Students learn rental fundamentals


Knox Coulter | Staff Photographer

Trisha Margiotti (right), a Panther Central off-campus living specialist, speaks about when students should start searching for housing at Tuesday evening’s “Off-campus Student Rental Workshop.”

By Emily Drzymalski , For The Pitt News

Pittsburgh is famous for being Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, but it is also the neighborhood of many Pitt students.

The Community and Governmental Relations Committee and Student Government Board on Tuesday hosted the first night of a panel of knowledgeable individuals for the Off-Campus Student Rental Workshop. The two-night event, which ends Wednesday, is designed to inform students and help them in the process of moving off campus.

According to the official Facebook post, the workshop was mainly for students who either already live off campus or are considering moving off campus to learn more information. Ritika Bajpai, community and governmental relations chair, said the event was primarily to help students learn the basics of renting property.

“Let students know, A, the resources there for them, B, how to get started,” Bajpai said. “I know when I was a freshman, I came to one of these and I found out, ‘Oh I should be looking now,’ so just information like that to just give them a start.”

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Bajpai began by asking about a topic panelists didn’t completely agree on — when to start the search. Panel members had different opinions on this question, and the answers varied from now to after the holidays to looking whenever.

“Actively start looking after the holiday,” Trisha Margiotti, one of Pitt’s off-campus living specialists, said.

Two panelists, Liz Gray, neighborhood quality consultant for the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, and Margiotti, suggested ways for students to find apartments. Margiotti recommended reviewing resources in the Office of Off-Campus Living. She and Gray agreed that online sources, such as Zillow, are good places to start, or asking fellow students.

The panel also focused on how students can best understand the leases they might sign, stressing the importance of knowing their rights as tenants. Gray urged students to pay special attention to what exactly they were signing.

“Read it, every single line,” Gray said.

The panelists stressed knowing and following the laws and regulations surrounding apartments in Pittsburgh, emphasizing the fact that no more than three unrelated people can live in a single-family dwelling in the city. Gray cautioned against landlords who are willing to compromise on this, saying they could also be likely to bend rules or laws affecting the safety of their tenants.

Students were also encouraged to take precautionary measures when moving into an apartment, like taking pictures before moving into and out of an apartment.

The Allegheny County Health Department’s list of rules and regulations in housing provides an all-encompassing scope of what is or isn’t acceptable in housing fit for humans. Violations are separated into class one, two and three — class one violations include carbon monoxide or noticeable gas odor presence, bare electrical wires or room temperatures dipping below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Other violations to watch out for include inoperable toilets, a lack of gas or electric at the fault of the owner, a lack of hot water or space heaters present. The full article is on the health department’s website at

Mira Bhayroo, a sophomore studying urban studies, attended the event because she plans to move off campus, and she appreciated the workshop for bringing her much-needed information.

“It was cool hearing from the two women,” Bhayroo said. “It was nice having adults who are not landlords telling you these types of things. And not people who are older than you telling you things. It’s more helpful information.”

Bhayroo also explained how she felt about the way the event was run, and said this event would have been helpful to anyone looking to move off campus.

“I thought it was good. I feel like there were a lot more chairs than people. A lot more people should have showed up because it’s important stuff to know. I know a lot of people who are moving off campus and I think they should have been here if they just wanted other tips and tricks or advice to know. I liked the panel format,” Bhayroo said.

Sometimes student living can conflict with residential living, like in Oakland, where long-term residents often complain about the noise and litter that often populates the college town. To avoid confrontation, Gray cautioned students to be respectful and aware of their surroundings.  

“Understand the neighborhood you’re moving to,” Gray said.