Butler: University’s Threats Misinform Landlords
Published: Friday, February 4, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 00:02
In early October, my landlord, an ever-helpful albeit eccentric middle-aged man, came to my house on Prospect Street. Contrary to his normally laid-back nature, he seemed frustrated and had a worried look on his face. He wasted no time getting to his point, asking my roommates and I if we had been having trouble with the university, and topping it off with, to quote, "who's this Anne lady?"
Like many people living off-campus at Georgetown, my roommates and I had held our fair share of discussions with patrolling Student Neighborhood Assistance Program officers regarding noise and foot traffic outside our residence. But we live on one of the busiest streets in Georgetown, and every official I ever spoke with acknowledged that these issues were not related to our house specifically but were rather endemic to the neighborhood. We had only received our first citation the week before, ostensibly for "adding to street noise" on Homecoming night, a night when every Hoya was likely guilty of the same charge. As such, it came as some surprise that mere days after this seemingly trivial event, our landlord received a letter from the university regarding our "repetitive" behavioral problems. Sadly this pales in comparison to the ninety-day stint that one could now spend behind bars for a similar offense, but that's a story for another day.
The letter to our landlord was the product of a policy established by the university in June 2010 aimed at targeting properties that pose a "repetitive concern" to the well being of the neighborhood. Off-Campus Life, run by Director Anne Koester, copied the policy almost verbatim from George Washington University, which adopted their slightly more lax version of the policy in 2009. According to the official Georgetown policy, a property can be classified as a residence of repetitive concern following three "verified complaints" against the property. Once this occurs, the university places the house on an official list of "problem houses." This is a tenant's version of being on Santa's naughty list and it's just as mature in its functionality; instead of coal, you're supposed to receive a verbal spanking from your landlord.
The repercussions actually outlined in the policy are relatively light: placement on the list for a year, letters to any new tenants at the residence warning them of this status (which apparently endures despite the arrival of new tenants) and inability for a landlord to register the house on Georgetown's OCH101, a website that links landlords and students. Of these repercussions, the first is unseen, the second wrongly affects innocent students and the third blocks landlords from a website that I and most other students have never even heard of, let alone used.
Perhaps because the policy is so ineffectual, problems have arisen from it being abused or deceivingly implemented, as occurred in the case of my roommates and I.
The letter, signed by Ms. Koester, had evidently implied to our landlord that if the property continued to be a concern to the school, the university would not allow our landlord to rent to any Georgetown students. This not only steps beyond the bounds of the policy, but is entirely beyond the scope of the legal system. Such threats may be empty, but many landlords do not realize this and are at risk of acting on such misinformation, to the detriment of their student tenants. Just last semester, I heard complaints from two different houses whose landlords had threatened them with eviction if they received more such news from the school; both landlords cited concerns that they would lose the ability to rent to future students. Based on the actions of these landlords and the conversation I had with my own, it seems fair to assume that the limits of the policy are being stretched and distorted by these letters. As of press time, Ms. Koester had not replied to emails requesting the official letter.
We were lucky that our landlord shrugged off the letter once we clarified the actual consequences of the new rule. Another friend whose parents own his townhouse was able to enjoy hearing his "landlord," his own mother, tell Off-Campus Life where they could mail their future threats. Yet most students will not be so fortunate. Obviously students should avoid creating disturbances in the neighborhood. Yet when such events occur, the correct forum for addressing such concerns is through Georgetown's disciplinary channels, not through threatening confused property owners. No student should ever face eviction simply because Ms. Koester has added their landlord to her ever-growing list of pen pals.
James Butler is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at email@example.com. THE STREET LAWYER appears every other Friday.
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