An off-campus basement is empty on Sept. 21, 2016. The NSF did a study on the germs present in student off-campus houses. (Erik Thomas/B&W Staff)

Students question quality of off-campus houses


In August 2016, NSF International, a public health and safety organization, conducted its third study to determine which germs are present in a typical college student’s off-campus home. The study also determined the dirtiest areas of the home.

The NSF study led to questions about the sanitary conditions of off-campus housing near Lehigh and the process of students transitioning from living in dormitories and residence halls to living in off-campus homes.

Often as early as their sophomore years, Lehigh students tend to search for off-campus housing for their junior and senior years. Some students turn to Campus Hill Apartments, a company that rents off-campus houses and offers 24-hour emergency maintenance.

Students typically consider the cleanliness of a house before signing a lease.

The NSF study tested off-campus homes in the Ann Arbor, Michigan, area for the presence of E. coli, MRSA, coliforms and mold. The study found dish sponges, kitchen sinks, shower drains, faucet handles and coffee makers to be the “germiest” spots in students’ homes.

The organization noted that by improving the sanitation conditions of student living environments and by following cleaning tips, students “can reduce the risk of becoming sick and missing class or that important upcoming party.”

Students often find themselves moving into houses previously designated by former tenants as “party houses.”

Madison Uram, ’18, found herself in this situation as she moved into a damaged house on Van Buren Street.

The house needed to be repainted and had holes in the walls, she said. It had evidently been used for parties before she and her housemates moved in. However, her landlord was helpful and fixed the damages within a week.

The Van Buren home then went through an inspection once the damages were fixed and Uram and her housemates were able to move in.

Uram had felt the pressure to find off-campus housing after a daunting housing experience during her first year. She had entered the housing lottery at the end of her first year, but her low lottery number left her with the possibility of having no on-campus housing for the upcoming year.

A sophomore scared of facing this uncertainty again, Uram rushed to find off-campus housing for both her junior and senior years. She extensively researched landlords off campus and felt as though the university did not provide many resources to help with her search.

Kaeli Prevelige, ’18, and her housemates on Morton Street put the NSF tips into practice to avoid any possible mess or unsanitary conditions in their new home.

“We don’t have a dishwasher so we make sure we wash all the dishes right after we use them to avoid having them pile up,” Prevelige said. “We occasionally Swiffer or vacuum the floors when it gets messy.”

Prevelige selected her off-campus house through an individual landlord. Upon moving into the house, Prevelige and her housemates found the house to be clean and seemingly well-worth the inexpensive price.

The experience in the new home, however, left Prevelige regretting the rushed feeling she felt her sophomore year to find a home for senior year and quickly sign a lease, as many Lehigh students do.

“I think everyone assumes they have to choose people to live with immediately or all their friends will have found alternate housing and they’ll be alone,” Prevelige said. “They fear that all the houses will be rented and they won’t have anywhere to live with their friends.”

A common misconception among Lehigh students is that they must rush to find off-campus homes, she said.

“We found the house we are currently living in about a month before school ended last year and have it for this year,” Prevelige said. “There was no conflict or difficulty whatsoever.”

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