As students finish up the semester and contemplate the impending onslaught of finals, another responsibility looms in the background with pre-leasing for off-campus housing around the corner.
With the enrollment of the largest freshman class ever in the fall of 2008, according to the CU Boulder news center, it is now standard for students to move off-campus after their first year in college.
Despite the allure of RA-free living, Bruce Sarbaugh, the legal advisor for off-campus student services, said he regularly sees a lot of students about the conditions and quality of their homes.
“I routinely hear about places on the Hill being a pit,” Sarbaugh said
According to the Yahoo! Real Estate profile on Boulder housing, 48 percent of housing in the city of Boulder is rented.
Whether students are veterans or newcomers in their search for rooms, Off-Campus Student Services provides resources such as free legal advice, housing fairs, and Ralphie’s List, a rental housing database exclusive to CU students, according to the Off-Campus Student Services Web site.
Benny Swan, a property manager for FourStar Realty and Property Management on the Hill, said that in order to get rental licenses renewed on properties, a baseline and safety inspection must be conducted by the city. Licenses expire after four years.
According to Oshkosh plumbing services, the inspector visually examines the areas readily accessible. He or she is responsible for approving such things as lighting and ventilation, plumbing fixtures, hvac, stairways and guardrails. If he finds something not working properly, e.g., plumbing, then he will ask the owners to contact plumbers like the ones you can find in sites like https://www.moffettplumbing.com/areas-we-serve/ to repair it immediately. Malfunctioning boilers may be scheduled for a professional boiler service. The inspector may also recommend septic service if the property is connected to a septic system. In addition, when you spot a water leak call Ethical Plumbing Services. You may also call Plumbing Tree for your emergency plumbing repairs.
However, according to the baseline inspection checklist, “Conditions in [the] checklist are acceptable if originally constructed or remodeled with a building permit and if they the meet the applicable codes at the time of construction or remodel for different rooms of the property. For instance for a kitchen or shower remodeling you must make sure you have everything on the checklist ready before consulting with a contractor.” For building safety, people can check Fire Watch Guards and hire them from here.
The safety inspection requires a separate form and is designed to insure the safe maintenance of fuel burning furnaces, boilers and other heating devices, and water heaters/smoke alarms, according to the safety inspection checklist.
“But we do a safety inspection every year,” Swan said. “Like a furnace tune-up and a CO2 test.”
Another local landlord, Mike Stengel, said that according to a city ordinance enacted eight years ago, if landlords renew their licenses before the expiration date, no baseline inspection is required.
“Once I get my first baseline, as long as I keep my licenses current, I only need to do it once in my lifetime,” Stengel said.
While students are looking for affordable, safe and up-to-standard housing, the quality of their housing is dependent on their landlord’s responsibility to tenants.
“It could be bad news, it could be fine,” Stengel said about the potential for landlords to go years without having to perform a baseline inspection. “If the landlord is responsible and fixes things as he should, it’s not a problem. But there are things, if he’s not as responsible, that could fall through the cracks.”
An example of this is that many houses in Boulder are zoned for three unrelated people or four if two of the residents are blood relatives, Sarbaugh said.
“If you are second cousins, even first cousins, siblings, married, any kind of blood relative, you are considered one occupant,” Sarbaugh said.
Swan said that FourStar checks birth certificates at lease signings to ensure that renters don’t inadvertently violate zoning laws.
Some students say that they have managed to get around this law.
Alex Milewski, a 19-year-old mechanical engineering student living off-campus for the first time this year, said that while his house was advertised as a five-bedroom, it is only zoned for three.
“Five of us live here, and none of us are related,” Milewski said. “They didn’t check to see if we were related when we signed the lease.”
Unless someone actually reports to the city a zoning violation, it’s hard to catch illegal roommates.
“I don’t have something scheduled to start counting beds,” Stengel said. “If someone raises a red flag, then I go in.”
According to Sarbaugh, if the city is informed of over-occupancy, they will go out and see how many people are living in the debated house. If there are more people there than acceptable, then tenants have thirty days to vacate. Tenants could be fined up to $2000 a day until they come into compliance.
While moving in that fourth roommate could initially prove easier on student wallets, there are other concerns with increased occupancy.
Suzanne Stafford, director of Off-Campus Student Services, said that there are issues with livability conditions if there are more people living in a residence than should be.
“There are generally concerns related to the impact in the quality of life in the neighborhood,” Stafford said. “Neighbors see an impact such as with trash, parking and increased foot traffic. Those three issues impact the neighborhood but not necessarily the tenants living in the house.”
For situations where there are conflicts between tenants and landlords, a landlord/tenant advisory board was set up by Sarbaugh as a way of mediating the gap between the two parties.
According to the LTAB brochure, the board consists of three landlord representatives and three student/tenant representatives, all of whom are well-versed in residential rental issues.
Through this medium, LTAB aims to help communication between landlords and tenants, resolve security deposit disputes and address livability standards, among other things, according to the brochure.
“It’s it its second year of existence,” Sarbaugh said. “The purpose is to bring together landlords and tenants together to address issues of over occupancy, how you can resolve issues of general maintenance, and what kinds of things landlords and tenants do together to make the whole rental environment better for everyone. The improvement of living situations is the business of property management too.”