December 2, 2021

Landlords expect steady number of college students

Kevin L. Smith/staff reporter

Contractor Larry Sawatzky of Enfield uses a nail gun Wednesday to attach blockers to a new porch being installed at the Sigma Delta Tau sorority house on Tompkins Street in Cortland. Onwer Nancy Medsker of Ithaca expects about 40 students to live in the house in the coming school year.

Nancy Medsker of Ithaca walked past the front of her property on Tompkins Street in Cortland as contractors put in a new porch and front steps.

“Everything’s coming together,” she said Wednesday, in time for 39 sisters of Sigma Delta Tau sorority to move in.

Medsker is one of a handful of landlords who expect occupancy to remain stable during the coronavirus pandemic, and their properties are at capacity.

SUNY Cortland officials said last week they expect 3,000 of their 6,800 students to live on campus in the coming year, but were not sure how many of the remaining 3,800 would live in the greater Cortland area, and how many would take classes remotely from elsewhere.

Mick Pace of Pace apartments, who owns student housing on Clayton Avenue, Homer Avenue, Lincoln Avenue and Tompkins Street — said he has 41 tenants. Jen Griffin, property manager for Campus Sides Apartments, LLC, which has a house on Prospect Terrace, has 32 tenants.

Pace said he received an influx of applications after Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order allowing colleges to reopen. Many potential tenants had delayed signing a lease after campuses across the state shut down last spring.

“I think a lot of students just want to be back,” he said. “College students don’t want to be home. They want the college experience in any way they can get it.”

Pace said 30% of his tenants left early last semester. Medsker said two-thirds of her tenants were gone by the end of March, and Griffin said only six students stayed until the end of the spring semester.

“They all quarantined in the house,” Medsker said. “They isolated themselves and didn’t let anyone in. It worked out well.”

Griffin gave refunds; Pace and Medsker did not.

“I didn’t get any assistance from the state so I’m left hanging in the wind like others,” Pace said. “This is my livelihood and my main job for 40 years now.”

The landlords said they will make sure their tenants are following health and safety protocols. Pace said he ordered 500 masks for his tenants.

He doesn’t want to be strict, he said, but, “If they have a party and invite 50 people, that becomes an issue. I’m going to drill through their heads that it’s something you can’t do, especially this year.”

Griffin recommended her tenants move in over a week, rather than two days, to avoid clusters of people in the stairwells.

“I just hope they all take the necessary precautions,” she said.

Of course, the future is unwritten, and SUNY Cortland, like the University of North Carolina may face a spike and need to shut down. On-campus students would need to leave, but off-campus students could stay.

Medsker imagined if all classes would move to online only, tenants in her house will want to stay here so they can be with friends.

“If they choose to do that, they can,” she said.

It might even be safer, if there’s a resurgence elsewhere, Pace said.

“When the pandemic first hit, a lot of students felt safer up here, especially ones who are originally from downstate,” he said. “Case numbers were lower here and much higher down there so they knew staying here made more sense.”