Four years after 21-year-old Georgetown senior Daniel Rigby died in a fire in his townhouse’s basement, Washington, D.C., has continued its efforts to crack down on illegal and unlicensed landlords by launching a Web site to protect student renters.

Thisshouldbeillegal.com forms the core of a new social media campaign by the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to reach out to some 10,000 college students in D.C.

Launched in late August, the Web site offers a range of free services, allowing students to search their landlords through an online database and request inspections and fire safety equipment.

In line with the theme of Internet-based interaction, the DCRA has included a Facebook page and Twitter feed to answer students quickly and in an informal setting.

“I think we are approaching our audience in a whole new way that will surprise them coming from a government regulatory agency,” DCRA spokesperson Michael Rupert said. “I think by offering a service and the information online, with no strings attached, it lets them cross that barrier that challenged us before.”

The Web site allows students to talk with authorities unconventionally and unbeknown to landlords. “You can’t imagine how surprised students have been to receive a response at 11:30 p.m.,” Rupert said. Students are also surprised when “they voice a concern and a post is up within hours.”

College students comprise a significant portion of often inexperienced renters in the D.C. area. According to the DCRA, an average of 35 percent of the students at Georgetown University, the George Washington University, Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia are living off campus.

“Students are busy and have a small window to make decisions about housing,” Rupert said. “Bad landlords know this and target students through Craigslist or other sites to get them to make a quick decision.”

Elizabeth Jordan (COL ’07), a recent graduate who created a Facebook group about an alleged bad landlord, is excited about thisshouldbeillegal.com. “I saw the Web site – that’s great work you [DCRA] are doing,” she said. “These landlords are charging an arm and a leg to live in total squalor.”

To raise awareness, the DCRA encouraged several local news and mainstream media blogs to post articles about the Web site. The Web site was also recently featured in the GW Hatchet, the George Washington University independent student newspaper.

For the college campuses in the district, the DCRA set off with five-foot-wide commercial stencils and school-specific flyers, along with the most recent “Start Your Own Campaign” program, which encourages student groups to participate in the off-campus housing initiative.

“We have been working closely with the Office of University Safety, through Raymond Danieli [assistant director of student affairs], and have worked with Charles Vansant, director of off-campus student life,” Rupert said.

Although the university has no authority to charge landlords with breaking the law, the Office of Off-Campus Student Life still looks out for the safety of the students.

Danieli said OCSL will help students set up inspections if they need assistance. Students who are living off campus are also required to attend at least one mandatory session by the office. In every meeting, Danieli emphasizes a “no license, no lease” policy to advise students against entering into unlicensed housing agreements.

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