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Off-campus options draw students

Marcela Berrios | Monday, February 5, 2007

From the threat of burglary to the city’s disorderly house ordinance to the perils of unplowed South Bend roads, there is plenty to give students pause before they move off campus.

Local landlords, however, reported no drops in the number of students leasing one of their homes or apartment complexes – saying, in fact, that factors that might drive future residents away are not factors at all.

Burglary concerns

Turtle Creek Apartments general manager Francie Schmuhl said break-ins – one of the biggest fears of students moving off campus – are easily avoided, as long as the student takes simple precautions.

“Preventing break-ins depends largely on the common sense of the resident,” Schmuhl said. “You don’t leave your iPod laying around in your car for everyone to see and you certainly shouldn’t leave the front door unlocked either.”

She said there were no burglary reports filed at Turtle Creek in December, despite the holiday migration of most student tenants – an achievement she credited in part to the presence of a state trooper and a county officer who permanently reside in two of the 192 Turtle Creek apartments.

Officer Derek Dieter from the South Bend Police Department (SBPD) – also a member of the South Bend Common Council – advised students contemplating off-campus residences to comb the neighborhood they’re contemplating before they commit with a deposit.

In his capacity as councilman on the city’s Health and Public Safety Committee, Dieter said high tenant turnovers in any given neighborhood usually signal a large number of students – since they only need housing for a handful of semesters – or a significant degree of unrest, if South Bend’s permanent residents also fail to remain there for extended periods of time.

The committee, he said, monitors these turnovers and other indexes to serve as a “barometer for the threats in the city.”

Some of these threats include criminals who trail out-of-state license plates to pinpoint student residences, Dieter said.

He advised off-campus students to take preventive actions against such lurkers by “closing your blinds, leaving the lights on when you go out and installing a simple alarm system.”

“These measures will tip the odds in your favor,” he said.

The SBPD told The Observer earlier this year the number of break-ins at student residences in South Bend during the winter vacation decreased from eight in 2005 to three in 2006, which they attributed to increased preventive measures, including additional alarm systems and requests from the residents for patrols to circulate their neighborhoods during their absence.

One of the break-in incidents last month occurred at a student residence on St. Peter Street, one of landlord Mark Kramer’s 175 properties.

“We’ve talked to our student tenants about taking preventive action to deter further break-ins, and many of them have taken that advice,” Kramer said. “As a result, this year we haven’t received many calls about security concerns in any of the properties.”

Junior Jack Millhouse will live in one of Kramer’s houses on Washington Street this fall, and though the threat of crime in the neighborhood did concern him, he said his desire to share a house with five friends his senior year carried more weight.

“I heard about the recent wave of break-ins but I figured I could just take most of my valuable stuff home on breaks,” Millhouse said. “Plus, I read somewhere that the cops were stepping up efforts to make additional drive-bys and things to scare the burglars while we’re away.”

Millhouse may have developed a strategy to elude thieves, but in the fall he and his housemates will have to deal with another concern: the city’s disorderly house ordinance.

Disorderly house ordinance

Since mid-2005, students off campus have had to abide by a new amendment to South Bend’s disorderly house ordinance, which stipulates that the city can send tenants – and their landlords – a notice to abate after a single noise violation.

If the noise violation reoccurs, both parties will owe the city a fine, unless the landlord evicts the tenant within 30 days.

Millhouse said he was “completely oblivious” to the ordinance when he signed his lease contract – but fellow junior Brett Lilley said he kept the edict in mind when he selected his home for his senior year.

Lilley will be residing in Castle Point Apartments on Cleveland Road – conveniently outside the ordinance’s jurisdiction.

“I knew the ordinance didn’t apply to Castle Point because it’s located outside South Bend,” he said. “And that really sealed the deal for me because I don’t want any trouble, and with the ordinance you could get evicted after the first warning if your landlord doesn’t want to run the risk of getting fined in the future.”

However, the ordinance hasn’t adversely affected every apartment complex in South Bend.

“I’ve never evicted a student for violations related to the noise ordinance, nor would I,” Kramer said. “We try to educate the students to make sure they stay out of trouble with the police, and so far none of them have had problems.”

Still, junior Marina Cardona also leased a Castle Point apartment for the 2007-08 school year, hoping to escape the noise restrictions the University and the city have imposed on her.

“I just look forward to deciding my own quiet hours,” she said.

Lilley and Cardona might have more breathing room in determining the volume of the music and the amount of friends they may entertain Friday nights, but not all students have fled South Bend to escape the disorderly house ordinance.

Kramer said he recently purchased Notre Dame Apartments and Lafayette Square Townhouses to meet the rising demand for off-campus student residences, and more than 50 students have already signed leases to occupy his properties during the 2008-09 year.

“Demand is high and increasing,” he said. “We’re signing leases two years in advance, so I wouldn’t say the noise ordinance is discouraging students from moving off campus.”

Stadium Club Condominiums property manager Susan Miller said the complex was also “almost full.”

Along Bulla Road, Miller said, Stadium Club neighbors a 20-year-old series of senior citizen residences, allowing the apartment complex to offer students “a quieter, more residential area.”

“We have our share of parties but generally they’re not half of the parties you find at other apartment complexes,” she said.

Miller said 42 of the 52 Stadium Club apartments were already leased to students for the fall.

One of those students living at Stadium Club may be junior Frank Guerra, who got a taste of independence for the first time during his semester in the Washington D.C. program.

“I really have enjoyed the apartment lifestyle and I feel a lot more responsible for myself, cleaning and cooking and taking out the trash,” he said. “It seems like I had been missing out on that these last two and a half years.”

Guerra cited the absence of watchful rectors as another factor that drove him to lease an apartment off campus next year.

“Oh wait, du Lac still applies off campus,” he said, laughing. “I’ll be sure to remember that.”