Beside the deteriorating townhouses on a squalid street in Lower Vailsburg, Newark, Hiyabu Habtemichael, a junior economics and sociology major, stands on the front steps of his small apartment building, enjoying a cigarette and appreciating the first breaths of spring air. His newly built apartment building stands out, freshly painted blue in stark contrast to the peeling paint of the other buildings on the street.
“I’ve been through a lot to get this place and I’m not even really sure it’s worth the money,” Habtemichael said.
For many students at Seton Hall, moving from an on-campus dorm to an off-campus house or apartment is the norm. With no restrictions placed upon them by Housing and Residence Life, students feel that they experience more freedom living off-campus than they did on-campus.
However, for many students this freedom can potentially lead to a path of unsafe and unfair living conditions. From dodgy landlords to confrontational neighbors and subpar living environments, many students face risks that come with off-campus independence.
Jessica Proano, assistant director of Housing and Residence Life said via email, “Each student has different needs and situations that might impact where they live, there isn’t really a type of student who lives on or off-campus, the only thing they all really have in common is that they are Pirates.” She also said that Housing and Residence Life “wants SHU students to make the best decisions for their unique situations, but we would love to have as many students as possible living on campus.”
For Habtemichael, his hardships came in the form of a problematic landlord. After surveying the apartment in May, which at the time was still being built, he was assured repeatedly by the landlord that the apartment building would be completed before the 2016 fall semester started. Those assurances fell short as the school year began and construction continued.
The apartment building was largely unfinished when he came back for school and Habtemichael said he felt that “the landlord seemed like he had fallen off the face of the earth,” responding to his messages rarely and only by text. Forced to find a different living arrangement at that time, Habtemichael said he soon resorted to couch surfing at several of his friend’s places in Newark.
In contrast, Reyhanillo Andi Kasim, a senior sociology major, had a more positive experience in finding housing off-campus.
Finding his apartment on Craigslist, Kasim said via email, “he got very lucky” but “would not recommend it for other people to use” because of the high risk of scams and false advertising. Kasim did find the upsides in off-campus living, adding that the “increased privacy is great.”
He said, “I have my own kitchen, living room and bathroom all to myself. While it is tough getting to class some days, it’s all part of the deal.”
Kasim said that living off-campus is a great deal because he pays less and has more freedom.
However, Kasim said that “people that live off-campus tend to spend less time on campus and occasionally lose quality social time with friends.”
Carl Peels is building superintendent at Scotland Gardens in Orange, N.J., a housing complex that many students call home. Peels said that some parts of South Orange are “beautiful to live in, it’s a great neighborhood and it has great people as long as you screen them first.” He said he stayed around the neighborhood for more than 10 years working as a building superintendent in several different buildings.
Peels said his experience has been overwhelmingly positive, renting apartments to college students frequently and largely without complaint. However, he admits it is not easy finding college students that fit with the standards of the building as the company he works for requires parental co-signers, background checks and credit checks.
“My college kids [that live in his building], they’re all great people,” Peels said.
Dominic Lai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.