Accountability measures are crucial for a rental market as large and robust as Ithaca’s, fueled by out-of-area students who come to the area for an education at Cornell University or Ithaca College.
One of the easiest methods to hopefully help students make good rental decisions is to equip them with as much information as possible. This is the mantra of Denise Thompson, the off-campus living manager for Cornell, who led the effort to update the school’s rental property database. The database’s update was introduced to the Collegetown Neighborhood Council and Common Council last week, and is the result of a combined enhancement by Cornell and the city’s Building Division. It is available for use by the general public.
Thompson said the latest iteration of the database is building upon something the school has had for years. But previously, listing with the school was an option for rental property owners who may have found the school’s listing as the best way to market themselves to students, as long as the property had a certificate of compliance from the City of Ithaca; now, the database has been expanded to include any rental property in the city.
“Our office has always required a certificate of compliance to list with us,” Thompson said. “We already had this relationship with the building department [...] And we started listening to feedback from parents and students and made some upgrades that made it easier to navigate. We were only showing properties of people who listed with us, whether it be landlord or student. So, we thought, ‘We already have this information. Why don’t we have a safety site that gives it for all properties that are rental properties?’”
Any rental property within city limits is legally required to obtain a certificate of compliance, which is one of the criteria measured on the database. Users can simply type in the street address of a building and find a multitude of information about whether or not it has a valid certificate of compliance, when it expires, whether the building meets minimum safety requirements and certain fire regulation aspects, etc.
Thompson said if a building is shown not to have a certificate of compliance, she wouldn’t necessarily advise someone not to rent from there. She’s more concerned with making as much information available to students so that when they do make a rental decision, they can do so comfortably (or as comfortable as possible, since the student rental process, at least, is often harried and takes places nearly a year before move-in).
“I don’t tell them not to rent something, but I do tell them to look at it and use their best judgment,” Thompson said. “This is all just information. I try to arm them with information that will help them make good decisions, so that they’re happy and safe.”
Currently, the database only covers the City of Ithaca, leaving out other popular municipalities around the area where students, faculty or staff may also find rental housing, particularly the town of Ithaca or Cayuga Heights (or, more generally, Tompkins County as a whole). While no expansion plans are in the process, Thompson said she’d be interested if they had the cooperation of agencies from the surrounding area.
“We’re always open to it,” Thompson said. “I do attend other municipality meetings and I’m developing those relationships, and I’m willing to work with anyone.”
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