Renting houses and apartments on Binghamton’s West Side or Downtown Binghamton means students often have to deal with security deposits, leases and landlords.
In an effort to educate students on their rights as tenants, Central New York Fair Housing held a workshop on housing rights in the University Union on Tuesday.
Central New York Fair Housing is a nonprofit organization that works to eliminate housing discrimination and ensure equal access to housing opportunity in central and northern New York state. Based in Syracuse, the organization is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city of Syracuse and the counties it serves. It also receives grants, fundraises and performs contractual services.
Sally Santangelo, executive director of Central New York Fair Housing, said after the organization evaluated the city of Binghamton, it found that housing rights education was lacking.
“I think a lot of tenants generally don’t know their rights when it comes to security deposits, disputes and discrimination,” Santangelo said.
Santangelo’s presentation defined fair housing as the right to choose housing, free from unlawful discrimination. Federal, state and local fair housing laws protect people from discrimination based on a variety of factors, including race, religion, national origin, gender or disability.
According to Santangelo, students often encounter discrimination due to their age and inexperience as tenants. International students and students of color can also face other challenges. She recommended recording or documenting interactions with landlords and always reading leases carefully before signing.
The presentation also discussed landlord obligations, which include maintaining safe, sanitary living conditions and making repairs in a timely manner. Before accessing the property, making repairs or checking on a problem, landlords should give tenants at least 24 hours notice of their arrival.
Matthew Brenes, a senior majoring in psychology, said he experienced some of the issues discussed at the event with his landlord and his property manager. According to Brenes, he and his housemates had been ignored by their landlord and property manager after they had repeatedly requested repairs, such as fixing the staircase in their house. The landlord and property manager ignored the requests for days until someone came unexpectedly to make the repairs.
“All of a sudden, on Sunday, my friend said someone was here,” Brenes said. “This woman decided to show up and text me at 9 a.m., and since she knew the code because my landlord gave it to her, she just let herself in.”
Brenes noted, however, the landlord and property manager did respond to the repair request within three weeks of the initial response, and the landlord deducted money from the rent as compensation.
If a rental space is not maintained, tenants can withhold rent, but must set aside these funds so the rent can be paid as soon as the issue is resolved. According to Santangelo, all requests made by tenants should be made in writing so the tenant has a record of what requests were made to the landlord and when they were submitted.
Santangelo also stressed the importance of calling the police if necessary, especially if the conflict escalates between landlord and tenant.