Editorial: City makes landlords accountable, renters more powerful

In the housing market of South Oakland, basic supply and demand theory is somewhat in flux.

Landlords are supplying a limited product, rentable houses and apartments, to a consistent and high demand, Pitt students.

Of Pitt’s 19,000 undergraduate students, 57 percent live off campus, according to U.S. News and World Report. That’s about 11,000 students living off campus, a good portion of whom live in South Oakland.

What’s problematic about such a large student desire for South Oakland housing, however, is that landlords don’t have to worry too much about competing with other landlords. It’s pretty much guaranteed that they will fill all their vacancies. There’s so many students looking for housing in South Oakland that they’d be willing to live in any brick-and-mortar dump.

Consequently, landlords can allow their properties to become out of shape or damaged without the value decreasing.

The city has now taken the first step in alleviating this issue. The Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections launched a website last Wednesday that will allow potential renters to look into the past and present of perspective properties. All renters have to do is type in the address of the property they are renting, or looking to rent, and the site will provide them with any property violations that occurred there since Oct. 15, 2015.

This gives student renters — and their parents who may be paying — the tools they need to make informed decisions. And for students already renting a South Oakland property, it will give them the means to easily keep up with any ongoing property violation and ensure the landlord resolves the issue.

Many students who decide to live off campus are renting a property for the first time. They may not know what to look for or what to expect. With the new code violation search engine, they can now easily learn what constitutes a violation and if the property they are looking at has a violation that needs addressing.

This means landlords will have to keep a clean slate for their property — otherwise, students will be able to negotiate lower rent prices or just avoid the property altogether. 

What’s more is that, if current tenants see that landlords are not being responsive to violations, they can use that as leverage against them by threatening legal action.

Ultimately, it’s important that student renters have more power, because where they live first will shape how they view the city forever. If a student living off campus at Pitt has a terrible experience, they may not want to come back to the city to live and work — robbing the city of a talented next generation of residents.

In order for this to work, students have to utilize this tool the city has given us. So, to improve our community, go on the site, look up your current or potential address and see how it stands.

Hopefully you won’t be too surprised.

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