Statement on off-campus housing safety

The safety of our students’ housing options, both on and off campus, is not only a top priority for me and for university leadership; it is also a principle of the highest order.

Some off-campus housing units, while not necessarily out of compliance with state fire safety codes, lack what many would consider basic modern safety features. This is because fire safety standards are tied to the date a building was constructed, so a building constructed in 1970 must only meet the 1964 fire safety code, rather than the 2015 code, the last year the code was updated.

While the university cannot mandate what private landlords do in terms of safety upgrades, we are determined to do whatever we can to encourage and recognize landlords who are willing to go the extra mile when it comes to providing a safe residential environment for our students who live off-campus.

To that end, university administrators have been working closely and collaboratively with the City of Ithaca to incorporate into our existing off-campus housing online database a new, safety-focused online ratings system for all off-campus housing properties. This ratings system, which we expect will be up and running by this summer, will provide students with easy, online access to publicly available information regarding the safety features of a particular unit. This way, students will be able to know — before they sign a contract — whether or not a housing unit is equipped, for example, with sprinklers and/or smoke detectors that are directly wired to the Ithaca Fire Department.

By making this information more readily available, and tying it to an overall rating to be assigned to each unit, the new system will recognize those landlords who are already doing their part, while incentivizing other landlords to voluntarily make safety-focused enhancements to their properties.

The City of Ithaca has not only been supportive of this effort, but has enthusiastically come to the table to assist us, and I commend our colleagues who are hard at work to bring this much-needed resource online.

I am optimistic that this new system, once launched, will elevate the overall safety of off-campus housing. Our students, as well as off-campus staff and faculty renters, deserve no less.

Hunter R. Rawlings III
Interim President