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Landlord evicts fraternity, claims nearly $24K in damage

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Kappa Sigma fraternity has been renting space in the historic home at 39 Tompkins St., pictured above, for more than six years. The fraternity is being evicted after the landlord took members to court for damage that occurred at the structure.

A landlord is in a legal dispute with a SUNY Cortland fraternity over who will pay for last semester’s damage to a historic building on Tompkins Street.

The Greek letters that for more than six years adorned the side of 39 Tompkins St., the Kappa Sigma Fraternity house, have been removed by landlord Nancy Medsker, who has banned fraternity functions and is in the process of evicting tenants.

Medsker said last week the fraternity and their guests did tens of thousands of dollars damage to the nearly 140-year-old house during a party last fall. She demanded in a lease termination notice she sent to the students that they leave by Jan. 15.

A Jan. 2 property damage estimate Medsker provided estimates damages — from holes in walls and broken furniture to broken floor joints and custom panel work — will cost her more than $23,700.

Further complicating the situation, Medsker said that the students have moved back into the house for the spring semester and refuse to leave or pay what they owe.

“There’s these guys who’ve done tons of damage,” she said. “They’re living in my house, they don’t have a lease, and they don’t want to pay the security deposit.”

Estimates are still being calculated and repairs still must be made, she added this morning.

Ron Walsh, the lawyer representing some of the 16 students named in the lease termination notice, said Friday they are mainly contesting it because they were not given time to address the landlord’s concerns before she took legal action.

“We believe Ms. Medsker was acting in bad faith,” he said. “Each of the tenants is party to an individual lease … for the term of one year. She doesn’t get to tell them to get out of the lease without some due process.”

Sandra Wohlleber, SUNY Cortland’s associate director of campus activities and Greek affairs, said she has informed the students the college would help them find housing, but declined to comment further, saying the college does not get involved in landlord/tenant disputes.

Medsker said while she has had to make repairs to the house before, this experience has led her to cut ties with the fraternity. Once this semester is over, she said, she plans to rent the house to a sorority.

“These kids live in the house and they really could do a lot of damage and I have no recourse,” she said. “I wouldn’t be going through these shenanigans and these expenses … unless I were truly scared of the potential of what can happen this semester.”

The students are more than willing to take responsibility for damages and want to pay what they owe but dispute the total cost, Walsh said. Causing damage, he argues, would be illogical as they would just have to pay it back.

“They would be foolish to destroy her house — she would be able to sue them for any damage they did,” he said. “Why would they want to wreck her house when she has legal recourse for that?”

A representative from the Kappa Sigma national organization could not be reached this morning.

The students are due to appear in city court to formally contest the lease termination on Thursday.

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