New Lease on Off-Campus Life

Cartoon by Emma Hines

In October of 2018, third-year adolescent education major Claire Egan’s housemates were startled when a total stranger punched in the key code to their apartment and entered their New Paltz residence without warning. The man was accompanied by another unknown woman and explained that he was a plumber that was sent to fix their sink. While he fixed the sink, the intrusion was unsettling: a random stranger was given access to their home without their prior consent or knowledge. Yet when Egan protested, her landlord replied with annoyance, and dismissed her concerns in a defensive manner. 

“I’ve known this guy for a long time, he has access to all of the houses, I don’t see what the problem is,” the landlord protested. After some back-and-forth debate the landlord agreed to change the house’s lock.    

Instances like these are sadly far from few. According to tenants rights advocate and attorney Celeste Tesoriero, unauthorized intrusions from landlords/handymen are the second most common complaint she receives from tenants. Numerous students have stories of being woken up by a landlord barging into their homes unannounced. Not only is this practice immoral, it’s also illegal.

Moving from the cozy confines of campus living to an off-campus house is a jarring and simultaneously thrilling experience for many students. They can finally ditch the crutch of dining halls, janitorial cleaning services and number of other accommodations that ease the transition into the collegiate lifestyle. 

The shift to off-campus living is surely worthwhile to obtain independence and privacy. On-campus, students are held under the close watch of resident advisors and must share their limited facilities with dozens of other students every day. Only off-campus students can find true solitude. 

When landlords treat student renters ambivalently and disregard their right to privacy, they essentially demote them to children. It makes renters feel like strangers in their own home: almost as if they are unwanted guests whose host is eagerly waiting to usher them out of the lease and move on to the next endeavor. 

  We at The New Paltz Oracle denounce landlords who overstep boundaries between their tenants ­— regardless if they are a student or not — and violate their rights guaranteed by New York State and Ulster County.

According to the Rights and Obligations of Landlords and Tenants of Ulster County, “Entry into the apartment by the landlord or landlord’s agent(s) must be during reasonable daytime hours, unless the tenant requests otherwise. The tenant has a reasonable expectation of privacy which the landlord needs to respect.” These guidelines are allowed to be lifted only in emergency cases, such as fires and water leaks, that would demand a landlord’s or handyman’s immediate attention. 

Regardless, landlords constantly violate the pre-existing guidelines because few student tenants are aware of their rights. Aside from loans, leases are commonly one of the first legally binding documents students commit themselves to, which can be incredibly daunting. Losing thousands of dollars and possibly a roof over their head leaves many in constant fear of eviction. Some landlords take advantage of their tenants’ temporary status and use it to exploit them.    

The key issue lies in the lack of qualifying clauses to the pre-existing laws. While the laws require prior notice and proper reason for the intrusion, there is no legislation that defines either. Although unwarranted entry is considered trespassing, it’s near impossible to prosecute landlords or protect tenants without these qualifiers. Therefore, Tesoriero and Village Trustee Dennis Young have recently joined forces to eradicate a legal gray area surrounding the Village’s entry code. 

As the draft currently stands, landlords would have to give tenants written notice (e.g. text, email etc.) of intended entry 48 hours before entering the home. It also lists a set of acceptable instances to request entry in the first place. If these laws are ignored, Landlords could face a $100 fine.

We at The Oracle praise the proposed legislation and believe it will provide the proper qualifications to protect tenants’ right to privacy. Without proactive policy set forth by the village, tenants will continue to be taken advantage of.

While this potential law represents a positive step in protecting tenants’ rights, the burden does not fall on the landlord and village leaders alone. Since SUNY New Paltz depends on the constant outflow of students to off-campus living, more could be done to advise this major transition. 

The school already has a wealth of information online to guide students and prepare them for what to expect, such as a guide to being a good tenant and an off-campus housing bulletin. Although the school clearly does not endorse any of these options (likely for liability and partisan reasons), students have no way of knowing what it’s actually like to live in these places. 

Groups such as the Village Landlord Tenant Relations Council (LTRC) and the New Paltz Tenants Union (NPTU), rUn by Tesoriero work to improve relations between landlords and tenants. The NPTU has compiled a “do not rent” list which names the landlords who have been complained about the most over the past few years. By working with these outside agencies, the school could better filter through the housing options they publicize to ensure that students are being placed in the best environments. 

While educating students on the monetary and social expectations of their new homes is important, it only represents a portion of off-campus living. Educating students on their tenant rights and the dangers of predatory landlords is equally important as money. The school could alleviate much of the students stress and uncertainty by working alongside local entities to ensure that they are providing students with the best living options possible. 

Additionally, students must make a proactive effort to educate themselves and their peers on their rights. Injustices can only be rectified if they are reported. The LTRC holds monthly meeting in the Student Union building on campus, providing the perfect forum to present and discuss renter issues. Bringing legal action against a landlord is a daunting task, but students will continue to be taken advantage of if no one stands up for themselves. Complacency will only perpetuate these issues as they have been for years now.  

We believe that passing this privacy policy will increase transparency with landlord/tenant relations, and protect the rights of all members of the New Paltz community. However, maintaining the rights of student tenants can only be accomplished through a combined effort of the entire New Paltz community.