Students walk along the sidewalk of a narrow street. Lehigh students residing in off-campus houses work with their landlords and local police to mitigate safety risks. (Brandon Jia/B&W Staff)

South Bethlehem landlords, police discuss off-campus safety


Lehigh students must decide whether to live on or off campus following their second year at Lehigh, and perception of safety is often one of their considerations. 

On campus, dorms are equipped with access control and security screens. Off campus — where approximately 2,190 Lehigh students reside — police, landlords and tenants all play a role in maintaining the safety and security of those residences.

“It’s a partnership between all of those resources,” said Christopher Houtz, assistant chief of police. “None of us can do it by themselves.”

Houtz said parents and students frequently ask about the perception of danger living off campus and how Lehigh University Police works with Bethlehem Police to ensure proper responses.

Evan Chen, ‘23, said his house on East Fifth Street was broken into in 2022, after he left for the summer,  

“I don’t feel unsafe because since it was probably a kid,” Chen said. “I don’t think they would have done any harm.”

Chen said he still feels odd knowing someone was able to come inside. Chen and his roommates contacted Lehigh and Bethlehem police after the incident and filed a police report. They also installed security cameras and a padlock on their doors.

Like Chen, landlords are using various security technologies to increase the safety of their property. 

Houtz said security cameras such as Ring Video Doorbells are a deterrent for crime even if they are not in service.

He said Lehigh police will look for homes with Ring cameras to help potentially catch criminals. In the past, students have cooperated and provided the department with footage to help them. 

Houtz said these technologies make properties more desirable for students but require landlords and management companies to make greater investments.

“I think if the landlord sees it in that light, like, ‘If I put a little bit more into this, the students are going to want to be here and take care of the place, and it’s a win for everybody,’” Houtz said. 

Louis Intile, owner of Fifth Street Properties, said all Fifth Street Properties homes are equipped with new windows and locks, outdoor lighting at both doors and electronic deadbolts.

They are also the first company to incorporate interconnected smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. 

“For someone who spends five days a week, 50 or 60 hours a week, over the last 15 years here in Bethlehem, I have noticed a tremendous improvement in the overall safety,” Intile said. “I sense and I hear that the common perception is that it isn’t safe, but I disagree with that.”

He said moving the Lehigh Police station, previously housed in Johnson Hall, to East Packer Avenue and increasing police presence on the South Side has improved the overall safety of the area. 

Intile said Fifth Street Properties aims to buy the best locations adjacent to Lehigh to increase security.

Intile said the company works closely with the Lehigh and Bethlehem Police departments. He said both are willing to assist whenever needed, and Intile trusts his company has the attention of both departments if issues arise.

Occasionally, Houtz said landlords will push back on police safety recommendations, and Lehigh police help to educate them on security concerns and how to properly address them. He said the landlords tend to make the suggested changes, such as adding outdoor lighting or changing a lock. 

But, Lehigh police encourage landlords to discuss issues with their tenants one-on-one. 

“Sometimes, it’s best to just let the landlords know, ‘Hey, your tenants are having parties or are up on the roof — you may want to address that with them,’” Houtz said. 

Both Houtz and Intile said they’ve seen doors left open at night on busy streets as a result of shortcomings by tenants. 

Houtz said they deal with the occasional suspicious person report and packages being stolen. The police department has an agreement with the city to both respond to any alerts.

“We ask, ‘What was suspicious about them? What are they doing?’ and the student will say that they don’t look like they fit in,” Houtz said. “We’ll go and we’ll contact the person, and they are just walking into their friend’s house and are a student themselves. Our job is to…educate the caller and say…‘Just the fact that you didn’t think they fit in here doesn’t mean that they were doing anything wrong.’”

Houtz said it’s a delicate balance between discouraging people from calling and trying to get students to think through what they are calling about.  

Intile urges residents to be responsible and take appropriate actions to ensure their safety: lock their windows and doors and leave their porch lights on. 

But more generally, by exploring outside Lehigh’s campus, he said students can better experience their neighbors and realize how their perception may not be completely accurate. 

“There are things called crimes of opportunity that as a diligent adult, you need to be aware of your surroundings and (be) smart about things,” Intile said, “But I often feel, and I know, that the perception of the South Side safety is much worse than the actual reality.”

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1 Comment

  1. Ron Lambert on

    On the night before my first full day as a Lehigh Freshman in 1968, there was a scheduled meeting with about 20-25 of us, led by a Gryphon. Among other things, the message was 1) Don’t go down to the South Side by yourself, 2) The South Side was full of prostitutes and drugs, and 3) just stay away from it.
    It sounds like nothing much has changed in the past 50 years

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