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ISSUE 121 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/16/2007

Living options change

By David Henke
Variety Editor

Friday, November 16, 2007

Students looking to live off-campus in the future will have to adapt to two new housing regulation changes being instituted by the city of Northfield and St. Olaf College. The policy changes are the result of separate pushes by the city and the college to reform standards on rental properties city-wide, and will come into effect as early as next semester. However, students may not see the full impact of the regulations until next year.

The first ordinance change, instituted by the city of Northfield, limits the maximum occupancy of rental properties from five to three unrelated individuals. This means that students looking to live off-campus can only have a maximum of three individuals in rental units, unless the unit was originally built with more than three bedrooms.

"If a property owner can prove that a home was built with more than three bedrooms, they can have more than three occupants," Northfield's Community Development Department Manager Brian O'Connell said.

Rental property managers will be receiving letters from the city recommending that they schedule a property inspection within 30-45 days after the arrival of the letter. Once the inspection has been completed, the city will determine if the property is suitable for more than three individuals.

O'Connell stated that this revisal of the rental code stemmed from a series of complaints by city residents concerning rental properties.

"The original concern occurred in March 2006, and it came from a number of homeowners on Highland Avenue. The residents complained about the traffic noise, property condition, the number of people around the properties and the parking conditions surrounding the properties," O'Connell said.

The code change went into effect on Sept. 17 and is city-wide, though property inspections will be ongoing through next summer.

The other rental change, the "Cooperating Landlord Agreement," was initiated by St. Olaf's Dean of Students Greg Kneser and Pamela McDowell, the College's residence life director, after hearing complaints from off-campus students that landlords were not fulfilling their end of the lease agreement.

"We've been thinking about it for a year," McDowell said. "There have been concerns where students are living. We've been hearing lots of complaints from students for a number of years about the conditions of their apartments."

The Cooperating Landlord Agreement binds the signatories -- the landlords -- and states that they must allow students to back out of the lease without paying the broken lease fees if the college doesn't grant the student off-campus status.

In most cases, the student would be responsible for paying the remainder of the money stipulated by the lease (as much as 12 months' rent, in some cases) if they're forced to leave the apartment before the lease arrangement runs out. Landlords entering into the agreement must allow students who didn't receive off-campus status out of the lease without the penalties.

According to McDowell, the landlords are also responsible for maintaining certain property standards. "Landlords have to have a rental license, follow all city codes, provide students with the names of the past tenants, be willing to let them out of the lease and provide contact information in case something breaks in the apartment."

Responsibility in the agreement flows both ways, however. Students will only be allowed to live in properties managed by landlords who have agreed to uphold the college's policy.

When they present the completed Off-Campus Application to McDowell in the spring, students must also return a Landlord Agreement form to Residence Life proving that they will be living in a property managed by a CLA signatory.

"The policy is between the college and the student, and the agreement is between the student and the landlord. The college is saying that in order for a student to be released from the housing agreement, they need to rent from a landlord who has signed to this agreement," McDowell said, though she pointed out that the policy would necessarily impact landlords as well.

McDowell believes that most Northfield landlords will sign on to the agreement. "I expect that anybody who wants to rent to our students will sign on to it," she said.

The landlords will be receiving letters concerning the policy enactment by the end of the month, which will coincide with the distribution of Off-Campus Applications forms, made available to students on Dec. 1.

McDowell says the policy is a work in progress, but she believes it will come into full effect by the advent of the next school year."This is the first time we're enacting this type of a policy," she said. "Certainly we're going to learn where it works and where it doesn't. It's kind of a work in progress."

The implementation will be ongoing." McDowell's quick to point out that the CLA is in students' favor. "I think it's a very positive thing for students. Essentially, the agreement says the landlord is going to follow good business practices," she said.

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