue, said Mike Stickney, broker of NorthSteppe Realty, in an email Jan. 13.
“We have made policy changes,” Stickney said. “We are inspecting our properties on a quarterly basis for safety, security and cleanliness issues.”
Stickney did not respond to emails requesting comment about housing violations.
Slightly less than 40 percent of respondents to an OSU Undergraduate Student Government survey about off-campus landlords rated NorthSteppe a 3 out of 5, where 5 represented the best score. Roughly 25 percent of respondents gave NorthSteppe a 1, and an average overall performance ranking of 2.5 placed NorthSteppe below the 20 other landlords included, according to the USG 2013-14 Renter’s Guide.
Some of NorthSteppe’s houses feature stainless steel kitchen appliances and other amenities, but their quality remains comparable to other houses in the university area, said Hannah Ortega, a third-year in speech and hearing science and Spanish who subleased a townhouse from NorthSteppe for three months last summer.
“The apartment was kind of dirty, but that’s pretty standard,” Ortega said. “I’ve lived in other places (through other landlords) and been to friends’ apartments, and they’re never really nice. I’ve just kind of come to expect that.”
Ortega echoed Malvic’s complaints, saying NorthSteppe never responded to her request to put in an air conditioning unit at the beginning of the summer.
The roommates on 12th Avenue have not taken legal action against NorthSteppe after finding the stranger in their basement, and Dorony said they don’t plan to pursue anything in the future.
“If something occurs, like we get screwed over with the security deposit, which shouldn’t happen, I think we may go back to it,” Dorony said. “But as of now, nothing’s going on.”
Malvic said the state of one’s house can take its toll on every aspect of life.
“I’m taking engineering classes, I’m involved in some clubs, and now I have this new house that is having all these problems,” he said. “It’s just really stressful.”