Defining student housing

Though students expect to live with other students, they could be matched with anyone.

by Barry Lytton

When Anne Kennedy signed a lease with Stadium Village Flats,  she expected to room with only a University of Minnesota student.

The physiology junior had only one roommate over her two years there, until early last month when she got an email with the contact information for a new one.

After failed attempts to contact her new roommate, Kennedy, said she searched for the woman on Facebook and was alarmed to learn that her new roommate would not be a University student and had an infant.

While luxury rental properties tend to market directly to students, property officials say anyone can live in them, regardless of their status as a student or non-student.

“Our target market is students,” John Wodele, vice president of marketing for Doran Companies, said. “They’re designed for students; we have study rooms in them — it’s designed for a market niche.”

But the company has no rules against non-student occupancy, Wodele said.

Brooke Lemke, an Argosy University student, moved into the Bridges in fall 2014. She said though she knew people unaffiliated with the University of Minnesota could live in her apartment, she has yet to see any.

“I don’t go to the ‘U,’ and they don’t care,” she said. “The majority of people there are students; everyone looks like they’re around my age.”

The Venue doesn’t lease exclusively to University students because of housing laws, said Erin Martin, a leasing consultant at the apartment complex.

“Anyone who meets our rental requirements can live here,” she said.

Still, she said, there are a few non-students living in the Venue.

The Fair Housing Act  makes it illegal to deny housing to anyone based on their race, religion, sex or familial status — but it says nothing about status as a student.

Stadium Village Flats matches roommates and sends out contact information for potential future roommates very early in the rental process, said Noel Crouch, regional manager for Asset Plus Companies, which owns the apartment complex.

But the apartment’s email to Anne Kennedy said that her new roommate would move in on Jan. 15.

Crouch said she could not comment on specific leases within the apartment.

The company doesn’t ask about demographic information on a new renter, including status as a student, in compliance with the Fair Housing Act, Crouch said.

Law School professor emeritus Myron Orfield said he thinks the matter has to do with perception.

“If you have an apartment building in a neighborhood that’s racially mixed and you’re just limiting to students,” he said, “people might worry that that would be a pretext to not rent to black and Latino people or to people that are protected by the Fair Housing Act.”

When Stadium Village Flats met Kennedy’s questions with few answers, she sought the help of University Student Legal Service and Legal Assistant Barbara Boysen.

Kennedy didn’t have a case against the apartment because of her future roommate’s baby, Boysen said, but because Stadium Village Flats had potentially misled her.

“She had reasonable expectations that this was not the type of housing where there would be non-students or families,” she said.

Susan Jennings, vice president of communications for The Marshall’s developer, Education Realty Trust, said the company rents its apartments to anyone who wants to live there.

“You basically have to rent to anybody,” she said. “We can’t say ‘Only young people’ [or] ‘Only students.’”

She said marketing primarily to students doesn’t create a conflict because those are the people who typically rent with the company.

“We designed those properties to appeal to a certain age group,” she said. “Our business model is that we are [a] collegiate housing company.”

On Jan. 19 — two weeks after Anne Kennedy said she heard about her new roommate — the roommate had not moved in.

Over that span, Boysen said, she repeatedly tried to contact the apartment and Asset Campus Housing but received no response.

Last weekend, Kennedy said, Stadium Village Flats emailed her the contact information of a new prospective roommate — who she assumes won’t have a child.