Editorial | C-U housing risks student safety

By The Daily Illini Editorial Board

College students are often warned against being out too late at night and staying vigilant from harm that could be lurking in an outside corner — but what about the harm they potentially face while in their own homes?

Societally, landlords tend to have a bad reputation in general for being greedy and penny-pinching, but landlords and realty companies in Champaign-Urbana constantly put students in the way of physical danger in the one place they should feel safe — their homes.

The anxiety-inducing scramble to find an apartment for the upcoming leasing term has officially kicked off, which means apartment tours are back in full swing. Though tours are considered socially acceptable during the apartment-hunting process, they have terrifying safety implications for tenants. 

Many apartment tours in C-U consist of a landlord or realty agent walking into an apartment with a prospective tenant interested in viewing the unit. This landlord has keys to the residence in the event that it is locked and will come in regardless of if the tenant is home or not. 

The tenant can be in a vulnerable situation during these tours, whether it be sleeping, showering or having valuable belongings out in the open. The prospective tenant, who is basically a complete stranger, then has the opportunity to scope out that resident’s living situation and examine how they live. 

In the best case scenario, a tenant can feel like their privacy was violated, and in the worst case scenario, that resident can be set up for theft or harm in the future.

An additional safety issue adjacent to this is maintenance workers accessing residences under clauses that allow them to do so in leases. Workers from third-party companies can access apartments and homes for repairs, and validating their legitimacy is tough if they come in when a resident is not home.

This also sets residents up for scams or harm by strangers with bad intentions pretending to be maintenance workers since tenants will let these strangers in because they think they have to.

The University was faced with one such incident this past March when a student was assaulted in her apartment by an offender who claimed to be a maintenance worker for Ameren. This followed a string of occurrences of people claiming to work for Ameren knocking on residents’ doors and asking to see their electric bills.

In the city of Champaign, landlords are allowed to enter a residence at any time, unless limits are explicitly stated in the lease. In Urbana, landlords must provide at least 24 hours’ notice before entering the apartment unless there is an emergency, as stated in Urbana’s Landlord/Tenant Ordinance.

In the case of showing the unit to prospective tenants, however, landlords do not have to provide notice before entering the apartment if that unit is not being leased by the current tenant for the subsequent leasing term. 

Students are always told to read their leases with caution to avoid signing something that could put them in harm’s way, but companies should stop including these clauses that harm students in the first place. 

Landlords and realty companies know that college students have limited legal knowledge, so they know they can get away with breaking these rules. Remember your rights, even if they feel slim. If they are violated, a decrease in rent can be negotiated, or in extreme cases, may provide grounds for a lawsuit against the landlord. 

If you need legal help, refer to the C-U Tenant Union or Student Legal Services. If you want more general information about your rights and responsibilities as a tenant, refer to Off-Campus Community Living, which is a resource available to students at the University. 

 

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