Residents hope to be allowed to see what standards are expected from those renting property in Northfield, in order to put unofficial pressure on the city to more strictly enforce those rules already in the books.
Another group of residents has suggested a change to the rental ordinances that would limit the number of non-related adults living in rental units to two.
Currently, the city allows up to five unrelated adults to live together in a rented facility. Their proposal has not yet come before Northfield City Council.
Both Director of Residence Life Pamela McDowell and Dean of Students Greg Kneser do not think the proposal will pass or that the city will change its policy regarding rental agreements.
McDowell stressed her desire that all students on and off campus be "positive participating members of the [Northfield] community."
Chief of Northfield Police Gary Smith has noticed an increase in calls regarding behavior of both St. Olaf and Carleton students who live off campus for the last three years. Main complaints from residents include loud noise, people running around yards, alcohol and fighting.
On average, each incident receives between three and ten calls. "It depends on the neighbors," Smith said.
According to Smith, the Northfield Police Department has received an average of five calls regarding student behavior for this past Monday and Tuesday alone.
According to Smith, most of the calls the Northfield Police Department receives regard students who live off-campus in private rentals. Students who live off campus live in houses or apartments not under the college's jurisdiction. Honor houses do not fall under this category.
McDowell suggested that a general increase in St. Olaf students who live off-campus plays a big role in the increase of behavior complaints.
By the end of the 2004-05 school year, 179 students chose to live in residences not owned by the college. As of Tuesday, the number of students choosing to live off-campus for the 2005-06 year was at 206.
While 12 percent of those choosing to live off-campus live in apartments and eight percent live with parents, 80 percent choose to live in houses in largely traditional family areas around Northfield.
Both Kneser and McDowell said that a lack of response to previous complaints and the neighbors' general frustrations could have led to the increased complaints and the petition. McDowell mentioned that, in previous years, neighbors would report parties and other loud behavior to the police and the city. While students living in the house would receive warnings, few other actions would be taken.
"People are fed up from past years," McDowell said. "They weren't getting the response they wanted."
By starting the petition, neighbors of college students want to give voice to their concerns about the behavior of college students as well as express their desire for things to change.
Kneser agreed, saying, "People have absolutely no patience anymore."
With the rise of incident complaints has come an increase in citations from the police and a decrease in warnings.
"People aren't listening to warnings anymore," Kneser said.
Both McDowell and Kneser stressed that the St. Olaf administration had no part in starting the petition, and does not support the proposal to limit the number of people who can live in a rental property.
"This is certainly not something the college endorses or is supportive of," McDowell said.
Kneser concurred, saying that the city should enforce the laws already in place, not change them and risk seriously affecting Northfield's economy and the off-campus housing situation.
"It is not helpful to pass new laws if the old ones are not being enforced," Kneser said.
McDowell said that some negative economic effects would come from changing the city's rental policy, noting that housing around college campuses would immediately become too expensive for most students to afford. Because most students live in an off-campus house with five or six other people, rent is split that many ways. If the proposal should pass, monthly rent would have to be split between two people.
"There is just no way most students can afford to do that," McDowell said.
Economic repercussions are just one possible effect from the proposal's passing. Should off-campus housing be limited, Residence Life would need to find beds for those students who would want, but could not afford, to live off campus.
"That would pose quite the quandary," McDowell said, citing St. Olaf's already tight on-campus housing situation. "We would have to come up with more housing." No plans for additional housing are in the works, according to McDowell.
McDowell offers those students who live off-campus several pieces of advice to avoid strained relationships with neighbors.
"When planning a party, know who you're inviting," she said. While one house may hold 50 people, if each of those people brings two friends, the number of people present easily jumps to 150.
"There is no way to keep that quiet," she said.
McDowell also said that those attending parties need to be smart.
"If you're not invited to a house, don't go," she said.
Similarly, McDowell discourages house residents from letting groups of students "roaming" around Northfield into their house without knowing who the people are.
While she expressed doubt that the number of people living on rented property will be changed by the city, McDowell said that students living off-campus should try to build better relationships with their neighbors.
"Students need to establish that they can be good neighbors," she said, suggesting calm, quiet weekends as one way to make peace with non-student neighbors.