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First-year students at Ball State University walk as a group

Students participate in Ball State University’s fall 2023 orientation on campus. This year, university officials created a list of standards for off-campus rental groups to certify they’re meeting expectations for student housing.

Ball State University

When students don’t feel comfortable where they live, focusing on academics and college experiences can be difficult. Ball State University in Indiana is hoping to make finding great off-campus housing one step easier for learners with its new Off-Campus Quality Housing Initiative.

Starting this fall, landlords or property managers can agree to a list of commitments to student housing upkeep and standards, helping ensure students have their basic needs met.

The program was inspired by the university’s best practices in housing support but also a desire to educate students on what adequate housing can and should look like.

The need: For many students, moving into residential housing is their first time living away from home, which brings a slew of challenges. Moving off campus can heighten the pressures further if students don’t know which questions to ask or what factors to look out for, explains T. J. Brecciaroli, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Ball State.

For example, the university provides high levels of safety and security in residential dorms with campus police and swipe-card access into the buildings, something students might take for granted or not consider when moving off campus.

Ball State also offers free legal services for any student who may need legal support, such as with lease agreements, landlord disputes or other housing-related challenges, Brecciaroli says.

To address and mitigate some of the issues students had previously encountered with renting off campus, Ball State officials launched the Off-Campus Quality Housing Initiative, creating a filter to identify which parties in the community meet various standards for student housing.

The criteria: To be eligible, landlords and property management groups agree to 10 conditions. Among them:

  • Properties must be in compliance with the rental agreement in clean, well-kept, safe, habitable condition and ready for occupancy at the start of the lease. 
  • Common areas must be kept clean and in proper condition throughout the lease. 
  • Messages from the tenant must be responded to within 24 hours or sooner. 
  • Repairs should be made in a reasonable and appropriate time frame. 
  • Tenants must receive at least 24 hours of advance notice before entry into the rental unit. 

The initiative is not an endorsement of properties or their business practices, but certification can be removed if properties do not meet the listed conditions.

So far, around a dozen landlords or property management groups have applied, and several more have posed questions.

Ball State’s requirements place a higher level of care and responsibility on the leasing agent than state law, which has created some pushback from community members, Brecciaroli says. Over all, conversations have been productive and have opened doors for the university to further collaborate and provide additional feedback on the program.

Why it matters: For Ball State, having housing needs met is a student success initiative, says Ro-Anne Royer Engle, vice president of student affairs. If a student is without heat or living in a home that needs repairs, they won’t be able to focus on their academics or be successful, making it a university priority.

The initiative is also an educational priority, to teach students what a standard of living should look like and how to communicate with a landlord or apartment manager. Even if students are not living in a rental property participating in Ball State’s initiative, officials say students can use the listing requirements to guide their conversations and set standards of their own.

Whose job is it, anyway? Identifying responsibility for students’ off-campus housing conditions can be a difficult balance for an institution, as it weighs the interests of students and the local community.

“When you’re dealing with off-campus facilities, the university has limited power to do anything other than to reinforce or celebrate those that are doing it well,” Royer Engle says.

The goal of the initiative is not to be punitive toward problematic landlords, but rather provide guidance for students who may not consider the essentials of proper housing. Ball State leaders also hope this effort highlights local businesses who do prioritize students and creates a stronger relationship between the university and community groups.

The next phase: The initiative will close to applications from landlords and property managers in September. The program’s success will be measured by the number of students who are utilizing the initiative’s requirements to identify housing partners and hopefully a decline in students needing legal services due to poor housing quality, Brecciaroli says.

In the upcoming year, Ball State officials hope to educate students on the best behaviors as off-campus renters and how they can be good neighbors.

If your student success program has a unique feature or twist, we’d like to know about it. Click here to submit.

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