Stony Brook University officials and Brookhaven Town attorneys have come to an agreement that has the potential to ease friction arising from illegal housing issues within the community, Three Village Patch has learned.
University spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow told Patch that following a meeting with a town attorney and a town investigator, the university has agreed to ask landlords to produce valid permits when they want to list available housing with the university. In addition, she said, the university will also cross-reference off-campus housing lists with town database of known illegal dwellings.
She also said the town has agreed to "host and/or participate in a workshop with our students living in off-campus housing so these students better understand the importance of, and how to comply with town codes."
Those provisions were mutually agreed upon at a Feb. 27 meeting.
"The university does not have the authority to enforce town or village code," Sheprow said in an email to Patch. "However the university will do everything possible to help keep our students safe and help them with a better understanding of the code by sharing this information with them on this website and with direct communication processes – email, snail mail, and print materials in orientation kits."
The agreement between the town and the university comes two months after Town Supervisor Ed Romaine pledged more enforcement against illegal housing, an issue that has brought the community to its feet.
In October, the university established a web page titled "Living Responsibly Off Campus," which can be found front-and-center on its Off Campus Housing (OCH) website. It specifically outlines ways students living off campus should "be a good neighbor" and offers other information pertinent to living student life off campus. Sheprow said the information has also been mass-distributed to both new and returning students since its posting on the website.
"It is the university's goal to promote a safe experience for all students attending Stony Brook and this helps educate those who decide to live off campus," Sheprow said.
Deputy Town Attorney David Moran said the meeting with university officials proved a helpful one in which the university expressed interest in working with the town to ease the problem.
"It was an initial meeting to kind of get together on this issue," he said. "I think everyone’s noticing that it’s becoming a Three Village problem."
The agreement between the town attorney's office and the university is expected to help the students know what to look out for if they decide to live off campus, how to check that their tenancy is legal, and how to understand the town code.
"It’s refreshing to get the help of the university in moving forward," Moran said. "Maybe we can actually make a difference and get this problem solved for the residents."
In an interview Tuesday, Town Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld, who was not present at the Feb. 27 meeting, said he is "grateful for this dialogue." He said he would have suggested the university also ask each landlord who wishes to list a property on the OCH website to sign an affidavit saying they will comply with the town code.
"Just because they have a certificate of occupancy doesn’t mean they are going to play by the rules," he said.
Fiore-Rosenfeld said he believes the university should widen its use of the student code of conduct to make sure students' behavior is appropriate when they reside in off-campus housing. He also said he will work to "uphold the rights of students to live off campus."
"They have every right to do so," he said, "but they have to act as adults and they have to obey the law. The university has an obligation to see that through to fruition, otherwise they are negatively impacting the host community of Stony Brook University – the Three Village community."
Sheprow said the university already uses the student code of conduct to do so. She said the university has investigated 46 off-campus incidents within the past 14 months.
"When a code of conduct issue is brought to the attention of the Office of Student Affairs, whether it is about a student living on campus or off, the Office of Community Standards is immediately engaged and conducts the appropriate review of the student conduct," Sheprow said.
Not only are the administration and town officials making an effort to help solve the problem, but the students themselves are also looking for solutions. The Undergraduate Student Government addressed the issue of off-campus housing during a town hall style meeting on Feb. 14.
Anna Lubitz, president of the Undergraduate Student Government, said her organization wants to "work with administration and the local town to better improve the situation for students living off campus."
"From the census of many students, especially international students, the language in the housing codes off campus is not clear," Lubitz said in an email to Patch. "I think better communication of the codes needs to be conveyed to students by the town as well. Overall, off-campus housing is extremely important to students and the communication between the town and the students via the housing codes can be improved to better serve the students."
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