When junior Julie Krumwiede moved into her first off-campus townhouse in May, she was not prepared for the nightmare she entered.
Her new home had inches of mold and floodwater throughout the kitchen, and the bank had just foreclosed on the house days before she and her two roommates moved in. Now the D.C. government has a new campaign aimed at preventing similar situations for college students living off campus.
The cornerstone of this effort is a Web site spearheaded by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. At thisshouldbeillegal.com, students can post and look up information on building safety – foreign territory to many first-time renters.
“Too often students are the target of off-campus landlords trying to make a quick buck at your expense,” said DCRA Director Linda Argo in a video on the campaign’s Facebook group.
Krumwiede said she fought just to get the attention of the D.C. authorities. She said the situation would have been better had she known her rights before signing the lease.
The D.C. program is geared towards students since they do not generally check to verify if landlords are licensed and buildings are up to fire codes, said Michael Rupert, a spokesperson for the DCRA.
Four years ago, 21-year-old Georgetown student Daniel Rigby died in an apartment fire because his off-campus building violated fire codes with barred windows and padlocked doors. Since then, the DCRA started outreach campaigns targeted at college students.
The University estimates that there are about 2,200 GW students living off campus this year, and Rupert estimates there are about 10,000 to 15,000 D.C.-area university students living off campus.
The Web site, which has received almost 4,000 hits since its launch last week, uses social networks like Facebook and Twitter to reach its target audience. Aside from having all the pertinent information in one place, students can request a building inspection, report a landlord, send in comments anonymously and even have a smoke detector installed for free through a partnership with the D.C. Fire Department.
“We wanted to give the students the tools to look up things themselves,” Rupert said. “They don’t have to talk to the government if they don’t want to.”
He added that students seem very interested in utilizing the site as a tool to protect their safety.
“Just last week we got a ton of questions about specific properties, questions about landlords … if their behavior is correct,” he said.
GW’s Office of Off-Campus Affairs also offers information for students on its Web site, including fire safety tips and information on property inspection.
Though she has since moved out of the property, Krumwiede’s case is in court and far from being resolved. She urges students to know their rights before entering into a rental contract.
“Students can really easily be taken advantage of,” Krumwiede said. “We really didn’t know (about potential problems), we just assumed that everything was fine and legitimate.”