Off-campus students face landlord neglect, unfairness

When he finds time between his busy class and work schedule, Justin Zaffiro, a junior film major and a resident on Cortes Street in the South End, spends his time looking for a new apartment.

Although the lease on his current apartment does not expire until June 31, Zaffiro and his roommates were approached by the building’s management company this summer and urged to find a new apartment as soon as possible.

Zaffiro’s apartment is one of only three units in 23 Cortes St. that is not on a Sept. 1 to Aug. 31 lease. When the other leases ended in August, the tenants moved out, leaving Zaffiro and residents of two other apartments as the building’s only inhabitants. Heath Properties, the company that bought the apartment building, intends to renovate it as soon as possible in order to increase property value and revenue, Zaffiro said.

Zaffiro said the company has repeatedly called him and his roommates urging them to leave, and has even called his mother, who is a cosigner on the lease.

“They are trying to force us out through a method of negligence-they won’t return our phone calls or make repairs,” Zaffiro said. “We’re on the top floor and they can start renovating the bottom floors of the building to hopefully drive us out by noise.”

Many of the 1,700 Emerson students who live off campus have, like Zaffiro, experienced difficulties with landlords and management companies.

Christy Letizia, the coordinator of Off Campus Student Services, said her office receives a continuous flow of student complaints (at least 30), between October and the end of the school year. The complaints include unresolved security deposits, apartments without heat and negligence involving repairs.

More than 70,000 full-time undergraduate students live in Boston and one in three residents of the city are between the ages of 20 and 34, according to Isabel Kriegel, a manager for One In 3 Boston, an organization that helps young residents with rental assistance, home buying, professional choices and connecting with other young people.

Letizia said students can prevent problems with landlords and management companies through awareness.

“Students should get to know their rights as tenants,” Letizia said. “There is a lot of support throughout the city and Emerson.”

Letizia urges students to consult The Attorney General’s Guide to Tenants Rights.

These problems stem from the fact that landlords sometimes assume students don’t know their rights and try to take advantage of them, said Shannon Keaveney, a senior theatre education major.

Keaveney, who is also the 2006 class president, said she is at odds with the landlord who managed the Aberdeen Street apartment she and her roommates shared last year in the Fenway area.

Keaveney said the landlord of the apartment building, Michael Lubner, is withholding their security deposit and charging them for fabricated damages to the property.

“He’s charging us for things that aren’t our fault, saying that we never complained when we did,” Keaveney said. “One of the items he accused us of breaking were the stairs to my lofted bed. I think I would have noticed this.”

After their lease had ended and Keaveney and her roommates had moved, they received a letter from Lubner detailing the damages.

The letter was full of errors, Keaveney said. The date of the lease was wrong, the letter listed incorrect tenant names and the deposit amount was listed as $100 dollars less than Keaveney and her roommates paid.

Now in the beginning stages of suing her landlord, Keaveney has placed Lubner’s name on a list of troublesome landlords in the Office of Off Campus Student Services. She advises other off-campus students to research their landlords before they sign a lease.

According to Letizia, this can be done through the Better Business Bureau’s Web site (

A violation of tenant rights may not only result in an unfair situation, but also an unsafe one.

Matt Balluff, a junior acting major, said he spent last winter without heat.

His North End apartment was advertised on the popular Web site According to the advertisement, heat and hot water were included in the price of each month’s rent.

When Balluff and his roommate signed the lease, no language about heat and hot water charges was included.

Balluff said, however, that both the real estate agent and the landlord assured him these utilities would be included and a gas heater would be added to the apartment to replace the electric heater already there so Balluff would not have to pay for electric heat. The heater never came.

“At night I wore a winter hat, mittens, covered in lots of blankets, a sweater and sometimes a jacket,” Balluff said.

The city of Boston offers services to students and young people, such as One In 3 Boston and the Rental Housing Resource Center, to help with off-campus needs.

For more information, consult the Action for Boston Community Development Handbook of Landlord/Tenant Rights and Responsibilities (