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College  - University Student Rental Problems - Zoning out Students
By David Dorfman, Publisher,

Recent Headline:    (CLICK HERE TO READ THE 8/2004 UPDATE)

86 Students arrested in  a 2 week period read the headlines in West Long Branch, New Jersey, home to Monmouth University. This was then broadcast to the world, as USA today picked up the little blurb in their National Edition

The University, local official and residents put the blame on the Landlords.

As a landlord, I was annoyed.

Whose to Blame? The Landlord, The Educational Institution, The Local Town  - or should it be the trouble makers themselves – the students? How about their parents? How about the Budweiser for brewing the potent beer? Or the liquor store that sold them the brew?

Are the landlords simply “out of control”? 

As a landlord who rents to college students on occasion, a resident of a ‘University Town’ and lastly – publisher of, I thought I’d attempt to share my feelings and past research with the members and visitors of the site. 

I’ll rework it over the next few days, but thought I’d share some comments and hope that you will respond with yours.

 Education Institutions Continue to Expand

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As Educational Institutions across the country continue to increase their enrollments and student retention ratios – there becomes a housing crunch on the campus and in the surrounding communities.

Dorm space is at a premium. Waiting lists for housing are created. Colleges seek alternative housing options  - contracting with local Hotels and Motels or Apartment complexes.  

The bulge began to make headlines in the mid-1990s, when Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., had to lodge a number of students in mobile homes parked on campus. (The problem: More freshmen than ever had accepted the school's offer. Princeton has since built a big new dorm.) This fall, Monmouth College, in West Long Branch, N.J., put up about 10% of its incoming freshman class in a hotel a few miles away (source: Wall Street's Real Estate Journal - see complete article)

As a result, local communities are beginning to feel the effect. From State College  Pennsylvania to Monmouth University to Boulder, Colorado to East Lansing,Michigan and every College town in between.

Many Institutions are landlocked. There is no more room for expansion and the Intuitions are struggling to expand their facilities –  with new education centers, sports facilities and lastly – housing and parking.

Local communities, while they typically benefit from an Educational Institutions presence – employment, student participation, community facilities, local business community, arts and more – are also being pressured by the residents of the communities as students seem, and are, out of control in many cases. 

Schools are also struggling with the need to build. Development plans that approach residential neighborhoods cause more alarm for local residents, while those residents whose land the college touches are now hoping to cash out - for much more then the market value of their home.

Can Eminent Domain be far away? Will expanding the college grounds serve a "public good" - allowing for additional on-campus housing? Interesting concept.

 Who to blame?

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Local residents blame the landlords who have capitalized on the need for student housing who residents claim have taken local neighborhood houses and in effect, turn them into “boarding homes”, “frat houses” or a new tag line, “student ghettos”.  Some of us may think back to our college days or to one of the “100 best comedies”  - Animal House, starring John Belushi.

The problems are worse when the student tenants are “out of control”, the unit(s) are owned by absentee landlords with no or little property management agreements and little enforcement of standards laws by the local town. Some colleges have a "Code of Conduct" that attempts to regulate off-campus behavior - but is hard to enforce and is almost meaningless.

 Animal House Laws – New Jersey

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Speaking of ‘Animal House’ , Belmar, NJ, while not a college town normally, had become one in the Summer months. With a good number of Bars, bungalows and larger homes, the old honky-tonk atmosphere was great place for the college students to come for the summer - the Jersey Shore.

And come they did.

Inflatable pools in the front yard filled with beer…beer signs hanging from houses, loud music, lines outside the local bars, noise, fights and mattresses on the lawns.


The newly elected Mayor,Kenneth Pringle, pushed through the “Animal House” ordinance.  While it was challenged for various reasons in the courts, most of it was upheld in United Property Owners of Belmar vs. Belmar.

In summary, the Animal House Ordinance as it now stands, could result in fines for LANDLORD if the  Tenants in the Landlords house are found guilty for committing an illegal act. This includes underage/public drinking, violation of a noise ordinance, recycling or anything else for that matter

The Animal House laws in NJ have been adopted elsewhere in NJ and are being applied in various forms around college campuses.

The objective is to attempt to control and fine the obnoxious tenant, as well as to make sure the Landlord assumes responsibility for their rental unit(s).


 Investing in College Rentals

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Meanwhile across the country, savvy landlords have gobbled up housing and property surrounding the campus and created their own form of Student Housing. Depending on the availability and acceptance of students in the area – this has turned out to be ‘safe’ investment for many investors. Word of caution: colleges are adapting to the problem and have more acceptance of larger scale dorm projects, have utilized off –facility housing such as old motels and hotels or are using a towns power of eminent domain to expand.

Problems are occurring with landlords who attempt to maximize profits by creating additional living spaces in the home – additional bedrooms in attics or basements. In addition to compromising safety, the over crowded conditions bring additional problems – parking, excess garbage etc.

Communities are reacting by trying to limit the number of unrelated people living in a home (regardless of size) - or have attempted to define "family". Various legal challenges have gone both was - in favor of the Landlords - others in favor of the communities.

Residents in college towns argue that home prices decrease due to the rental situation. This may be true in some cases - but in most cases - the areas around a college town are higher then the average for the area - as are the rental rates. 

 Buying a Home for your College Bound Student

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Parents of college bound students have begin to make one more additional investment in their children’s future  by investing in housing as close to the campus as they can. If the parent feels confident their child will stay in the Institution they selected, some financial planners are suggesting this course of action.

 It may be a good idea to give the child at least 1 year to ‘be sure’. Good investments for a student mature enough to handle either living on their own, or finding roommates to share the expenses – your mortgage.


 Certificate of Occupancy or Owner Registration Statements  

In New Jersey, most towns require

-ALL rentals to file what is called a Certificate of Occupancy form with the local Town/City on each new change of tenancy along with a fee – which varies by town/city. ($50 and up). This form must indicate the Names of all proposed tenants and the start and end of the lease. Some have asked for additional information which the some courts have struck down as it violates the tenant’s right to privacy.

-Most require a separate Fire Detector and Carbon Monoxide Detector Form and  Inspection.  ($35 and up per change in tenancy)

-         The State requires an owners registration statement to be filed with the local town as well. No fee, but failure to submit form may result in a loss of eviction rights.

Code Enforcement

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An increase in code enforcement is becoming standard practice in Student Rentals. Some students have said they are being “targeted”. True. Act like idiots in a residential neighborhood and the police will be there – ready to issue summonses.

 For the small landlord – his hands are tied –if there is a loud party going on – you go over and tell them to pipe down and they don’t  - then what? If you call the police – you risk being fined id the tenants are arrested and found guilty 

Many towns are limiting or attempting to limit college rentals by enacting stricter laws for housing in various residential neighborhoods.

The website began while we were researching the laws on what defines a family. Our first introduction to this was the much cited Village of  Belle Terre where we first learned of the courts attempts to define “family”

Further research and revisions by city planners and attorneys attempting to curb the growth of Frat Houses, Treatment Centers and other Seasonal or short term rentals in neighborhoods of single family homes are beginning to adopt a form of a Functional Family. In broad sense – it appears the definitions of a Functional Family exclude a group of students living together for a short term (as in a semester).

In an article in Land Use Law Journal titled The Seven-Nun Conundrum: Seeking Divine Guidance in the Definition of “Family”, the authors Dwight H. Merriam and Robert J. Sitkowski look at the various definitions and laws in the country. This is a good article.

This article was found on the website Families and Students Living in a College Town .


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Punish the Offender

Is the Landlord the offender. While local and state laws are being enacted to make the owner (landlord) responsible for the actions of the tenants. In these new ordinances, the landlord will be fined after ‘x’ number of occurrences in a unit.

So if you’re a landlord, you better make sure your tenants are in control and more important – that they recycle.

Community Groups

College Towns that have enacted community groups or ‘quality of life task forces” are reporting mixed results. To be effective, the groups should include members of the University Housing offices, Disciplinary Committees, Student Government Offices, Local Housing Offices (Inspectors), Landlords and Residents.

A clear list of requirements for off-campus housing should be agreed to and placed in writing and be available for easy review. Local website (College and Towns) and when the prior to the Students moving in.

Each Landlord or Community Task Force should deliver a local “Welcome to Your New Home” kit. In it, the important phone numbers, summary of local ordinances and fines and general rules and regulations the renter should be aware of.

Model Leases

We have seen several examples of a suggested “Model” lease used in various college towns. The common lease clearly states the local laws and rules for living in the community. The Penalties are defined as well.

Drinking and Parties

Many college towns encourage the social aspect of area. As such – the nightlife surrounds a campus. Bars try to outdo each other all hours of the night. Larger schools often have large turnouts for Football or Basketball games – yet are not equipped to handle the large number of people who come for the games or weekend and work they way through town.

More Information

The owner of the website has done an excellent job of documenting numerous issues surrounding college towns. The website is at this link: Families and Students Living in a College Town .

Address: will be expanding the coverage of these issues along with their partner – – The College Life Guide.

As a New Jersey Landlord and resident I a college town – I am concerned about the issues and hope to work to creating solutions for Landlords, Tenants and Residents who are faced with this increasing problem.


In 4 years, I will be the parent of a college bound student. Then what?

Wall Street Journal Article: Undergrads Invade Off-Campus Areas: Link
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