MSA to expand database of U’s good, bad landlords

The student group is looking to help students find the best housing on campus.

Cali Owings

The Minnesota Student Association is looking to help students find the best available housing on campus, avoid bad landlords and stay safe with its 2010 RenterâÄôs Survey.

The survey, which is available to all University of Minnesota students, will be used to create a database of student opinions on properties, landlords and neighborhoods.

More than 84 percent of students live outside residence halls and fraternity or sorority houses, according to the 2010 College Student Health Survey by Boynton Health Service. For many of those students, renting an apartment or house near campus is a convenient option.

The renterâÄôs survey began in 2008, a response to the deaths of three students in a Dinkytown house fire, Worden said. The main goal of the survey is to identify which properties are in poor condition and could be dangerous as well as improve the overall safety of campus area neighborhoods.

The survey, which was developed by Facilities, Housing and Transit Committee chairman John Worden and the Office of Measurement Services, was meant to be e-mailed to all students, but it was postponed because it overlapped with a survey being conducted by Housing and Residential Life.

Instead, MSA can “softly” advertise the survey to students on Facebook and Twitter. The Office of Measurement Services is careful not to run too many surveys in the same time frame for fear that students might become over-surveyed, Worden said.

MSA institutionalized the survey because last year the server crashed and it lost the data. Worden said that by working with the Office of Measurement Services, it will be easier to create a workable database for students to find properties that meet their needs and for outside organizations to find properties and landlords that arenâÄôt up to code.

“We want to help identify landlords that arenâÄôt treating their students well,” he said.

Students have the option to rate the condition of their unit and building, as well as interactions with their landlord and their opinions of the neighborhood in which the property is located. Multiple ratings for the same address, like a large apartment complex, allow for a wider range of opinions on the property.

Worden said he hopes the feedback will be useful for groups like the University District Alliance, a collection of the neighborhood associations surrounding the University including Marcy-Holmes, Prospect Park, Como and Cedar-Riverside.

Each year, the UDA makes a list of 15 or so properties that are troublesome and prompt an investigation.

For Tim Harmsen, co-owner of Dinkytown Rentals âÄìâÄì which manages more than 700 rooms on campus âÄî itâÄôs not hard to find the “slum lords” who donâÄôt care about their properties and arenâÄôt straightforward with students.

“People who are trying to hide which properties they manage are not the ones you want to rent from,” Harmsen said. “If the owner is not willing to be proud of their place and tell you who they are and where they are, you want to stay away from them.”

Harmsen said the survey could be confusing for students who donâÄôt know who really owns their property. The properties should be rated by their management companies rather than property owners, he added.

Dinkytown Rentals includes a tenant survey in its move-out package, but Harmsen said itâÄôs underutilized.

He said the best way to tell if your property is good or not is if itâÄôs currently being rented. Multiple showings of a unit without a lease can lead Harmsen and his wife to renovate kitchens and bathrooms or modify the price of the rental.

“If a property isnâÄôt renting, thereâÄôs a reason,” he said.