Students receive fewer citations, neighbors remain apprehensive

Kelsey Ruane

Student behavior off-campus has improved, indicated by a decline in the number of citations issued by the Radnor and Lower Merion Township Police Departments and an increase in the number of apartment complexes that have begun renting to students, but the surrounding community continues to feel hesitant about welcoming a new group of student tenants every year.

“The number [of reports received from the police] over the years has gone down,” said Dean of Students Paul Pugh. “We would love it to be zero.”

Last year, Radnor and Lower Merion Township Police Departments issued less than 100 citations to Villanova students, according to Pugh, who receives a report from the police whenever they are dispatched to a student residence.

“It appears that the number of complaints may have dropped over the years, but due to student turnover, many in the community are cautious to say that the problem is solved,” John Fisher, the vice president of the Radnor Township Board of Commissioners, wrote in an e-mail.

“The Community knows that each year thousands of new students flood the area, and that means starting over again. It gets tiring and is frustrating that the quiet neighborhoods of Radnor and especially Garrett Hill can fall victim to an ‘Animal House’ the moment we stop being diligent with enforcement.”

In 1989, Lower Merion and Haverford Townships passed two ordinances concerning student housing. The first maintained that for a property to be rented to a student, the township must approve the property for students. The second stipulated that all student-approved residences cannot be within one quarter of a mile from another student-approved residence, according to Kathy Byrnes, associate vice president for Student Life, who assists students in the process of procuring off-campus housing.

The properties already occupied by students in 1989, when the ordinances were passed, were grandfathered into the student-approved housing status, regardless of the distance between them. Since then, all new student housing remains bound by the second ordinance concerning the relative distance of other student residences.

“It’s almost impossible for new student housing to become available,” Byrnes said, due to the fact that hardly any parts of the townships are one quarter of a mile away from another.

Similarly, Radnor Township requires a 1,000-foot distance between student residences when approving new ones.

“There are limits to how close new student housing can be to the old student housing,” Fisher wrote. “This prevents any one neighborhood from becoming a dorm-row.”

The number of unrelated people allowed to rent one property is also restricted by township ordinances. Radnor, Conshohocken and Upper Merion allow no more than two, while Lower Merion and Haverford allow no more than three. The occupancy ordinances apply to both genders, contrary to the rumor that only females are restricted to two or three tenants because it would be considered a brothel.

The University does not sponsor fraternity houses on or off campus.

A house becomes identified with a certain fraternity because it gets rented every year by a group of students in that fraternity.

Though students break township ordinances by renting a house that is not student-approved or exceeding occupancy limitations, evictions are infrequent, according to both Pugh and Fisher. Even some landlords bypass the township ordinances concerning student rentals.

“There are a few [landlords] who are clearly running circles around our codes enforcement,” Fisher wrote.

“All townships take the zoning ordinances seriously,” Byrnes said when asked which township maintains the strictest enforcement.

The difference in lifestyle between permanent residents and student tenants has long been a source of tension. For example, Pugh explained that late night activity is the norm for college students, and it may not occur to them that a family with young children lives next-door.

“Based on past history related to me from long-term residents, the problems were many,” Fisher wrote. “We had noise from college students leaving the bars, litter such as beer cups, cans and bottles thrown on lawns after lawn parties, public drunkenness, disturbing the peace, etc.”

“It’s hard to defend the student who is so drunk, standing on a roof, urinating on his neighbor’s car,” Pugh said. “But don’t judge all Villanova students like that.”

Similarly, Byrnes agreed that it is not typical of Villanova students to cause a lot of trouble.

“I think it is a small number [of students] who can sometimes act out,” she said. “And then that person becomes the ‘Villanova student.'”

According to Pugh, the rate of repeat offenses is extremely low. He rarely hears from the police about the same students after having a meeting with them after their first citation.

“Student behavior is getting better in town,” he said, which is a part of the reason that more apartments are willing to rent to students.

Home Properties of Bryn Mawr, which is now renting more apartments to students than before, currently has a waiting list of around 100 names.

Pugh and Byrnes host information sessions from October to January on West Campus to assist juniors in finding off-campus housing for senior year. Their publication, “Crossroads,” is a guide to living off campus, which includes information about township ordinances, signing a fair lease and being a good neighbor.

Byrnes is available to review leases, which are sometimes 25 pages long, before students sign them.

“Every time a student tenant did something that made the landlord annoyed, they added a line in the lease,” Byrnes said.

Byrnes has noticed a rise in the number of students who live in Conshohocken. She offered three reasons why: properties are more reasonably priced; there are fewer zoning laws; and it is not as far from the University as people think.

“We chose to live here [Conshohocken] because it was cheaper – a lot cheaper – and the drive wasn’t too bad,” said junior Dan Golomb.

It has become a student practice for juniors to begin the search for their senior year housing before fall break, according to Byrnes.

“There is no reason why it has to be that early, but once some students do, others do,” Byrnes said.

“If you do your research and get started early, it’s painless,” said senior Chris Bellotti, who lives in Rosemont. “Look starting as soon as you get to school [junior year]. It should be the first thing on your agenda.”

Before the first wave of West Campus apartments went up in 1994, only two years of housing were guaranteed. As late as 1988, about 45 percent of students lived on campus, compared with about 75 percent today, according to Pugh.

A four-year housing guarantee only applies to students with specific scholarships, nursing students and female engineers who were admitted as a resident student their freshman year.Otherwise, seniors, and even some juniors and sophomores who decide to voluntarily decline campus housing, move off campus.

“We wish we had more housing, but we don’t,” Pugh said. “Seniors at Villanova want to stay on campus, because the school is so community-oriented.”

He explained that the University is continuously looking for places to convert into senior housing, but that various problems, mainly financial and contractual, have always ended up halting negotiations. It has looked at existing apartment buildings, including the River Walk at Millennium apartment homes in Conshohocken before they were damaged in a multi-alarm fire last August.

Not every student feels the draw to live in on-campus housing each year.

“I decided to move off campus [next semester] because after two years on campus I was ready for a change and less school supervision,” sophomore Rita Fitch wrote in an e-mail about her decision to live off campus as a junior. “It is going to be nice not to have R.A.s or school property to worry about. Also, I wanted to live with four of my best friends, and the West Apartments wouldn’t be able to accommodate five people in one. In general, I just liked the idea of having my own house.”

Daina Amorosano contributed reporting to this article.