In an effort to quell off-campus issues among students, landlords and the community, Stony Brook University’s Commuter Student Services officially took over the Off-Campus Living and Off-Campus Housing offices in February 2014, redefining the office and significantly expanding its demographic.
The office tracks inquiries from students regarding off-campus housing, which have increased as the new structure now includes commuter graduate students in addition to undergraduates.
This raised the number of potential students sending in inquiries from approximately 6,500 to 15,000, according to Emily Resnick, assistant director of Commuter Student Services and Off-Campus Living.
“We’ve seen our inquiry levels triple over, in this year alone up until this point…what we did last year for the entire year,” she said. “If numbers speak loudest, that’s one to shout from the rooftops.”
The transition began unofficially in the summer of 2013 and came as a result of restructuring within the Faculty Student Association–which formerly managed off-campus housing listings–and talks with departments such as Community Relations, Campus Residences and Community Standards to determine how to educate students about their rights and responsibilities in off-campus living.
It was also, in part, the result of ongoing off-campus living issues between the residential community, students and landlords who rent spaces without Town of Brookhaven permits and do not comply with town
Commuter Student Services and Off-Campus Living deals directly with students and works closely with Community Relations, which connects with the residents, Resnick said.
“The Community Relations Office has been engaged in this issue for the past four years and has had a continual and productive dialogue with many stakeholders in the community to assure our students are able to find safe and affordable off campus housing,” Elaine Crosson, the university’s vice president for government and community relations, wrote in an email.
A major challenge the office saw in the transition in terms of off-campus housing is that there are a limited number of legal listings available because landlords are required to provide a Town permit, Resnick said.
“I feel strongly that that’s the right way to go,” she said of obtaining a permit. “However, with that said, there are many people who rent without a permit and do so therefore illegally.”
While not having a permit does not mean that a dwelling is unsafe, it opens up the possibility of danger, Resnick said.
Students go to the office with issues such as living in homes that are over capacity according to Town codes, sometimes having makeshift rooms.
For accessory apartments, landlords must live in the home and “In no event may there be more than one bedroom per accessory apartment,” the Town of Brookhaven accessory apartment code states.
The office held its second “Lease, Landlords and You” last November, a workshop for students to learn how to go about renting legally and avoid being misled by landlords.
There, some students voiced their concerns regarding their landlords.
“I’m a medical student living off-campus and I’m having issues with my landlord who essentially is taking advantage of us little by little,” Sanida Lukovic, a first-year medical student, said after the workshop. “We have a huge security deposit down and I’m concerned that his behavior so far will sort of lead to him trying to keep the deposit when
Jhon Restrepo, a junior economics major who attended the workshop said his landlord would not allow him to take picture of the basement apartment he moved into.
Phil Solages, the Graduate Student Organization attorney, spoke at the event and said that it is illegal on Long Island to have habitable space in a basement.
“So the reason he didn’t want you to do that is you were living in an illegal dwelling,” Solages told Restrepo.
“I do generally focus on scenarios in which the student’s being taken advantage of by a landlord or if they’re not in a safe environment or if they just have questions,” Resnick said. “It’s not always the scariest scenario.”
The new off-campus living structure inherited issue that Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners, Ltd., a nonprofit organization formed by residents near the university, Bruce Sander and Anthony DeRosa, wanted addressed.
This included their frustration with “unscrupulous landlords in their neighborhood illegally renting homes to unsuspecting Stony Brook University students,” according to the group’s website.
Sander met with university officials in February and was notified of the changes within the school.
He said there is still a problem of university employees being the owners of homes that rent to eight to 10 students, while the legal town limit for non-related tenants in four.
“They alerted us of all the changes that they’re making and we applaud them,” he said. “We also still reinforce the fact their own employees, their own professors, need to obey the laws and that is our biggest beef with it all.”
“The thing is it’s anyone’s right including a community member, a neighbor to report something to the town that appears to be illegal or unsafe, and then from there, a formal eviction process can take 60 to 90 days, and that’s ultimately at the hands of the landlord,” Resnick said.