SGB, Pitt host student tenant workshop

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SGB, Pitt host student tenant workshop

The University of Pittsburgh Community and Governmental Relations hosted an off-campus student rental workshop on Monday night.  Abigail Self | Staff Photographer

The University of Pittsburgh Community and Governmental Relations hosted an off-campus student rental workshop on Monday night. Abigail Self | Staff Photographer

The University of Pittsburgh Community and Governmental Relations hosted an off-campus student rental workshop on Monday night. Abigail Self | Staff Photographer

The University of Pittsburgh Community and Governmental Relations hosted an off-campus student rental workshop on Monday night. Abigail Self | Staff Photographer

By Emily Brindley / Staff Writer

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Before Kevin Kerr graduated from Pitt in 2014, he said he had to duct tape a light switch in his off-campus rental to keep the outlet from catching fire.

Now, as chief of staff for City Council President Bruce Kraus, Kerr helps inform Pitt students about their rights as tenants.

“That stuff is not okay, and it cannot be tolerated as okay,” Kerr said, referring to poor housing conditions. “You have to expect better.”

The Student Government Board and the Office of Community and Governmental Relations invited Kerr and six other panelists from around the city to speak at a student tenant workshop Monday at 6 p.m. in the Kurtzman room of the William Pitt Union.

Kannu Sahni, director of community relations at CGR, moderated the panel, which included Jeff Braun, an attorney from Neighborhood Legal Services Association — a nonprofit law firm for residents in Allegheny County — and Liz Gray from Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, among others.

About 20 students attended the workshop, most of whom were preparing for their first year off-campus.

Freshmen Kristen Huggler and Alyssa Villani came to the workshop to get advice about moving into a South Oakland house with three other women.

They learned Monday night that they would be living in violation of city code that limits the number of unrelated tenants in a house or apartment to three people.

“It’s good to hear what could happen,” Huggler said. “We had no idea we could get kicked out.”

Hanson Kappelman, the co-founder of Oakwatch — a resident task force that addresses housing in Oakland — said one of the reasons students often violate codes is because they’re uninformed.

Kappelman said some tenants may feel too uncomfortable to report issues with their rentals to landlords or officials.

“Do not be cowed by things that landlords might say,” Kappelman said. “Stand up for yourself. Find help.”

South Oakland landlord Dourid Aboud with Bluestone Realty wasn’t at the workshop, but said some landlords might intimidate students because they don’t make an effort to connect with their student renters.

“I can talk to these kids … and that’s why they rent from me,” Aboud said. “I try to break that barrier.”

President of SGB Nasreen Harun said SGB has hosted the workshop the past two years and will hold another on Dec. 8, in the O’Hara Student Center.

Harun urged students to document the condition of the apartment before and after the lease begins.

“I know a lot of people will try to talk to their landlords over the phone, and it might not be the most productive conversation,” Harun said, “but if you put [complaints] in writing it adds an element of professionalism and expertise.”

SGB Governmental Relations Committee Chair Pat Corelli said he wanted students to know that landlords are legally obligated to fix serious issues in their apartments — like a hazardous outlet.

“I think the biggest thing that I want students to take away from this is what rights they have and what they should be doing to make sure they can keep using those rights,” Corelli said.

Despite problems with some rental units, Kappelman said negligent landlords and unhappy tenants in Oakland make up only a small percentage of people living and renting in Oakland.

“Living in Oakland can be great. Look at continuing your quest to live off-campus if that’s what you want to do,” Kappelman said.  “All we’re saying is do it with your eyes open.”

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