Landlords: good, bad and ugly

A new survey of local landlords will soon help university people who want to live near campus. Developed by the student-run Penn Consumers Board, the survey will reveal who the really good -- and really bad -- landlords are in the neighborhood.

Office of Off-Campus Living Director Mihaela Farcas said the survey should be available in April, just in time for the spring rental rush. The information in the survey, drawn from questionnaires sent to students and other Penn affiliates and letters to landlords, will tell students who owns what properties and what to expect from each landlord.

The Consumers Board survey -- the first completely new edition in three years -- is one example of how students, University offices and neighborhood residents are working with and through OCL to further its mission of keeping students close to the University's campus, Farcas said.

Her office takes several approaches in accomplishing that mission.

For starters, she said, "we are trying to work with landlords." The office encourages landlords to commit to higher standards of upkeep and tries to increase direct communication between students and landlords.

The office also works with students. As part of orientation, the office tells students how to be informed consumers when shopping for housing -- "what to expect and how to get what you want," she said. The office also reviews leases for students.

Integrating students into the community has become a priority for Farcas. "This is an age-old problem," she said, "but right now we are in a much better situation than we have ever been. ...A channel for communication has been established between the University and the neighborhood."

She credits teamwork with other University offices, area landlords and the neighboring community for this state of affairs. "Several University offices, such as this office, the Office of Community Relations and the Office of Student Conduct, have started working together and putting a plan together," she said.

Through the use of these channels, the University has been able to hear the voice of the community and correct problems that occur, she said.

Despite efforts to make students part of the community, many graduate students are looking for housing in the Center City area, Farcas said. But she thinks they are missing out on something good in West Philadelphia. "The vibrant neighborhoods surrounding the campus offer many advantages over Center City," she said.

Decent housing can be found at more affordable prices than in Center City, Farcas said. New safety efforts, transportation and parking are all services the University provides that make the neighborhood more attractive. An incredible variety of restaurants and new developments such as Sansom Common and 40th Street improvements also provide incentives for remaining close to campus.

The office's use of the Internet has increased the base of users as well. "Our services are open to anyone," Farcas said.

Originally published on February 26, 1998