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Under Inspection: Checking Up on Off-Campus Housing

Of-campus student housing

You’re finally a junior at Keene State College. You move into your first off-campus house or apartment. You and all of your friends are excited to have the freedom of living on your own. Then, water starts dripping from your kitchen ceiling. A couple of weeks later, you find mouse droppings in the bathroom.

Situations like this happen often to college students who are dealing with rental housing for the first time. Fortunately, Keene State has partnered with the City of Keene to offer inspections of off-campus houses and apartments. The College’s Office of Student and Community Relations is working with Keene’s code enforcement officers and Fire Department to provide the service to students and landlords free of charge.

“We’re trying to get students to understand you really don’t want to rent a place if the house hasn’t passed that inspection,” says Coordinator of Student and Community Relations Robin Picard.

The City of Keene lists all the addresses that have been inspected through the Voluntary Inspection Program, noting their status – passed, pending, or expired. Keene State will list on the College website only advertisements for rentals that have passed this inspection. Students who are already living off campus and find that their house is not on the “inspected” list may call to get an inspection. Landlords hoping to attract tenants may also request an inspection.

During the spring 2018 semester, Keene State took advantage of the joint city-college program to provide a real-world experience for safety students. A pilot class of five students accompanied the code enforcement and Fire Department officials and learned how to conduct these inspections.

Two students who took the Topics in Safety class were juniors and safety majors Joseph Cucinotta and Michael McDonough. The focus of the course, McDonough says, was “Just how do you go from living on campus, where you’re safe because everyone’s looking out for you, you have resident assistants, to when you’re living off campus? How do you live safely?” This ranges from having a good relationship with neighbors to simply picking up broken glass properly.

The classroom component of the course included guest speakers from various city departments and agencies. Representatives of the Fire and Police department spoke, and other people came to talk about subjects as varied as recycling and mental and physical wellbeing. “That was pretty cool,” remembers Cucinotta.

The inspectors – the city workers and the safety students – follow a 22-point checklist to cover potential health and safety hazards ranging from missing smoke detectors to holes in the foundation to exposed electrical wiring. The idea is to make sure student houses and apartments meet basic health and safety codes.

Both students say the biggest issue they saw in houses being inspected was bad housekeeping – included on the list as “garbage/debris.” McDonough says, “People have stuff all over the place. Trash, this and that, which can be a problem. If there’s a fire and you have a bunch of stuff on the floor blocking an exit, that’s an issue.”

The inspection program, Picard says, allows students and their parents to feel more confident when renting off-campus living space – and the idea is in demand. She’s heard from staff at several other colleges that hope to provide a similar service, with Keene State leading the charge.

Visit the Residential Life Office webpage.

Rachel Vitello ’20

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