Thursday, April 17, 2008

Athens City Code Not As Strict As You Might Think

Natalie Jovonovich

It's no secret that student housing in Athens is expanding. With the current construction of apartment complexes on Palmer Street and Fern Street, students may start opting for these newer residences instead of some of the older houses and apartments around town.

Beith talks about her sub-par living conditions.

Victoria Beith is a junior Ohio University student living in an apartment on Court Street. When she and her roommate wanted to find a place quickly at the end of last year, she says they went to Athens Rental Management to get a packet on available apartments and houses, and the pickings were slim. "I saw this place, thought it was convenient and could make it work, but we rushed into signing and move-in day we were just kind of shocked that this was our place." Beith says she was disappointed to see unsafe conditions in her apartment, like windows without locks.

But Steve Pierson, Athens City Zoning Director, says the city code is not as strict as many tenants may think. "A lot of communities are only complaint driven, some only have proactive. In the city of Athens, we have both." The Title 29 housing code outlines the minimum property standards. The last revision was in 2000 and Pierson says when people read it, they may be surprised how 'bare bones' it is. Some of the code requirements are:
- a heating device to maintain 68 degrees
- a roof without leaks
- each bedroom must have 1 ceiling light and 3 electrical outlets
- window must fit reasonably well on the frame

Hear more specifics about Title 29 from Pierson.

Three out of every four houses in the city are a rental, which means city code enforcement officers are doing almost 2500 inspections a year. Pierson says when officers go out on an inspection, they will write-up a document called a notice of violation. The code says the landlord has up to 30 days to make those initial repairs, but a lot of times they'll put more emphasis on it if the house is missing something critical, like a fire extinguisher or a smoke detector. "Something that is very necessary we don't always just say you've got 30 days. We just say immediately." The inspector is then responsible for arranging another inspection after that time and if they still have not been repaired, the landlord is issued an order to comply. Pierson says that's when it could be taken to municipal court.

Kara Cozort of Cornwell Realty says they think it's important to keep their properties up to code, and by staying up-to-date on maintenance, it should not be that expensive. Cozort had some tips for those students who are beginning to look:
- location
- landlord's reputation
- quality of house
- does it use gas?
- energy efficiency

And that's some advice Beith wishes she'd had in her off-campus housing search. "I probably would have lived in the dorms compared to here. I would spend more time looking for a place that was better suited for me. I hate my apartment." But Beith did have her own tips for those underclassmen who are beginning their search:
- start looking for houses early
- if you need help, ask upperclassmen
- don't be afraid to ask questions and look around
- know what you're signing into for your lease
- have your parents involved

If any further revisions are made to the code, Pierson says they would be done gradually on an as-needed basis.

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